Autumn can be a very productive time on the farm. The mild days are great for working outside and – assuming there’s some rain – soil temperatures are still warm enough for a burst of pasture growth. This is known as the “autumn flush”.
Assuming you’re got tupping and crop harvesting out of the way, here’s a list of jobs to do around your block before the weather turns to custard:
1. Service your machinery
Now is the time to check your tractor battery and replace it, if necessary. Better still, get a full service. Having the tractor die just when you’re about to feed out silage in the snow is no fun.
While you’re at it, clean your seed drill, if you haven’t already. This reduces the risk of rodents taking up shop and means the drill will be primed and ready for spring sowing. Finally, ensure your sprayer is empty, so the hoses don’t freeze and split in heavy frosts.
2. Apply soil amendments
Autumn is the best time of year to lime your paddocks. Lime takes a while to percolate through the soil structure, so you won’t see any results for at least six months and probably closer to twelve. Winter rains and less pressure on the pasture from reduced stock numbers will help the process.
3. Work up paddocks
Some farmers, when breaking new ground or re-sowing pasture that hasn’t been touched in a long time, will work the ground up roughly with discs and then leave it over winter so the frost breaks up the clods.
In early spring, as soon as the soil’s dry enough, they’ll disc again, harrow and then sow. The downside to this is the risk of losing topsoil in heavy rains if the paddock is sloping.
4. Cull livestock
Autumn has always been the traditional time to slaughter big feeders like pigs and to cull weak or unproductive livestock ahead of limited winter feed supplies. Culling in autumn also ensures the animal (and therefore the meat) hasn’t lost the condition it gained in the warmer months.
Check all existing fencing and repair if necessary – you don’t want to have to worry about it when it’s dark, sleeting and blowing a gale outside.
This is also a good time of year to put in new fencing, as autumn rains will have softened the ground and it’ll be easier to drive in posts.
6. Make compost
All those dead autumn leaves are an incredibly useful carbon source for your garden. They take a while to break down, though, so if you’re going to use them in compost, layer them very thinly and combine with a bit of fresh chook manure.
If you’re feeling lazy, poke a few holes into some black plastic rubbish bags, fill them with damp leaves and leave in a warmish place for a year. Voila! Wonderful, nutritious leaf mould!
7. Put the vege garden to bed
Mild temperatures and a bit of rain will germinate annual weed seeds in your vege garden beds. Don’t bother pulling them out – just cover them in a thick layer of pea straw. They’ll die down and rot, providing nitrogen, while the pea straw will protect the soil surface and break down to supply carbon.
Broad beans planted in autumn make a great winter cover crop and green manure. Bacteria living in nodules on their roots fix atmospheric nitrogen, feeding your soil. In spring, slash the plants before they flower and dig them into the soil for an additional nitrogen boost.
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