We have just moved into 8 acres of property. Two fields (2-3 acres) can be accessed by tractor easily to make hay. The last owners closed of these paddocks last spring to do this in summer, but it was too wet, so now we have two fields that have not been mowed all season and it is now too late (it is now the end of autumn in New Zealand) and the remaining 6 acres pastures with a few months of overgrowth on it as we did not occupy the land for a few months.
We would like keep the hay fields with the option to bale hay as long as possible, and also to establish alfalfa in the fields, but don't know how to do this without doing an initial plough of the grass.
At present, we are actually cutting the grass quite low by hand or weed-eater/wiper-snipper, and the long grass rolls off to almost bare soil below. We are doing this on small patches to feed a large compost box that we have coiled pipe through and hope to use to warm our hot water and house.
We would also like to start growing our own chicken food. We are wondering if we plant wheat or rye seed in the ground as soon as we clear the ground whether it would grow and smother the grass from regrowing. I think the alfaalfa will grow though harvested grain.
We are also wanting to establish our first garden beds elsewhere by putting down cardboard and/or pine shavings and we were wondering if we could grow an initial grain crop by putting holes in the cardboard and planting grain seedlings through this. We are in a temperature climate with an average minimum of 5 degrees C (40 F) and maximums of 12 deg C (52 F) in mid-winter, but we do have some frosts. If I planted wheat or rye, would it grow enough over winter to get a harvest in spring. Would I get some grain harvest, but not as much as if I planted it earlier?
I have read about the fukuoka-bonfils method of planting out the crop earlier in the season, which I hope to plant next spring (Oct/Nov 2012) for my Summer (Jan/Feb 2014) crop (I am hoping this is how it would be applied in the Southern hemisphere. I know this allows the plants to bear more heads per plant than when planted at the usual time, so I am hoping that planting late will just mean I have some, but not as many as during the usual time.
Wheat grows wonderfully over the winter when you have mild winters. It is ready to harvest now in the midwest USA when planted in mid November.
It will grow through grass, but....
you may need to keep the grass mowed down so it can get established, the grass will grow faster.
harvesting the wheat will be interesting. If you plan to scythe it by hand or hire it baled, the grass is not a big deal. If you want to harvest the grain out, the grass will be a pain.
We had alfalfa when we moved to our place and have been slowly converting it to a polyculture prairie--adding native grasses and clovers. It is not an instant process, but can be done with minimal tools. We spot burned a few places with overgrowth (normal and natural process in the US plains), mowed the rest short, and overseeded with broadcast spreaders (hand and tow-behind like for a lawn mower).
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- You would sow he wheat and then keep mowing the grass till the wheat grows longer than the grass.
- We are actually wanting to do the opposite - we want to turn a grass hay field into an alfalfa field as we understood it to be a more nutritional hay than grass for our sheep and goats in winter, and that the chickens will eat it as a green. There will be just two acres of this, and 6 acres of poly-culture that will include a mixed herbal lay in the orchard. Is it a bad idea to make a hay field for baling into a primarily alfalfa field?
We want the wheat to feed our own hens and then use the straw as a mulch, so it is not a problem if there is grass in it. We are hoping that it will be easier to establish the alfalfa through the wheat stubble and directly into the grass come spring.
Annie... I don't know what kind of grass mix you have in those hay fields. But if it's healthy and not too weedy I would hesitate before trying to convert it to pure alfalfa...and i don't think you could convert to pure alfalfa without plowing. You may find that your sheep will do pretty well on grass hay. If you have grass or a grass legume mix you have the option of grazing as well...if it is pure alfalfa you would have to be very careful to avoid bloat. Generally speaking, the longer you can extend your grazing season the healthier your animals will be, the less work you will have to do, and the less energy and expense you will have to put in to putting up feed.
Also if you only hay the land and don't graze it you will need to be hauling and spreading the manure back on it to maintain soil fertility. Keep the critter's moving on the land and not standing in manure, and keep them out grazing as long as you possibly can.
I think the chickens are going to get food value from the bugs and critters if they are out free ranging in your hay fields, or better, following the sheep in a grazing rotation so they can control flies and maggots etc.
You may be onto this already but i would investigate rotational grazing systems and perhaps pick up some portable electric fencing to crossfence your paddocks.
It would be good to try adding a legume like alfalfa to the grass mix for nitrogen fixation. There are other legumes that might work and have less of a bloat risk for grazing but I'm not sure what grows in your climate. One way you could try establishing a legume is to add a small bit of alfalfa seed (or something) to your sheep's mineral while they are out grazing.....run the seed through the sheep, they will broadcast it in a nice fertilizer packet. It might be something to do for a couple of years. You could also try cutting up the sod a bit with a disc harrow and then broadcasting legume seed, and maybe having hoofs trample it in a bit...but it's not the easiest thing to pull off.
I'm very skeptical of growing a successful grain crop on a grass sod, but I could be proved wrong.
It sounds like you have a major garden too...why not plow up a small portion of one pasture and then you could rotate fields of wheat with garden space and green manure?