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cover crop in the Tri-cities

 
Janet Dowell
Posts: 31
Location: Kennewick, WA
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We're (my dh and I) very new to the PC scene - I've read gaia's garden & listened to some of Paul's podcasts in the last two months. We want to PC our yard (1.2 acres of mostly grass in the semi-arid climate of the Tri-cities, Washington). I will be taking a PDC class this year - hopefully the one up at Flathead Lake, but I know we need to do something (actually, we need to do a lot of things) with our soil to prepare it for PC that we will begin later this year. I want to cover crop it this spring and my plan is to till it (we have a farmer friend with one of those big tills) and seed it shortly before our irrigation water gets turned on.

I realize that the purists out there are probably sticking their fingers in their eyes at the mention of the till and the irrigation, but we're somewhat stuck at the moment. I want to tackle the half-acre + area that is north of the house (see attached pics), and it is too large of an area to sheet-mulch (unless someone is willing to donate an army of gnomes to me), especially given that the Tri-Cities does not have any city composting services (we also can't do food scraps due to the high number of coyotes in the area). I can locate some manure, although we have to load/haul/unload it ourselves, unless I want to pay big $$$ to private nurseries - I'd rather save our money for plants. I may be able to get wood chips from some local lumber places. Feel free to pipe up if anyone has any other ideas for low-cost items we can source here - I'd rather not go to the many agri-businesses in the area due to the high number of antibiotics in the animals and pesticides in the crops.

The soil is highly compacted and not in very good shape. One of my neighbors told me that the man who built our house (in 95) took out truckload after truckload of topsoil (undoubtedly sold it), and we have not fertilized the grass in the two years we lived here and we haven't been very good about watering it (we knew we wanted to replace it...just took a while before we discovered PC). In one of the pics, you can see the line of where our neighbors house ends (the trees to the north) and where ours begins because their grass is actually green (they fertilize a lot, unfortunately).

Anyway, I'm thinking of mixing clover, vetch, and alfalfa with maybe daikon radish seed and yarrow?? I'm assuming I don't want any of this to go to seed, so we'd slash & leave in place sometime before seeding started and then perhaps cover all of it with a covering of manure and then maybe replant with more or a different cover crop? I'm a little concerned about comfrey and the spreading roots, but it sounds like a great plant as well. I don't know if that makes any sense, and maybe it doesn't really matter what I choose, but before we start going hog-wild down here (& before I have a chance to take my class) I would really appreciate hearing from a few folks who have some experience (that would be you all).

I don't know of anyone in the Tri-Cities who is actively doing PC, so I have to rely on the kindness of strangers to help with our baby steps! Thanks in advance!
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Lolly Knowles
Posts: 159
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I would suggest you think about adding your shredded paper to the mulched area. You don't really want all that personal data (even shredded) going into the trash or recycle for someone else to get their hands on, do you? ~~ I just suggested this to my gf who has been burning her shredded end of year records.

I can understand your feeling that tilling must happen (and maybe it must). But do you happen to have access to a football or soccer team with cleats on their shoes? I'm thinking that a dozen kids running around punching holes in the surface of that field would help somewhat.
 
Peter Fishlock
Posts: 70
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Hi Nice land!!!,

Il write abit about what I would do but im no expert so maybe take some ideas that might work for you and discard others.

Firstly I wouldnt till the land, If the soil is that bad its really struggling, Tilling would expose what good fungi and microbes there are in the soil and kill them and that could put you back years. Just because its hard and compacted it doesnt mean there isnt things in there that will help you down the road.

I like your list of plants, I live in england so our plants will be alot different, but perhaps you could use some hay and put some hugelkulture beds across the land not many just a few running across your slopes on contour, In these it would be best to completely stack with legumes, plants that will attract beneifcail insects and bees for pollunation and fast growing pioneer species that will go up and provide shade for the rest of the plants, These species you can use as mulch further down the line keep some and get rid of others. Get all the good ones in there that pul up nutrients from down deep in the soil, and have a play.

Mulch cut from plants and laid straight on te ground is better than compost, it will encourage the little icky biffs you need to start converting it to good soil. really get those raised beds going and get allsorts of species going on them.

once they are up you can now use chickens to expand them species from the hugelkuture beds to other parts, use a moving chicken pen that you can wheel around move the chickens to a different spot each day, feeding on the plants from your raised beds. They will scratch around on that hard soil inbetween the beds pecking away at any seeds that have dropped and ofc they poo those and and they germinate making the plants species move and become established inbetween your beds. this is now free planting, done for you.

It takes longer than sowing all the seeds yourself but its cheaper and the chickens speed it up because the make the soil more suitable for seed germination.
Perhaps this you can walk the countryside at the right times of year and locate species you would like and harvest the seeds, if its a while until them plants seeds, just locate them, keep your eye out, if you see one in someones gardens give em a knock and ask if you can have some seeds when there on the plant. I got 100's of this evil spikey plant seeds from the church yard up the road from me, a friend needed and scary border. I didnt know quite how to do it to be honest so I got the fruit and got all the seeds out, then washed em and left em to dry out, a few days later I planted them in some soil and watered. after a week of no show I gave up on it and left it to one side,
then I checked it a few weeks later and there was hunfreds of these little things coming through, ofc I had planted them all together in one container which made it a bugger to got them separated, but I gave them to my mate and he did the rest, funnily enough I did the same on some melon seeds just to try it out, But i done it too late in the year for them to produce any fruit, I got the melon seeds from a melon we had for breaky from the supermarket.

