We’ve kicked off May with a grand start here in the Helena Valley. And by grand start, I mean wet boots, soaked clothes, and the sore muscles that come with moving irrigation pipe and cleaning out ditches. I don’t live on many acres, but we still grow some alfalfa for horse hay on the place, and it still needs irrigation. This Valley is pretty much a desert if you don’t provide the water. There are cactus spines in my boots and tumbleweeds along the fence rows to prove it.

We let the horses graze the alfalfa pasture much of the winter. This allows them to clean up the residual forage along the edges of the field and then we’ll drag their manure piles across the field for some added fertilizer. This reduces the amount of inputs required in the field and helps to reduce the hay we have to feed.

Helena Montana Alfalfa Growth April
Alfalfa starting to green up and grow on April 26

It’s been pretty brown around here and I really haven’t known what I’ve been missing as far as the Spring green-up goes back home in Arkansas. We receive enough rain down South that irrigation was mainly just for crops like corn or rice. The pastures irrigated themselves. When I moved to Wyoming a few years back, irrigation for pasture and hay ground was a novelty that I embraced and enjoyed learning and doing each day, despite routine slips and falls into the ditch.

Montana Irrigation Pipe Impact Sprinkler
Our Irrigation Pipe and Sprinklers. Background’s not too shabby either.

Things around the house this weekend certainly greened up. It’s impressive considering many parts of Montana have seen snow as recent as a few weeks ago. We use hand line with an impact sprinkler system that puts down about 4 inches of water a day if we need it to. The ground here is sandy and has lots of rocks, so water doesn’t stick around too very long. Plus, it’s valuable to recharge the ground water with so many residential wells in the area sucking out water.

Montana Alfalfa May 4
May 04 – Alfalfa is really greening up after getting a healthy drink of water this weekend!

Right now we’ll have the sprinklers on a 12-hour set, until it gets warmer and the alfalfa starts using more water. Then we’ll move to 24 hour sets. I think this will come in pretty handy with a nice cooling effect as the Montana summer days become long and warm.

My view as the irrigation pipe fills with water.

Although I’m on a small-scale place, I hope that a regular snapshot during the growing season will give you an idea of the work ranchers in the area go through, on a much larger scale with different irrigation systems, to grow their crops and livestock feed each year. It’s amazing to see the crops grow and your work turned into a valuable product.

If you have any questions that arise throughout the growing season, just let me know! I’ll be happy to include them in my future posts. And if you’re sharing your photos and stories online during this growing season, be sure to use the #grow14 hashtag. (or #plant14 and #harvest14 for respective tasks along the way)

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