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How do I seed an existing pasture without uprooting the soil?

 
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I’m seeking some advice on how to transform a ‘weed’ pasture into a pasture that features wildflowers, grasses and cover crops beneficial to chickens/ ducks/ geese? The terrain is sloped, and the soil is a top layer of forest hummus with clay below.

The pasture currently has barely got any grass or flowering plants on it. It mainly has one type of ‘weed’ in summer I haven’t managed to identify yet, that covers most of the land. In early spring however the terrain seems to be filled with a large amount of crocus flowers and wild onions, and I don’t want to destroy these by tilling the soil. How do I get the seeds into the soil, and how do I give them a fighting chance against the already existing weeds that have a head start on them.
I’ve considered several options:
-pulling out the current weeds (whatever’s left of them in winter), and then seed as early as possible before other plants start to grow.
-scratching up the topsoil with a rake, throw in the seeds already now that there are no other plants growing in winter and just hope they germinate before the other plants do
-letting chickens roam the pasture for a year until they’ve cleared the land, and then seed it.

I’m also wondering if the soil, which is mainly clay, might be to rich and heavy for wildflowers, as these tend to do better on more impoverished soils. Is there a way to improve the soil without having to till it too much?

 
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Ive been able to seed out pastures by running the chickens over it, moving them less frequently than usual to have extra disturbance and better seed-soil contact. It will not affect bulbs in my experience. If you slowly move them over the winter by the spring you should have a ready soil bed with lots of minerals from their droppings. If this is steep, it may cause erosion though.
 
S. Bard
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Ive been able to seed out pastures by running the chickens over it, moving them less frequently than usual to have extra disturbance and better seed-soil contact. It will not affect bulbs in my experience. If you slowly move them over the winter by the spring you should have a ready soil bed with lots of minerals from their droppings. If this is steep, it may cause erosion though.



Thanks for the reply!
The slope is kind of divided into two terraces (without reinforcements, so basically you’ve got a soft slope on the first terrace then a steep slope on the edge of the first terrace, and then another soft slope of the terrace below. After that it’s a drop of 5 meters straight down, walled off by a metal fence. I’ve attached a pic of the terrain.
Would you advise to sow the seed straight into the soil, or would you rough up the surface of the soil a bit first? I’m worried that any rainfall may just wash away the seeds down the slope.

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Tj Jefferson
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Can you dictate where the chickens are? I.e. electric net? I have a mobile coop and use it to destroy areas of broomstraw, keeping the 10 birds in one area for 6-8 weeks, and I also put in whatever I want to rapidly compost. I use wood chips because they are free but anything organic will work I've also used bean remnants from the summer. I can put in 5" (about 13cm) of chips and they will be destroyed almost entirely by the action of the chickens in that time in a 200' section of net (so sides about 50'x50' or 17meters squared). Ten birds- they really work hard. After that I put down seeds (for me it is bluegrass and perennial rye and a little clover) aloong with a little other stuff that I can find. Generally I try to get the grass seeds  (which are tiny) in a few days before I move the chickens. Then I throw in some big seeds like wheat and sunflower which they really like and they till the new grass seeds in before the little birds can eat them. I pick a couple areas per year to disturb. I tried with stropharia spawn one year and they ate it all. It works with annual grasses if you want a paddock for pigs just throw the seeds in very heavily after they are out, and then one time raking should be fine.

If you have a net you can put the birds above the steep part, and then below the steep part, and spare the hill the erosion. Doing it with added organics tends to make a very rich and non-eroding seed bed in my experience. Hay would be fine especially the cheap spoiled stuff.

I HIGHLY recommend the electronet for this purpose- keeps the chix in and predators out.  
 
Tj Jefferson
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Portable coop and chicken net w solar charger.
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Tj Jefferson
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Check out Sepp Holzers work on this stuff I learned everything from him and a few others like Joel Salatin. The wild flowers will just show up with good management. I have some starter grass planted but it will mature into the usual plants over a few years. I have clover types here I never planted after 2 years, and am getting native phlox and other wildflowers that I have not seen anywhere near here. Build the soil and that stuff will show up!
 