I guess what Im trying to say if your trying to not to go to crazy and spend before you do your pdc, just play with nature and see what you can get, if theres any wasteland around see if theres any plants on there you can dig out and transplant. Im sure no one would care if its overgrown land no ones working, just becareful it isnt someones food forest they can look like overgrown land, LOL

I would be reluctant thought to do too much before your pdc because when you come back from that your head will be exploding with ideas of exactly what to do, so its really just getting some useful species established that will help you further down the line. One of the thing I have noticed people do when they get land is just watch it grow, dont be affraid to leave it and see what grows naturally, you might find some great little climates that pop up that you didnt even realise were there, leave the grass to grow and attract the the organisms you need to make it happen., It;l look wild for a while but will be much better then short cut grass.

Comfrey, i have heard alot of people using comfrey, actually almost every perma vid I have watch people have them, you can pick the leaves and wrap things wit when you plant them becasue they pull up so much nutrient.

Bill Mollison says to wrap seeding potatoes with the comfrey leaves and it gives it a great head start, I think its like everything you hve to use it and get the most out of it, if theres alot of comfrey and your getting concerned just pick it out and leave for mulch etc. how the water situation where you live at different time of the year? is there water on your property? how do you plan so far to keep it all going water wise?

again this all come from what I have read and watched in the last few months, I have not tried any of this yet, but I hope some of it has helped you some where down the line.

Play safe

 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3646
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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Peter Fishlock wrote:I would be reluctant thought to do too much before your pdc because when you come back from that your head will be exploding with ideas of exactly what to do, so its really just getting some useful species established that will help you further down the line.


I agree with this.

You definitely need to sketch out your pc plan with zones and what not.

I'd also recommend swales and hugelkuture beds instead of tilling. The weeds will come in droves and your soil structure wont be helped. You could try laying it out with mulch bales. At the least you'll see how a swale will look and the soil life will improve dramatically under the bales.

I also put some compost and grass seed on top of the hay bales, thinking it would shrink down to 8" mini swales. It worked great till the cows came in and wrecked the joint. They went nuts for the cheap hay so I'm going to buy more next summer and save some money!
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Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3646
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
78
bee chicken fungi solar trees
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Also, we had the property logged 5 years ago and told the logger to open up a space for a garage (that never got built) and for pasture. I wasn't there when he did it and he scraped off all the top soil and left in in a big heap. The "pasture" has been a little slow in coming along...

PS, if you look on the right side of that pic, you'll see my ram outside the paddock munching on brambles.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I would start small! cheap/free stuff you can get pretty easily: Mulch (find a tree service and ask them if they have free mulch and if they deliver). If you can get mulch you can put down cardboard, manure, and then mulch and let it rest for a while. Start with the orchard and just put down lots of manure and compost around where you put the trees. You can't do a whole yard at once, especially not that big! You need tons of materials, time, money, etc.

For my yard (which I started in spring '11) it hadn't been touched for the most part in 20 years, when my family moved onto the property. I started small planting a small garden area and trees. I mostly didn't worry about what was around the trees, but you could plant a guild at a time. If you know what trees you want already you could start your guilds, especially N fixers, nutrient accumulators, and mulch makers, and then chop that stuff into the soil when you plant the trees. I would maybe do an intensive sheet mulching where you want your "kitchen garden". Maybe figure out your contour and where swales would go well, and then you have a better idea of where to plant your trees.

Do you know what all you would like to do?

I would also look into getting chickens or goats or some kind of animal to build soil and eat stuff that you can't!
 
Heather Justesen
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Those sound like good plants to start with, though alfalfa isn't an annual, it's a perrenial with a long tap root, which makes it a great plant for your garden, but hard to get rid of later (if you decide you want to) I had a ton that came up in my garden (probably badly composted manure from the horse stables). I can't get rid of it--which makes it nice that I've now decided to leave it and use it to build the soil instead.

I'm in a similar situation, blank slate of land, nearly an acre and trying to decide where to start first. Unfortunately I can't afford a pdc right now, so i'll just have to see what I can work out based on independent study.
 
Janet Dowell
Posts: 31
Location: Kennewick, WA
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Hmmm, I posted a reply earlier today, but now don't see it. Technology is sometimes not what it's cracked up to be.

Anyway, thanks so much to all who responded. I like the hugelkulture idea - it might beat tilling. My only issue is that we often get high winds around here when the weather is changing (as in, spring) - 25 - 30 mph is not uncommon. So I'm wondering if the hay/straw would just end up in my neighbors' yards. Perhaps if I put the wood mulch on top, then manure, then seed??

My original thought was to get something going this spring to improve the soil, since I wasn't/am not sure exactly when I'll make it to the PDC. However, if I'm successful in scooping out the time for the April/May one, it would make more sense to wait.

Regardless, I appreciate the above comments/suggestions/discussion - it really does help to think it through!
 
                        
Posts: 40
Location: Berkeley,CA
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Its a small world, my Dad lives in Pasco and it does get mighty windy there blowing through and around the gorge doesn't it. You say Washington and everyone thinks "big green trees and rain", So I was surprised to drive into high desert the first time I went to visit.

I agree with Hannah that you should probably keep it simple to start because you do come home with a brain raging with ideas and inspiration after any sort of pdc. You could probably start with grading that grass off and turning it upside down to rot then mulching over the top of that so as not to expose the helpful critters. Toss your cover crop seed right on top of the mulch and they will find their way into a crevice and grow then at least you will be starting the process and can design whatcha want while mama does the work for ya. best of luck
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
Posts: 3646
Location: Vermont, off grid for 22 years!
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Janet Dowell wrote:My only issue is that we often get high winds around here when the weather is changing (as in, spring) - 25 - 30 mph is not uncommon. So I'm wondering if the hay/straw would just end up in my neighbors' yards.


Hay or straw bales wont blow around and a good rain will make them almost impossible to move.

Start planning your windbreaks now.
 
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