A new year means new opportunities and, while resolutions made in January rarely survive until February, there are some actions we need to put on our calendars so help make 2020 the best it can be for us on the farm and in our lawns and gardens.

So let’s begin with January.

January is meeting month; a time when people gather and learn new techniques or reinforce old methods. There will be several opportunities in January and February to attend meetings and conferences that will help us be more efficient. These range from the annual Shepherd’s Symposium next Saturday to the Virginia Tech Beef Health Conference at the end of the month. In between, Wytheville will once again host the Southwest Virginia Grassland and Forage Conference on Jan. 21.

In February, we need to be out in our fields and pastures looking for opportunities to improve the health of our soils. February is a great month (most times… not in 2019) to collect soil samples and determine our fertilizer needs for the coming spring and summer. It is also a great time to renovate pastures and hayfields by frost seeding clover. Using this method, you simply scatter clover seed into existing grassland. The sod needs to be well clipped or slightly overgrazed to facilitate the seed getting to the soil, but it is great way to improve grazing animal performance without too much input costs.

February can also be a great time to get the sprayer back out. Warm days (above 50 degrees) can offer the opportunity to blister several weeds such as thistles, buttercups, henbit and bedstraw. If your fields were yellow, white or purple last spring, use this opportunity. One added benefit to treating fields this time of year is your chances of killing the neighbor’s garden is all but none existent; however, this only works if you use the correct chemical in the correct amount on the correct target. Know your enemy.

March is a good time to sow some more hardy crops such as spring oats, but is probably too early (cool) for grass seeding. Apply your fertilizers now (although you can give cover crops a shot of nitrogen in February… again in warmer weather). One strategy that can work well is to split your fertilizer applications especially in hay crops. Put on half your fertilizer needs now and put on the remainder after the first cutting. March is also a good time to move cattle and livestock to cleaner pastures. Animals that have been shorted on nutritional needs during the winter (and our hay this year is short on both supply and nutrients generally) can find themselves in distress in the cold days of March. Add in mud from cold March rains and cows getting ready to have calves and you have the recipe for a disaster.

April is really two months. The first part of April is a good time to reseed grasses in both our fields and lawns. It is also when we need to make sure our mowers and planters are ready to go. Early April is also when many people begin the process of wasting money. The return of warm weather gets everyone stirred up to make garden. There are some vegetables that can be growing during this time, but, for the most part, both the plants and your pocketbook will be rewarded by planting later in the season. A complete list of garden crops and their planting dates is available at the extension office.

Late April is a time of readiness. If the weather is good, corn can be put in the ground and hay crops need to be coming down. Keeping a careful eye on both the weather and your grasses will help you determine the time to go. Being too early can be bad, but you never really catch up from getting behind.

May is for hay.

In our area, with the exception of a pure stand of timothy (which is rare), every hay field needs to be put down in May. Weather and work schedules may interfere, but the loss of nutrients by letting crops get too mature amounts to millions of dollars of losses every year. Mowing in May also means you can get that second shot of fertilizer out and working before the dry weather of summer sets in. Nitrogen is water soluble but it is also volatile in warm weather. We want our soil nutrients moving to the roots, not boiling skyward.

The final month we will look at in this column is June.

June is a good time to get the sprayer back out, but be careful. Gardens and bees are out so be very deliberate in your efforts. That said, early June is a great time to treat our hay feeding areas for spiny amaranth or spiny pigweed while it is small. You can also go after some of the bedstraw areas (the white clouds of weeds you see in hayfields). For homeowners, June is also the month you need to treat your hemlocks and conifers for pests such as bagworms.

Later this spring, we will make our plans for the summer and fall of 2020, but, in the meantime, prepare yourself for a great 2020. It is going to be the best year we will get for the next 12 months.

Upcoming Events

Jan. 11--Shepherd’s Symposium, Virginia Tech. Call 540-231-9159; you must preregister.

Jan. 15--VQA Steer and Heifer Sale, Tri State Livestock Market.

Jan. 15-17--VA Farm Show, Fishersville.

Jan. 17--Our Great Gator Giveaway Drawing, noon, at the Virginia Farm Show, Fishersville.

Jan. 20--VQA Steer Take Up, Tri State Market.

Jan. 20--Farm Management Meeting, 6:30 p.m. at Farm Bureau Building, Marion. Topic is BQA Recertification.

Jan. 21--VFGC Winter Conference, The Meeting Place, Wytheville.

Jan. 22--VQA Heifer Take Up, Tri State Market.

Jan. 27-30--VCE Annual Meeting, Hotel Roanoke.

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Dr. Andy Overbay is Smyth County’s agriculture and natural resources extension agent.

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