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Overseeding lawn with Cover Crops

 
Jason Tomblin
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Location: Fraser Valley, BC Canada
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Hello,
I have an area that's about a quarter acre that is mainly grass (grass and weeds that were mowed a few times last season). I'd like to convert this without too much effort into a cover crop pasture for chicken forage and some flowers for bees. My question is whether anyone has had luck over-seeding a grass area with seeds and having the cover crops establish themselves without being planted into the soil? I am considering doing seed balls, but I would save a lot of time if I could save my seed ball efforts for other areas of the property. Would a healthy stand of cover crops come up, or be smothered by the existing grass?

Details:
- I'm in the Pacific Northwest (Langley BC)
- I have on hand : - White Dutch Clover, Oats, Buckwheat, Crimson Clover, Field Peas, Alfalfa, Phacelia


My plan as of now is to scatter the seeds, mow the grass (leaving the clippings), then set up my chicken wire to keep the neighbourhood rabbits off of it until well established. I have a tiller if the grass really needs to be tilled up but I'd rather do what I can to build the soils with as little effort as possible without harming the soil structure (it's a bit gravelly under the topsoil). Any advice would be great, thank you.
 
Lovro Kancjan
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Hi

I have an exact same dilemma. I think seed balls won't help much, though. Seeds will sprout for sure, that shouldn't be a problem. The question is whether the roots of your crops can penetrate into the soil and through the roots of the grass, before the it starts growing really fast.

I'd say the key is to seed some fast growing, hardy crops, like mustard (I've never sown anything you have on hand, but they should be just fine), as soon as possible, when grass is still 'sleepy', but just before the rain. Better risk another frost - mustard I've sown this year survived one without a problem. Mowing after you've scattered the seeds seems like an excellent idea.

I'm not familiar with Pacific NW at all, but I believe it rains a lot, doesn't it? This probably means that your grass dies back completely in the winter and starts growing rapidly in the spring. The positive thing is that your crops should be able to penetrate the soil much easier here, as opposed to places with less rainfall, where the grass' roots make for a much tougher competition. So, yeah, timing is really crucial. I don't know, but Fukuoka would probably agree

Anyway, good luck to both of us, right?
 
John Polk
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I think it depends on how long your grass plot has been there (and, hence, how thick is the root structure). Many grasses can create a thatch like root structure so thick that it can actually kill itself, yet alone anything you wanted to grow in its place. If that is your case, you might be better off renting a sod cutter. Cut out the lawn (or stripes of it), and turn the pieces upside down. Plant your cover crop into the inverted lawn.
 
Rachell Koenig
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We have layed out carpet for about a season, then picked it back up. It killed all grass, then weed seeds were able to sprout up that had already been there waiting for something like that to come along (I guess ). <probably needed some commas in that >.< anyway, we ended up with natural ground cover. I feel that since grass is so tough it is the real enemy not natural weeds.
 
Eric Thompson
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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If you are going to till and directly plant, my order of preference would be radish, buckwheat, and fava beans. each of these gets a great jump on weeds and returning grass and left to grow densely can mostly smother them in a season.

Usually my preference is to get some large sheets of black plastic laid out over the winter (and the plastic doesn't degrade much with little UV exposure in the Northwest winter - haha!)
This will give the sod a dry kill, and here the voles will tunnel through the surface until the plastic comes up. Before a big rain in spring, pull the plastic and seed! Sometimes I surface till with a cultivator and row seed. But for keeping cover crops or field crops (if I have plenty of seed), i just broadcast seed and then run the lawnmower over the top...

My chickens like buckwheat, but they tear it up while growing so it's strictly a cut and toss operation. Sunflowers can usually survive when planted at the same time as buckwheat too...
 
