Three months ago I purchased the vacant 42 acres of woods that borders my home and 12 acres. The property use to be a working farm 25-30 years ago. It was not in row crops but instead was about 5 acres of pasture for 1-2 cows, 120+ pigs, and an acre of tobacco.
Last week I had a forestry mulching company come in and mulch up approximately 4-5 acres that was pasture 25 years ago, cleaned out an old dry pond that I am going to try to get to hold water again, cut some access trails through the woods, and cleaned up around an old hog lot.
My question is:
I'm in Zone 7. I'm in Middle TN (South of Nashville). I have anywhere from 3-12" of mulch from the trees/brush they mulched up covering the soil in the spots I want to convert into pasture. I'd like to either get a cover crop started or if it's not too late in the year to go ahead and seed for pasture grasses/legumes. I will first be adding lime to the fields.
I have a 3.5 acre field and a 1/2 acre field. I'd like to grow out a young steer (maybe 2) yearly. I plan on using the 3.5 acre pasture as the main pasture and then rotating the steer to the 1/2 acre pasture for short periods of time when the larger pasture needs to recover.
I'm not a farmer. I've never tried to establish a pasture in my life. I do currently keep a traditional garden (3K sq ft), raised beds (1K sq ft), have chickens, rabbits, honey bees, an orchard, and a vineyard that I have established over the past 6-7 years. I do have a compact tractor w/a few implements.
What would you do this late in the year in your attempt to establish a pasture over the next year and having all that mulch on top of the ground?
To note: I am a big fan of wood chips and mulch. I use around 120 yards/yr that a tree trimming company dumps on my property when they are close...so I know a bit about growing a garden with wood chips piled on 5" deep.
You would want to check locally to see what type of legumes will start growth now and continue in the spring. All of those wood chips are going to lock up some nitrogen, so that's why I'm thinking you need to add it. When you seed for pasture, be sure to keep that in mind.
There will be various types of clover and vetch and probably other things that will work in your climate.
Tobacco land is often badly depleted , so something to keep in mind.
You'll have greater luck with rotational grazing if you split the land into many smaller paddocks. Otherwise the animals will be very selective in what they eat, until you are left with mostly things that they don't like. They will probably trample more food than they eat.
I’m not so sure you are going to get much growing with all that fresh mulch on the surface. You might do better to let that age in place over the winter and then do some spring seeding. Even then, it will take a long while for all that mulch to break down to where pasture plants will grow. But, if the rye seed is cheap, maybe no big loss if it doesn’t work, and maybe some of it grows.
“All good things are wild, and free.” Henry David Thoreau
When I lived in NJ, the farmers around me used winter rye as the winter cover crop. Come spring, some plowed it under. Others ran some livestock on it for a couple weeks then plowed it under. I watched one farmer have a tree company come in and use some sort of tree grabber to yank up all the trees (about 5" diameter trunks) in a lot and send them through a giant shredder. Wood chips everywhere. A couple weeks later when I drove by, the newly opened land was already starting to show green from the sprouting rye.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
Now that I have some time I can expound on this some.
Winter rye is about the only option that will not be winter killed. It is used as a conservation seed because it establishes itself fast, sows about anywhere, has deep roots, and is cheap. Once it gets growing, next spring you can bushog it (chop and drop) and get the organic matter starting to build up. This is both green and brown so you are going to have acres of compost cooking basically. This is a fine way to make soil.
You might even consider discing it in next spring, and if you wait until after the rye goes to seed, you can get another free crop. Discing would just mix the mulch, soil underneath and chopped up winter rye. Soil building in other words.
I also should have said, your new field looks really nice. Yu definately did the right thing by doing that! Nice job.
I’m on board with Travis. Ultimately cheap seed is the answer, unless you can run a box blade or light disc to get seed under some cover and near the soil, birds will eat it nearly completely. I’ve had some success with winterpeas since birds don’t seem to like it, but it will struggle to get established through more than an inch or two of chips. Basically I either use little seeds that work into the mulch like crimson clover and turnips or big seeds that have reserves to get their initial root through the chips. More than 1-2 inches is too much for that strategy. I can’t see how deep the debris is from the picture. If it’s deeper than that just let it rot I would think, seed is unlikely to do much.
All the seeds in my mix have been winter hardy in zone 7 for me. Some like Daikon have done spectacularly.
Standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants with dirt under their nails
I would throw in some clover along with the winter rye.
Subclovers like Campeda or Losa are tough and will grow well late into the fall/early winter. Antas will grow really well even after a hard frost. Monti is another clover variety that do well deep into the winter months.
Clovers fix nitrogen, are a favorite for grazers, do well on marginal soil, don't need full sun-light, and generally fills in the pasture below the larger stuff the grow above them. The "sub" in subclover means that they do well to fill in the space at the bottom of the other plants that stand taller.
If you got a mix of clover seeds (losa, antas, monti, mawson, denmark), what doesn't germinate now will likely come up in the spring. Within a couple of years, your land will select the plant best suited for your microclimate.
There's still plenty of time before winter to establish a solid cover crop. And while I wouldn't recommend tilling wood chips into the soil, if there were a way to disk your seed to get it below the wood chip layer, I'd probably do it. You need good seed to soil contact for germination, and wood chips are not a viable medium for long-term growth. What n-rob you might be creating (by tilling some of those chips into the soil profile) will be negated by the nitrogen fixing of the clovers.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
Just so you all know that I did not abandon this/a follow up.
I ended up taking my tractor and a grader blade and pushed the majority of the mulch around the perimeter. I then hand sewed rye grass and Ky 31 to around 100 lbs/acre. ($500 "ish" worth of seed)
I did not lime the area since the weather turned bad/wet. I decided to go ahead and sew it because the chances of getting in to apply lime this year was approaching zero. I did have a soil test performed and it called for 2500 lbs of lime per acre.
Pic was taken by my son this evening from a deer hunting tree stand. It's been about 30 days since I sewed it all.