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Perennial grassed pasture conversion  RSS feed

 
John Rains
Posts: 10
Location: Fort Payne, AL
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Does anybody have experience with converting a perennial grassed pasture to annual crops?

I know tillage would be a quick and easy way to get annual cover crops established to get the pasture under control but ehh I hate to turn so much soil. So from what Fukuoka said Ive thought about approaching it by either seeding annual grasses this Spring to try and slowly gain control and convert it from perennial grasses to annual grasses to annual broadleaf cover crops. Ive also thought about just letting natural ecological succession have at it until the perennial grasses are suppressed by other plants...AND THEN mowing and sowing with annual crops.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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What annual crops? What are your long term goals? Are animals out if the question?
 
John Rains
Posts: 10
Location: Fort Payne, AL
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Initially I want to grow cover crops to build fertility and increase organic matter which would fit in with getting the perennial grasses out. Long term I would like to include field crops into the cover crop rotation...beans, peas, squash, corn, etc. As of right now animals are out of the question...the fencing is probably the original my grandfather put up; most fenceposts have rotted out...and the pond had a problem with seepage and so the embankment has been blown out since I can remember.
 
Dave Quinn
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What about using Chicken's they don't need much fencing (I've used a tractor in the past and they pretty much cleared ready for sowing/planting.

No expert, just a thought.
 
John Rains
Posts: 10
Location: Fort Payne, AL
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Well its about 6-7 acres of pasture so it sounds like that would be time and cost intensive, at least initially. I also do not currently live on the property and do not have access to fresh water on the property. I dont think I will be able to use animals in this application. I guess Im looking for information on using competing vegetation to replace the perennial grasses..its mainly bushy bluestem grass.
 
Dave Quinn
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What's wrong with the perennials? 6-7 acres seems a pretty big area to just treat as one large field to me. How long to scythe/mow? How much seed? All to compete against what sounds like pretty well established pasture/vegetation. How would this compare to re-building pond and fences ready for when you move back and then you could get some 'helpers' in.

I think Fukuoka reckons if you leave land the bugs do a lot of the soil improvement/enrichment for you.

Don't know this Bluestem, but looking at pictures it looks pretty thick stuff and if it's anything like meadowgrass near here there will be a pretty well established mat at soil level and broadcasting seeds could well be a wast of time.
 
Marc Troyka
pollinator
Posts: 367
Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
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I agree 6-7 acres is way more than you need for field crops, 1-2 acres is plenty. For the rest, if you're absolutely set on not running animals, then you might consider converting it to a food forest. Big/little bluestem is also really high quality grass, I wouldn't be looking to replace it outright with anything. They grow 10ft deep roots, improve water infiltration, stop erosion dead, create a whole lotta biomass and make awesome forage. I'm actually looking to plant some big/little bluestem, indian grass and switchgrass (along with wildflowers and some other stuff) soon to help remediate the red clay soil in my backyard, and to provide some awesome wildlife habitat. Depending on how it turns out I may go after the front yard too.
 
John Rains
Posts: 10
Location: Fort Payne, AL
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Dave,

Nothing is wrong with the perennial grasses, I would just like to try and use the acreage to eventually produce vegetables and grains. I think it took a couple of hours to mow using a single deck bushhog. So currently we have someone mowing it for hay for their animals, so the mowing is maintaining its current ecology.
The pond has pretty much turned into a shallow wetland area and the area around the bank is a pine thicket...which I plan on keeping cause I like pine thickets : ) I would like to work with this and move in wetland plants and try and see what I can do just working with what is there already. I plan on trying to establish live fencing for the areas that have good sunlight...replace the fencing running through the wooded areas.
Yes and I agree with Fukuoka..and from that it gives me the thought of stopping the mowing of the pasture and letting succession move forward until competing vegetation it can choke out most of the grass...probablyl take 2 or 3 years though.


Troyka,

Well it wont all be in field crops at the same time...My grandfather used to farm it a long time ago so terracing has been put in on 5' contours..I think. So I would like to have one of the areas between terraces in field crops and the remaining in some other annual covercrop that can be controlled easily using ecology. I am currently clearing out the wooded area of overgrown pioneer species of trees, mainly sweetgum and pine, so I can open up the understory for planting food forest species. I dont want to entirely do away with the blbuesteem grass in case I would like to convert it back to pasture at some point in the future.
So I guess it would be a good ideal to maybe keep the ridges of the terraces in the bluestem as well as drains to prevent erosion eh? It has kept the soil in good shape all these years..has a decent amount of soil life, good texture, and your correct, good water conduction.
Wildflowers is one thing I would like to introduce into the pasture as well..Are you planning on documenting your backyard remediation?
 
Marc Troyka
pollinator
Posts: 367
Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
15
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John Rains wrote:I am currently clearing out the wooded area of overgrown pioneer species of trees, mainly sweetgum and pine, so I can open up the understory for planting food forest species.