Jason Tomblin
Posts: 31
Location: Fraser Valley, BC Canada
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Thank you all for the feedback, that really helped get my creative juices flowing. I had a some of old rotting plywood that I placed in the summer that are sitting on some spots which seem to be doing the trick to kill the grasses off. I think the sod cutter will be a good choice for the flat areas, which is the majority of the property. I've seen one of them before, but I hadn't thought to use one, so I'm glad I asked. I will rent a sod cutter, roll off the strips of grass/weeds, then pitchfork the soil (maybe toss in some rock dust or lime, or something haven't though that through yet), then roll put the strips grass down where they came from and seed into it. I also have access to a tiller so I'd like to give that a try to see the difference between how well the seeds took. I found that the areas I tilled last year came up with Pigweed (also called "fat hen"), which works perfectly for forage purposes. So even if I didn't have cover crop seed, I could probably use that to my advantage. I haven't thought to use radish to improve the soil, a-la-Fukuoka and I wonder if turnip and rutabaga seed would work? as I have some in the garden that I plan to collect seed from.

I will take some pictures when I get the project up and running as I wouldn't mind trying different methods on different parts of the lot. I've got a few combinations of cover crops to try, and am interested in incorporating bees and chickens into the mix. From the youtube videos I watched on sod cutting it looks pretty fun, I just can't wait for the spring.



Here is one of the areas that will be planted. The grass is fairly patchy and weedy as the field was covered with common Tansy, moss and weeds along with the unmowed grass. I've been mowing infrequently over the last season which has probably given the grass some advantage (but eliminated most of the tansy) but I think I can make inroads with the cover crops in some areas by direct broadcasting seed the mowing. I'll keep you posted on how this works out.

 
Rich Pasto
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http://www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=784 - an article from the guy who hosts NPR's "You Bet Your Garden" radio show on saturdays. If you are going to till then plant something, the last paragraph on this page quickly explains how to established a stale seed bed. I used this method last year with great results for a new grass area, and will use it again this spring to establish more garden area.
 
Roger Merry
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Just a quick thought - you mention the grass has a lot of moss ,in fact you can see it in the photo, This points to a drainage problem and or a low fertility problem and or a seasonal drainage problem - sorry thats a lot of ifs and buts The point is that your seed mix needs to take this into account so you're looking for a deep rooting annual/perennial to break up any panning. If its caused by wet springs and soggy autumns then again this will change the mix required and the germination success or at least sowing timings of some species....

keep us posted it sounds like a good project.

Roger
 
Sylvain Picker
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Location: Montreal, Canada
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You can try "Frost Seeding", an old farming method used with small seeds (it does not work with large seeds like peas). It consist of direct seeding very late in the fall or very early in the spring over damaged pastureland in order to rejuvenate them. You can do a google search about "Frost Seeding", there is a lot of documentation about the method. Some big seeds like peas or buckwheat could be sowed without burying them if you walk or use a heavy roller over them to bury them a little bit. Many plants like the cold weather, soil humidity and hot sun of spring and will grow very fast in those conditions and compete successfully with weeds. The beauty of "Frost Seeding" is that you are seeding in soil conditions that are too wet to use any kind of tools or machines, so you are getting a jump in the season and that give more time to your seeds to grow at a time when the weeds are small.
Leaf lettuce, radish, alfalfa, clover, dandelion (yes I do plant dandelion), chicory and probably many others are not harmed at all by the cold and even seem to enjoy when some snow falls over them, even if they have already germinated. I would explore the "Flower Meadow" methods as some of these flowers could probably be used to supplement chicken forage and at the same time give the eggs that really incredible free range taste. May be you could also explore the butterfly flowers too as chickens are very happy when they can find some insects to eat.
 
John Sizemore
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Location: West Virginia/ Dominican Republic
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Would splitting the pasture up into small paddocks and let the chickens over graze a section at a time, then plant not do the trick? They scalp all the grass out and then you could plant the seed you want the day after you move the chickens.
 
