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Converting Pasture from Alfalfa

 
Dan Mcpherrow
Posts: 14
Location: Idaho Falls, Idaho
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We have 10 acres. 1 acre is pasture for goats and chickens. One acre is an orchard that I am going to spend my efforts this summer turning into a permaculture system.

The rest is planted in alfalfa that a neighbor turns to hay and sells. He rents the land from us. At some point I would like to have the entire thing in productive pasture. The idea of that nutrients in the soil getting turned to hay then hauled off is bothering me.

I am really busy right now with the other projects but would like to start building the soil in the alfalfa field and moving towards my goals for the field.

If I ask the farmer to no longer raise the hay is there an easy, low labor way to start building the soil etc on this land?
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Alfalfa is aleopathic, but you can overseed with success. We overseeded with clover, plantain, various native grasses, etc. We did 30 acres with a riding lawnmower, pull-behind seeder, and dragging a cattle panel and log to work it into the soil. Do that after the last hay cutting while it is short, if there is rain coming, early in the spring before the alfalfa starts growing, or best is to "snow seed"--spread it out when you have a little snow on the ground and a big snow is forecast to hit. If you can spread it just as the snow starts to hit, the snow will cover it and protect it from birds eating it all and work it into the ground as it thaws. You can do that anytime during the winter as long as you won't tear up the field while doing it. You can sow 10 acres by hand in a couple days if you have to, though.

One of the best things you can do, if you have fences and water, is to get a neighbor to winter their cows on it and feed native prairie hay. That will fertilize and seed and possibly get you paid at the same time.
 
Levente Andras
Posts: 153
Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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My 1.5 acre plot in Transylvania, Romania, has been covered in alfalfa for 7 years. I purchased it this summer, and until that time, for 7 years, it had provided 3 crops of alfalfa hay per year.

Alfalfa is a legume, and as such, a nitrogen fixer, hence in principle it should contribute to the quality of the soil. Also, it has extremely deep tap roots (several metres long) that can mine water and nutrients from very deep down - as a result, even in the hottest & driest periods, the alfalfa is constantly lush and green. That means, for instance, that you will have a source of mulch (or fodder for animals, or biomass, or green material for composting, or... etc.) throughout the season, all you need to do is mow it down. That's what I have been doing.

On the down side, a field of alfalfa is heaven for voles, as it provides perennail food both above and below ground, and long-term shelter from birds of prey. This autumn the plot was riddled with holes and tunnels that the voles had dug... Also, alfalfa is indeed said to be allelopathic, and as it grows it tends to outcompete other herbaceous plants

My plan is to gradually phase it out. I've disturbed the land in several areas - by making swales and other earthworks, and ploughing strips for tree planting - so alfalfa will stop growing there. But elsewhere I'll keep mowing it to use as mulch under the trees and on the vegetable garden beds.
 
Ann Torrence
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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For two seasons we've been doing a chop and drop mow in our beat-up old mixed alfalfa pasture, mowing about once a month. We planted about 200 apple and pear trees in the field, not clearing anything around the trees beyond about a 1'. Later we went back and expanded a gravel zone around each tree to ease the mowing and thwart the voles. Voles will girdle young fruit trees. If you don't cut the alfalfa occasionally, it will get really thick stems. Alfalfa is our primary nitrogen fixer for this area right now. In two years, we can already see the soil getting darker.

We do leave some uncut each time to flower for the bees. In the fall, we mow everything except one patch that we let get really tall for vole habitat. Then we put our cat out there for a few days.

In the area we put the garden, I do the same, chop and drop. There's no grubbing an alfalfa plant out with a hoe anyway, so I just accept them. I do weed out the seedlings though.

If the farmer is willing, he might keep mowing, just not rake and bale, if you don't have the equipment. I can't find anyone here to do it, they are all just too busy, so we had to get mowing equipment.
 
Levente Andras
Posts: 153
Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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Ann Torrence wrote:For two seasons we've been doing a chop and drop mow in our beat-up old mixed alfalfa pasture, mowing about once a month. We planted about 200 apple and pear trees in the field, not clearing anything around the trees beyond about a 1'. Later we went back and expanded a gravel zone around each tree to ease the mowing and thwart the voles. Voles will girdle young fruit trees. If you don't cut the alfalfa occasionally, it will get really thick stems. Alfalfa is our primary nitrogen fixer for this area right now. In two years, we can already see the soil getting darker.

We do leave some uncut each time to flower for the bees. In the fall, we mow everything except one patch that we let get really tall for vole habitat. Then we put our cat out there for a few days.

In the area we put the garden, I do the same, chop and drop. There's no grubbing an alfalfa plant out with a hoe anyway, so I just accept them. I do weed out the seedlings though.

If the farmer is willing, he might keep mowing, just not rake and bale, if you don't have the equipment. I can't find anyone here to do it, they are all just too busy, so we had to get mowing equipment.


My "mowing equipment" is a good 50-year old scythe but then I only have 1 acre to mow, in fact even less now that the earthworks have been done
 
Ann Torrence
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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Levente Andras wrote:My "mowing equipment" is a good 50-year old scythe but then I only have 1 acre to mow, in fact even less now that the earthworks have been done

That's some work! We use a scythe on the canal bank, a 2 wheel tractor w/5' sickle bar in the orchard. We started working our 3 Nigerian Dwarf goats on the margins with electronetting. These goats are like livestock with training wheels. Someday I'd like a few sheep to maintain the alleys, but that's about #43 on the priority list. We'll all get there, just not all at once.
 
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