S. Bard
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Can you dictate where the chickens are? I.e. electric net? I have a mobile coop and use it to destroy areas of broomstraw, keeping the 10 birds in one area for 6-8 weeks, and I also put in whatever I want to rapidly compost.

If you have a net you can put the birds above the steep part, and then below the steep part, and spare the hill the erosion. Doing it with added organics tends to make a very rich and non-eroding seed bed in my experience. Hay would be fine especially the cheap spoiled stuff.

I HIGHLY recommend the electronet for this purpose- keeps the chix in and predators out.  



Thanks Tj Jefferson! Your advice sounds really solid. I would love to give the chickens a go, but currently I can’t keep them yet. I’ve only purchased the property a few months ago and do not live there yet (the house is still being constructed), and it’s about an hour drive from where I currently live, so I only visit in the weekends. Once I move into the property, getting chickens will be first on my list, but it might still take a year before the house will be ready.
Is there anything I can already do in the meantime to improve/prepare my soil until I get the chickens to move in next year to try out your plan?

 
S. Bard
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Tj Jefferson wrote:Portable coop and chicken net w solar charger.



I’m loving the portable chicken coop! I had something similar planned for my chickens, though I want to throw some ducks into the mix as well if possible.
Do you have building plans of your coop? And how many chickens fit into this coop comfortably? I’m guessing the solar charger serves to power an automatic door that closes come nightfall to lock the chickens inside?
 
Tj Jefferson
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We leave for a week or more at a time. Everything is automated.
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Tj Jefferson
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I use an automatic door, solar charger for the fence, and the tube on the uphill side has 2 weeks of food in it. Water is replenished from the roof. If I had not been an idiot I would have had the reservoir inside the coop lightly insulated with cup waterers which are pretty much frost proof unless its well below freezing. Once I make that modification it should be fine for 2 weeks
 
Tj Jefferson
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Sorry for the duplicate
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Tj Jefferson
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Roll out egg box on the downhill side, eggs will be fine for a week. I used a mesh bottom trailer since I didn't have time to make a custom. Way stronger than I needed. I can push it on nearly level ground and move it a couple meters a day to spread the destruction and poop.

Love it, haven't had to do much but move it around.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Ducks should be fine. I don't have plans specifically. I would say to make it very light I used 2x4 lumber, while 2x3 would have been plenty. Metal roofing for siding would be lighter too, i did traditional framing and just stood it up and lag bolted it on the trailer. The little ramp would be necessary for ducks I think and I put it in for training, and maybe will put in a brooding box when these guys are old. I had 15 in there and they seem fine as they really only roost in it and when its really snowy. I'm down to 9 right now. Only lost 3, none consumed just killed and left- ambush attack through the net when the morons were right against it and one hawk kill. Many failed attacks judging by the occasional fencegetting pushed inward!
 
S. Bard
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That’s a really nice coop you’ve got going there! I might attempt to steal replicate your ideas for my own coop 😅 Got any shots from the inside?
 
Tj Jefferson
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I can try. Its really very simple. I figured the shed roof would be 6' on the high end and 4' on the low. framed two sides (uphill and downhill- the longer sides) with upright 2x4 on the corners and one in the middle. Drilled through the steel piping trailer sides (which was not easy) and installed lag bolts to tie the frames to the trailer. Then I just tied them together with a 2x4 on top running down to support the roof, and dropped a 2x4 to frame the door. I did frame at 24" which was WAY overkill. This thing went through the remnants of two hurricanes with no damage.The roof is 1x4 every 1' (so only 1/3 covered with lumber- just enough to screw in the roofing sheets). I put in hardware cloth on the gaps, not even a snake can get in there with the door closed- again probably overkill.

The metal sides of the trailer are the main strength of the coop. It came with them so I used them. I used an angle grinder to cut a spot for the big door (which we use a couple times a year to scoop out any built up poop). I put in some roosts on the long axis (2x3 again would be plenty) with 18' of roosts for 15 birds, and I put in a few crossers to keep them from being crowded on the roosts. Its important they have nice sturdy roosts because I move them after they have gone to bed and its a bumpy ride! Added a large wheel on the front so it's pushable.