Jason Tomblin
Posts: 31
Location: Fraser Valley, BC Canada
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Sylvain Picker wrote:You can try "Frost Seeding", an old farming method used with small seeds (it does not work with large seeds like peas). It consist of direct seeding very late in the fall or very early in the spring over damaged pastureland in order to rejuvenate them. You can do a google search about "Frost Seeding", there is a lot of documentation about the method. Some big seeds like peas or buckwheat could be sowed without burying them if you walk or use a heavy roller over them to bury them a little bit. Many plants like the cold weather, soil humidity and hot sun of spring and will grow very fast in those conditions and compete successfully with weeds. The beauty of "Frost Seeding" is that you are seeding in soil conditions that are too wet to use any kind of tools or machines, so you are getting a jump in the season and that give more time to your seeds to grow at a time when the weeds are small.
Leaf lettuce, radish, alfalfa, clover, dandelion (yes I do plant dandelion), chicory and probably many others are not harmed at all by the cold and even seem to enjoy when some snow falls over them, even if they have already germinated. I would explore the "Flower Meadow" methods as some of these flowers could probably be used to supplement chicken forage and at the same time give the eggs that really incredible free range taste. May be you could also explore the butterfly flowers too as chickens are very happy when they can find some insects to eat.


Thank you for that. I will definitely give that a try pretty soon as it's finally starting to get cold around here. I picked up some extra alfalfa seed and am looking forward to satisfying my urge to put seeds outside. I looked into the frost seeding on google and there's lots of valuable info. It seems like an easy method and I like the idea that the soil is basically swallowing up the seed. I'll let you know how it goes.
 
Milan Broz
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Location: Croatia
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Lovro Kancjan wrote:
I have an exact same dilemma.


Another one here! This is exactly what I intend to do this spring. As soon as most of snow melt down, I will distribute some mix of seeds over the lawn, probably clover and alfalfa. Then occasionaly repeat process, untill I get good cover crop.

I don't know how to give proper advantage for new seeds. Maybe soaking in water before seeding, to speed up sprouting. Hopefuly at least some of it will be established. Then graze the lawn and reseed, and again, and again?
 
Lovro Kancjan
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So, I decided to try frost seeding as Sylvain suggested, but I have another dillema
The site, where I want to seed, had two big willows that we cut down in the fall and now there are leaves and twigs everywhere. At first I wanted to remove them, sow the seeds and cast leaves and twigs evenly all over the site. But this would require so much work... I could just sow over the site without doing anything. Would the results justify all the extra work, though?
Thanks
 
John Polk
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Most seeds need a good, direct contact with soil in order to germinate, and set roots.
If you just sow on top of a thick leaf layer, you are likely to have mostly fresh sprouts laying on top. The direct sunlight will kill them.
If you have chickens there, they will happily eat all the fresh sprouts laying on the leaves.
 
Bon Fallah
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Location: South Coast BC
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Hi Jason,

I've attempted a similar task with limited success. In my experience the annuals - wheat, buckwheat, peas - just couldn't compete with the already established sod. The white dutch clover, being a perennial pasture plant, will probably do well if the other grasses are kept shortish until it is established (clovers are great chicken feed too!). Careful with Alfalfa - it might do all right in the growing season but is really intolerant of waterlogging in the winter, and I assume in Langley you're on floodplain.

If I were you, I would attempt some sort of shallow tilling. If your soil is sandy - as the gravelly subsoil indicates - you may not need to deep till at all. Annuals are opportunistic species that require a disturbance to become established - however, without killing the sod it'll eventually displace the annuals.

If you're not keen to till, look at other perennial species that might establish in a pasture. White clover is a good bet. There are perennial phacelias, and I'm sure plenty of other flowering perennials. Look around and see what 'weeds' are growing in local farmer's pastures - they might be appreciated by your chickens and add diversity to your pasture. Also, consider the grass types you've got. I can't say from experience, but I suspect softer grasses like orchard grass would be more palatable to chickens than fescue or reed canary.

Best of luck, and keep us updated! I'll be seeding some chicken forage this fall and would be interested to see what works for you.
 
Lovro Kancjan
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John Polk wrote:Most seeds need a good, direct contact with soil in order to germinate, and set roots.
If you just sow on top of a thick leaf layer, you are likely to have mostly fresh sprouts laying on top. The direct sunlight will kill them.
If you have chickens there, they will happily eat all the fresh sprouts laying on the leaves.

ty ty
Should I scatter the leaves and twigs back after I sow the seed, or would that just make it more difficult for them to grow?
 
John Polk
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Personally, I would wait until I saw germination before moving the mulch back on top.
Many species want/need sunlight to trigger the germination.
 
