You remember the old adage, “April showers bring May flowers,” right? But, then what do April blizzards bring come May? Hopefully, we will see vibrant, green grass and prospering plants of all kinds left and right. After months of drought conditions across the state, the added moisture is greatly needed. In our case, all this April precipitation will bring a healthy field of rye when the calendar flips again.
Cereal rye, also called winter rye or grain rye, is a cool season annual cereal grain. We planted one of our fields with rye last fall after our area received some much-need rain. Most of the time, the spring season is associated with planting fields in our region. You will soon notice farmers establishing all kinds of crops; from corn to soybean, flax to canola, wheat to sorghum, North Dakota crop producers grow an amazing array of plants. However, there are plants which do best if planted in the fall and then left to die and grow again when spring arrives. This process is called vernalization – to be exposed to extended cold after germination. When a seed is allowed to vernalize, the seed production and flowering after planting is often accelerated.
After the rye was planted, the seed germinated in the soil in the fall, and in fact, rye can germinate at temperatures as low as 34 degrees. Then, the rye grew about 6 inches tall until the plants could no longer withstand North Dakota’s winter temperatures. The rye then died, and the dead plant material left on the field reduced erosion and trapped snow and rainfall. Now that temperatures are warming and our daylength is lengthening, the rye is growing well once again. In June, we will cut the rye and turn the fresh-cut crop into haylage. Then, before the growing season is over, we will plant the field again with another crop to harvest in September.
Just when you think those barren fields are tucked away empty for the winter every year, you may be surprised to realize there could be seeds sleeping until spring.