There is nothing on the floor, just "diamond mesh" steel we call it. Trailer is 5x8 but I left the last 2' for storage, which was a mistake. Should have removed the heavy ramp and made it the full size. That would have been enough for 20 birds. They recommend 3 square feet per bird but that is for coops. These birds basically live outside and just roost in there.  

For security if you have theft issues, I would consider making a little storage box (with a  steep metal roof on the inside so it doesn't collect poop) with outside access and a jumper energizing your fence. Then you could have the solar panel on the coop roof, and the expensive stuff would be inside the fence. I have been entertained by how many "tough " people stay away from the fence because they dont understand it, and they wouldn't comprehend you just disconnect the jumper and climb over the fence.

Anyhow those are improvements for the next iteration. I kept the trailer street legal so if I decide to make the improvements I can sell this one and make enough to buy all the parts for Mark II. Total outlay on this was $700 trailer, $500 energizer/fence, hardware $100ish,  $100 roofing, $30 front tire and some lumber. Auto door was I think around $200, and egg box was maybe $150. So its not cheap but those birds work constantly! they go on the "lawn" in the woods, everywhere. I've gotten one tick in 2 years since the birds were employed, prior 4-5 a day.

Also, I would get a 12v auto door so its all on the same battery.  
 
Tj Jefferson
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will try to get pix but im gone for two weeks! have to see if I have any on my computer. Maybe a walkaround video on youtube, just as easy.
 
S. Bard
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Thanks for the detailed description and the cost estimate! So valuable. I’m also starting to realise how little I know about construction and electronics to build a coop like this, but now I’m hooked, so I’ll just have to figure it out based on your pics and descriptions! Thanks so much
 
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I'm in a similar situation, except level ground.  I just put out a 50'x3' strip of plastic this week to kill off a plot of weeds/grass that I will seed with some wildflower mix.  Decided to just try to do a strip at a time.

My chickens are working areas for garden beds, but they will contribute also once they are done with the beds.

Mowing MIGHT help you too. It can encourage some things and discourage or even kill off others.  And if you let the clippings drop, they should speed up the soil improvement a bit, which should start shifting the vegetation to things that do better in better soil.  
 
S. Bard
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Thanks for your reply, Dan Scheltema!
The plastic idea could be worth a try since I don’t have chickens yet. How long do you leave the plastic on before moving it to the next spot?
 
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Another option to consider is frost seeding.

The idea is to spread seed after the snow is gone but before the end of the freeze thaw cycle. As the soil freezes, it opens little cracks, and when it thaws, they close, improving the likelihood of sufficient soil to seed contact.

I have had some improvement with this method, tho probably not as good as using a rake or other mechanical means to scratch the soil surface to increase seed to soil contact.
 
S. Bard
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Artie Scott wrote:Another option to consider is frost seeding.

The idea is to spread seed after the snow is gone but before the end of the freeze thaw cycle. As the soil freezes, it opens little cracks, and when it thaws, they close, improving the likelihood of sufficient soil to seed contact.

I have had some improvement with this method, tho probably not as good as using a rake or other mechanical means to scratch the soil surface to increase seed to soil contact.



Would there be any risk of the seed being destroyed by the frost as well? Perhaps using certain seeds that are more frost resistant?
 
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Clovers work really well. Cool weather grasses also. Things like corn or oats, not so much.
 
Tj Jefferson
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S. Bard wrote:

Artie Scott wrote:Another option to consider is frost seeding.

The idea is to spread seed after the snow is gone but before the end of the freeze thaw cycle. As the soil freezes, it opens little cracks, and when it thaws, they close, improving the likelihood of sufficient soil to seed contact.

I have had some improvement with this method, tho probably not as good as using a rake or other mechanical means to scratch the soil surface to increase seed to soil contact.



Would there be any risk of the seed being destroyed by the frost as well? Perhaps using certain seeds that are more frost resistant?