Lovro Kancjan
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I'll probably put twigs back and use the grass on my raised beds.
I took your advice and started raking the area. There's a lot of exposed soil now, which is great! Thanks again!
 
Ivan Weiss
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Location: Vashon WA, near Seattle and Tacoma
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I'd certainly second the suggestions for White Dutch Clover and mustards. I'd also promote the growth of dandelions. But I have a different approach to my front lawn. I use it a lot for recreation and for just sitting out on a chair in the sunshine reading a book and sipping on a lemonade. Therefore I don't want chickens or geese pooping on it. When I'm not playing on the lawn, though, I'm mowing it once it gets 5-6"" high, and feeding the clippings to the cattle and the chickens. They're in the pastures already, this just gives them a little extra treat.

In addition to White Dutch Clover and mustards, I'll be seeding the lawn with forage chicory, giving alfalfa a try, and maybe a few other nutritious perennials. Over time, I'll be turning that lawn into food forest -- the process has begun already -- but until such time, while there still is lawn, I'll want to make it as edible a lawn as I can, even if I have to do a little mowing.
 
Casey Halone
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what are some decent sources to get bulk seed online? I do have amazon prime and get "free" shipping on that stuff. I see all sorts of interesting clover on amazon, not much prime.
 
John Polk
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Depends on where you live. Shipping on 50# bags could be more than the seed. If you are buying lots of seed, your local farm store has the advantage of not shipping cross country. Plus, you are keeping your dollars in the local economy.
 
Duncan Dalby
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If you were in the UK I would suggest adding in some hay meadow perennials like greater knapweed, tansy, salad burnet, oxeye daisy and various vetches. They are big beefy deep rooted perennials that can easily compete with grass if you dont manage to kill it off and most of them have flowers bees and butterflies love, as you said you were interested in attracting them too. You mite be able to find similar native species if you look in rough or natural grassland.
 
                            
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I did the sod cutter method when I planted a wildflower garden over my septic bed a couple of years ago. In the areas where I turned the sod over, the grass basically grew back and took over. In other areas, I removed the sod altogether and these worked out better, although it has taken some time for the wildflowers to establish themselves. I think I would have had better results with the sheet mulch trick.
 
George Lee
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Overseed with varieties of buckwheat ......
That shit will come in thick as can be and FAST .....
Nutrient accumlator to boot, and can be turned in the soil for a shot of good
green nutrition.....I have buckwheat going all over my property....

It's THE bee food...as well. Can't go wrong.
I let it goto seed, collect it, eat, and let the bees enjoy the flowers beforehand.
buckwheat-2.jpg
[Thumbnail for buckwheat-2.jpg]
buckwheat-cover.jpg
[Thumbnail for buckwheat-cover.jpg]
 
Jason Tomblin
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Location: Fraser Valley, BC Canada
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So I ended up using the tiller on the big patch of grass and seeding with buckwheat and some areas in oats. I wanted to try the sod cutter, but I had free access to the tiller. I did this in early May, and it's been a bit slow going but is now starting to speed up.





I have a small square which was planted about a week later on a slope under an old apple tree. I tilled, then planted with buckwheat and fava beans. It's been growing multiple times quicker and is now starting to flower, whereas the big patch in the first picture looks like it's 3 weeks old. The quicker growing stuff gets more shade and is next to a patch of clover.

-On June 8th (about 3 weeks old)

- June 19th (About 5 weeks old)
 
Jason Tomblin
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Location: Fraser Valley, BC Canada
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So the buckwheat with fava beans grew quite nicely in the small patch under an apple tree, with some Lambs Quarters that sprouted and was able to match it's height with the buckwheat. I seeded the buckwheat with white Dutch clover, and the clover is doing well as an understory to the buckwheat which I will soon chop down as a phosphorus rich mulch allowing the clover to thicken up. I've also posted a picture of the big rectangle area that was seeded with oats and some phacelia flower and turnip. The flowers (other than what showed up) and turnips were all enjoyed by the rabbits so I planted some potatoes at the edge of the area. The potatoes look good, the oats are growing, but they are getting some competition from the grass that wasn't killed off enough as I was a little too shallow on the tilling. I expect to grow the oats until winter, and longer if they aren't winter-killed.





 
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