May, 2020

Successful spring sowing requires experience, skills and know-how, and good weather

Between April and May, the Hölsö farm worked around the clock as spring sowing began with peas and continued immediately thereafter with oats. This year, there was more time for spring sowing because coronavirus cancelled farmer Mikko Hölsö’s defence forces training and business trips relating to his day job. An exceptional spring offered Mikko the opportunity to head out into the field whenever he felt like it and when the weather was favourable. His son Severi’s leave from the army also fell conveniently on the sowing week and the entire family lent a hand in the spring sowing work.

Mikko’s father and father-in-law also joined in to help. The division of labour was clear: the farmer himself would take care of sowing, and his son Severi would take turns tilling the fields together with the older men. Wife Kati and daughter Henriikka kept the equipment clean and made sure that all the men working in the fields were well-fed.

A total of 22 hectares of peas were sown, along with 62 hectares of oats. “There is still just under a hectare’s worth of field for game to prepare, but the sowing work itself can be carried out in a week,” says Mikko.

Toukokuu siemenet
Toukokuu Mikko Hölsö

How does a farmer know when it’s time to begin sowing?

Home gardeners know when to begin planting trees, shrubs, and perennials after the frost thaws. Does the same apply to farmers, and how does a farmer know when it’s time to begin sowing?

Mikko believes that the most important thing is for farmers to walk their fields and keep track of how spring is affecting the condition of the ground for sowing. If the field is too wet or icy, it’s best to be patient and wait for the right time. “When the field is ready to sow, we actively follow all weather forecasts. I make decisions on when to start and end work based on the weather forecasts. If, for example, the weather forecast shows an approaching rain front, I will stop work for that day and continue in fairer weather,” says Mikko.

Weather all-year round has an effect on the success of sowing and the field’s condition for sowing. If harvesting and autumn work in the fields were carried out in wet conditions, it will leave marks in the field for years. The ground becomes compact and the surface of the field will be uneven. “It is ideal if autumn work can be carried out in relatively dry conditions. After autumn work, a moderate amount of autumn rain should evenly water the fields, and then the winter frost naturally “crumbles” the soil so that it is easier to work in the spring,” explains Mikko.

An even layer of snow cover during the winter is good because it insulates the fields’ frost layer evenly, and an even frost layer also thaws evenly with rain and warm weather in the spring. “A winter with hardly any snow, combined with a relatively cold and dry April, causes lots of uneven drying in the fields. Large gaps dry and become ready for sowing too early, while the northern fields in the shadow of the forests were still full of frost when we were sowing,” says Mikko.

The weather, on the other hand, was almost perfect for sowing. “Fair weather without heat and high winds, which would have dried out the field, is the best possible weather for the seed to sprout in. Rain after sowing also helps the seed to sprout, as long as there is enough warmth,” explains Mikko.

Heavy rain, on the other hand, would be a problem. When rain has lashed a clay field, when the clay dries it turns so hard that the new germinating crop can barely break through the cover.

This spring’s sowing process began last summer

This spring’s sowing process began last summer

There are a surprising number of things that need to be done before actual sowing can begin. Everything begins with planning, which started during the previous growing season. Planning makes use of experiences and notes from previous years.

Previous observations are used to make decisions on the seeds to be sown, fertilisers, plant protection and plots of land, as well as which parts of the field will be cultivated. The planning is impacted by the terms of the environmental commitment as well as the results of soil fertility studies, which determine the levels of fertiliser for various plots of land in the field. After these decisions, the supplies for the following year are obtained using advance sales.

Before fieldwork begins, the equipment to be used must be serviced. Mikko carries out some of the work himself, but outsources some work to a garage in his village. “It’s well worth servicing machinery outside of growing season, when the garage isn’t so busy and prices may well be lower,” Mikko says.

The Hölsö farm uses four tractors for sowing, and they are used for several different work phases. When equipped with the right tools, a tractor can be a very versatile workmate for a farmer:

  • the front loader and back plate can be used to level out water furrows left from the previous year’s sowing, and to remove any large rocks from the field
  • a harrow is used to even the surface of the field
  • a drag harrow is used to till the field into sowing condition
  • a front loader and rock picker or stoner are used to collect the rocks in the field
  • a front loader and big bag lifters are used to lift sacks of manure and seeds onto the seeder
  • the seeder is used to sow the seeds and spread the manure over the field
  • a roller is used to break up the largest clods of earth and to pack down the surface of the field.

The Hölsö farm is now anxiously waiting for spring to progress and hoping for favourable weather – a lovely, warm early summer without any baking heat, and some gentle showers.

We will meet Mikko again in June, when we will take a look at how the oats are growing and find out what special measures must be taken to farm gluten free oats, and how farmers can affect food purity and safety

Toukokuu pelto
Perhe Hölsö