Yes for some seeds that are exotic. I tried with sunn hemp and a bunch was consumed by slugs before germination. For stuff that sprouts in the spring it’s a better germination because they cold stratify. And seed plant like this in nature too right?
 
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S. Bard wrote:Thanks for your reply, Dan Scheltema!
The plastic idea could be worth a try since I don’t have chickens yet. How long do you leave the plastic on before moving it to the next spot?



Depends on weather.  In summer with some hot sun, 2-3 weeks might be enough to kill off most things.  Enough to give seeds a decent chance.
 
S. Bard
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Dan Scheltema wrote:
Depends on weather.  In summer with some hot sun, 2-3 weeks might be enough to kill off most things.  Enough to give seeds a decent chance.



Thanks for the help! Any tips on crops to seed to benefit the chickens/ducks?
 
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I use a seed drill instead of doing anything to the surface of the soil, I also use a blend of seeds in the seed drill so I get the diversity and density I want.

Seeds to use for animals: barley, rye, clovers (red clover can be an issue for deer, horses, donkeys. Non- ruminants can get a form of gastritis from the red clover flowers, crimson, white and yellow clovers are non issues for all animals.
all the small seeded plants (sorghum, millet, amaranth, etc.) are great for all animals and for pollinators too.

Don't worry about weeds, if you plant densely then the "weeds" will end up shaded out.
don't forget to add some fungi and bacteria strains to your soil through using sprays or simply a watering can with the diluted blends in it. This will increase the microbiome of your soil and improve diversity and quantities of the microorganisms of your soil.

Redhawk
 
S. Bard
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I had never heard of a seed-drill before. Am I silly for imagining an actual electric drill that you use to drill holes in the ground which you then fill with seeds? Or is there something else going on (;probably!).

Thanks for the list of useful seeds!

As for the fungi and bacteria strains: what strains would you need, and where does one acquire this?
Would it work similarly as a fermented 'tea' of stinging nettle and equisetum diluted in water to add live bacteria?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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a seed drill is more like a wagon wheel (or bicycle wheel) with the spokes exposed instead of being inside a "tire". The seeds enter the tubes of the drill at the inside and as the tube pierces the soil the seed falls into the hole and so is planted.
Seed drills can be hand pushed models or tractor pulled where there are many hoppers and "wheels" on a frame work. a
Seed drills are set for the depth needs of the seed being planted (or like I do it, set for the largest seed in the mix or somewhere in-between the smallest seed and the largest seed).

Fungi slurries are easy to make and you can use found mushrooms or store bought mushrooms to get the first strains of fungi growing in your soil.
To get mycorrhizae to spread it is easier to purchase a packet of mycorrhizae, just do a search for Mycorrhizal fungi for sale, you should be able to locate a supplier near you.
Alternately you can go to most of the mushroom growing supply stores online and they usually have at least one product that is mycorrhizae.

Bacteria are pretty easy to collect as long as your open top solution contains some complex sugars, the bacteria that land from the air will begin to grow and multiply. Then you simply spray or water with the solution after you have diluted it 10 to 1.

Redhawk
 
S. Bard
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:a seed drill is more like a wagon wheel (or bicycle wheel) with the spokes exposed instead of being inside a "tire". The seeds enter the tubes of the drill at the inside and as the tube pierces the soil the seed falls into the hole and so is planted.
Seed drills can be hand pushed models or tractor pulled where there are many hoppers and "wheels" on a frame work. a
Seed drills are set for the depth needs of the seed being planted (or like I do it, set for the largest seed in the mix or somewhere in-between the smallest seed and the largest seed).

Fungi slurries are easy to make and you can use found mushrooms or store bought mushrooms to get the first strains of fungi growing in your soil.
To get mycorrhizae to spread it is easier to purchase a packet of mycorrhizae, just do a search for Mycorrhizal fungi for sale, you should be able to locate a supplier near you.
Alternately you can go to most of the mushroom growing supply stores online and they usually have at least one product that is mycorrhizae.