Hmm, sweetgums are great for hugelkultur (and not much else). If you see pioneer species like that dominating it's usually a sign of low soil fertility, unfortunately. The good news is that it's fairly easy to improve soil fertility, and the sweetgums and pine also provide lots of material for biochar, which is badly needed in southern soil. Once mineralized, you don't have to do much else to it for a very long time, too.

John Rains wrote:Wildflowers is one thing I would like to introduce into the pasture as well.


There are many companies that offer wildflower mixes for the southeast, some completely natives (which I hear don't grow so well) and some that are proven to do well in the SE, that will give you crazy blooms all year long. The only thing I'd look to avoid is lupins which some of them contain, as they're fairly noxious, hard to get inoculant for, and poisonous to livestock.

I also have a neat list of dynamic accumulators, many of which are also edible, sometimes multiple parts. I think I'll make a sticky for that, since I can . I probably won't be planting many of them for my current project, though, simply because I have a limited space, time and money for that many species.

John Rains wrote:Are you planning on documenting your backyard remediation?


Definitely . There's nothing really to document at the moment except a pair of hugel mounds that are collecting leaves, but when I start building up to plant I'll take a whole lot of pictures. I'm also using the wildflowers and grasses to do an experiment of inoculated vs uninoculated seeds, with pictures for that too.
 
John Rains
Posts: 10
Location: Fort Payne, AL
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Troyka,

Yeah...So I dont have the resources for hugelkultur at the moment so Im cutting all downed trees into manageable sections and laying them on the terraces to decompose..perhaps I could inoculate the piles with some kind of mixture of bacteria and fungal spores in the meantime? The 'bottomland' area on the property is wonderful though...white oak, maple, tulip poplar and holly saplings..I plan on keeping it as is... Earlier this year I did a little research into pyrolysis and was wanting to setup a unit to produce charcoal...but like I said previously, I had the time but not the money. Do you know any design plans for a pyrolysis system to produce biochar? Last winter I had started reading into pyrolysis and gasification but lacked the resources to do anything.

So last winter I had bought a wildflower seedmix for the southeast and broadcast half a pound of seed over the pasture..I was attempting to frost seed but there really wasnt much of a winter here last year...so I really didnt have much success with that experiment.

 
Marc Troyka
pollinator
Posts: 367
Location: East Central GA, Ultisol, Zone 8, Humid
15
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I know of one guy. If you're mighty handy, you could probably manage it.
 
                          
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John Rains wrote:So currently we have someone mowing it for hay for their animals, so the mowing is maintaining its current ecology.


John, while you may like the way that it looks and the fact that the haying stops succession from taking place, I'd recommend not making hay any longer. Taking hay off is removing the fertility that you're trying to accumulate. Run a marginal reaction test and you'll probably find that leaving the perennials in place will be more efficient than replacing them with annuals. I have a 3 acre section that I'm planning to garden in the future, so I'm in much the same position as you. They've been making hay from this paddock for years now and there's no topsoil left! The only grass in any quantity is Broom Sedge, which shouldn't be too hard to get rid of with the use of mob grazing. I'll be using the cattle to tromp in the seed that I spread, then harvest the resulting growth and spreading the fertilizer for me! So if I get this right, it won't be a money sink, it should at the very least pay for itself.

If you don't have animals and aren't willing/able to get them, do you have neighbors who do? Once you have fencing in place they'd love to let their animals graze your field at no cost to them. There's always a way (but maybe not always practical for everyone) to use animals to replace the machines we've come to rely on.

If you can't/won't get animals and fix the fencing, just bush hog it on a regular basis and I think you'll be surprised at how it improves.
 
Elwyn Pryce
Posts: 2
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geoff lawton explains how to in this video.

For your six Acres and not being there, seems like would be hard to get it done. But its a nice plan.

Chikens to FoodForest

http://youtu.be/6wI9Arel9tQ


 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Sowing into a strong pasture seems a risky business and trying to grow annuals that way not so reliable. Fukuoka used flooding to create weakness in the standing perennial crop, and went from annual to annual, sowing into the standing grain, and then harvesting just as the next wave of sown seed was germinating. This suggests that you need, 1/ some way to weaken the standing crop enough to create 'recruitment niches' for the new species. 2/ timing the sowing of the new species and the weakening of the standing crop so that the new crops takes advantage of the weakness in the old. I understand Fukuoka failed many times.

If you let the pasture overgrow and lodge, it might create more dead spots as the grass competes with itself, potential germination sites for other species.

Don't know you climate or species at all. I create planting niches in my pasture by piling up pasture cuttings and creating dead spots under mulch. But in my setting I need around 10 areas of cut hay to mulch to death, 1 area of pasture... animals work wonders... as does the tractor, for creating a disturbance to weaken a standing crop. Even just a single pass with a disk will give you better germination if you want to introduce new species.
 
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