Bacteria are pretty easy to collect as long as your open top solution contains some complex sugars, the bacteria that land from the air will begin to grow and multiply. Then you simply spray or water with the solution after you have diluted it 10 to 1.

Redhawk



Ah yes, your seed drill makes a lot more sense! Thanks for clearing that up!

I'll look into that mycorrhizae and where I can find it! Would the fungi slurry work the same way as the mycorrhizae or do they have a different function?
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Fungi mycelium (also known as hyphae) form long strands in the soil, along which the other members of the microbiome travel. The fungi act in several ways, they form a sort of super highway, they eat bad organisms such as pathogenic bacteria, destructive nematodes and they also condition soil by forming conglomerates around their strands. We are still finding out more about the complexities of the soil microbiome and how all the critters work within their niches and what happens when they are outside of their niche.

What we do know is that diversity is how mother nature takes care of the planet so it follows that our soils want and need a widely diversity of plants, macroorganisms (like worms) and microorganisms along with the fungal network. (there are found fungal networks that extend for hundreds of miles and so are part of the west coast biosphere in a big way). The more, different fungi you can have growing in your soil, the better that soil will be and the better it will support all the life forms that live in that biosphere.

I regularly make slurries of the mushrooms I find on our farm and I then place that slurry into the garden beds, around the fruit trees, in the pastures, pretty much everywhere.
My trees have made it through draught easily, with no real signs of drying out and this is because of the fungi and other microbiome critters that thrive in the soils of Buzzard's Roost.

Redhawk
 
S. Bard
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That is absolutely fascinating Bryant! I will definitely try to apply this to our soil.
To make the slurry, do you just put a bunch of whatever mushrooms you find in a bucket of water and leave it in there for a bit? Or do you mix it/ do something else with it?
We eat a lot of mushrooms (I love them), but I always have some waste of them from cleaning them. It would be great if I could put this to good use!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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to make a slurry you need a blender, fill it with what ever mushrooms you have on hand add water and whiz it up to a soup. This is the starter which you dilute 10:1 before applying to the soil around your plants. left overs can be used where ever you need or feel you need, more mycelium.
You can also do this with compost but instead of fungi you will be providing bacteria, flagellates, springtails, amoeba and others. The normal method for increasing the bacteria is through the use of compost and aerated compost teas.

Redhawk

(if you read my soil series there are lots of tips on how to improve soils with the threads)
 
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Thanks so much! I will definitely go over your soil series, this is all very eye-opening!
 
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S,

RedHawk is exactly spot on regarding the seed drill.

If you find yourself on a place that is too steep to operate a tractor, you might consider a slit seeder which is like a little walk behind seed drill.

Typically these are used to plant grass, but you can plant a bunch of other seeds as well.

Eric
 
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This would work on the more level arias

The tractor is framed with 5 cm lumber as well as the roof frame which is hinged along one side. It is basically the size of 2 sheets of plastic roofing and very light to move by hand but to make it easier it has lawn mower wheels on the corners.
The rake method will work to get the seeds into the hill side. I love evening primrose the leaves are edible the first year and the tap root will penetrate into the clay then the next year you will have a tall stalk with yellow blossoms to add to your salad.
 
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This is what I did in a very similar situation.  Mine was slightly less than an acre.

Mentally break up the pasture into 30 paddocks.  Use primereone fencing and put high density chickens in a paddock, and move them every day.  After you move them, spread seed into the paddock where the chickens were yesterday( I used buckwheat and clover).. move the chickens every day and then at day 31 you are back on the original paddock and just keep cycling.  It is a great way to build up pasture, soil and feed your chickens at the same time. It only takes 3 or 4 cycles until the buckwheat and clover take over.   If you want to get fancy, you can even put 3-6 sheep in the paddock that is 5 days ahead of the chickens, that way the maggots in the sheep manure are pretty big and help feed the chickens too.   30 day rotation is really ideal for building up pasture because it gives plenty of time for the plants to grow and establish before they are eaten back a bit.  Pasture/30 is the key.   Also smart to plan things well so that day 30 is right next to day 1.
 
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