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What to do first? Cover crop vs Mulching over Winter on big blank property

 
Lee Matthews
Posts: 3
Location: Zone 6
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hello, this is my first post - we have purchased a 3 acre home in Zone 6. This property is a blank slate, they have planted 1 very small garden (using only manure and it didn't look like it was started early enough and maybe an afterthought to sell the house like "here's the garden").

Anyway, the land is dry, mostly sage brush, and looked compacted. Nothing but a few trees are present on the property.

We are not going to be moving in until August and would like to spend the rest of the year getting areas set up for next year planting. My husband and I are gardening now but at a very small scale. We have been milling around ideas on what would be best for getting the soil ready organically. Lots of permaculture research and such, and we definitely are interested in no-till.

My question is about cover crop vs. layering. We are thinking some beds we will do some sheet mulching and experiment with that, but with so much area, we are curious about cover crops. If we broadcast cover seeds on land that has poor soil and no fertility, will they grow? or do we have to amend soil before planting cover? Like maybe till once? (Maybe a dumb question but we don't want to put down seeds if it will do nothing). My thoughts were to have cover crops that are winter hardy and we can get something going in the soil during those cold months, but this is new to me.

Also, the back end of the property will be used for pasture (goats) - should we just leave that area to be munched on? just lots of sage brush and dirt.
 
Robert Eiffert
Posts: 16
Location: Zone 8
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What kind of crops are grown in your area? Could you enlist a local farmer to help or do ground prep? Or if used as range land, what animals and what Animal Unit density? The local extension service should have some good basic info and even if the focus is conventional (non-organic, non permie) it would give you a baseline comparison.

How about layered mulch ( paper/cardboard, leaves, imported manure ) and some low hoop beds to start? It sounds like you'll need to work on soil fertility. And concentrating those efforts in beds gets a good start on a garden next spring. Food on the table to fuel all the other work.
 
Lee Matthews
Posts: 3
Location: Zone 6
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I have been studying what grows there and taking good notes. Thank you! I agree, I think starting with beds would be best. I also just found out the area is low on phosphorous. I think concentrating on beds is smart.

As far as animals, we only plan to start with 3 goats and some chickens, then work our way up. Baby steps! thanks for the reply.

 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Since you will be moving in too late to get any kind of productive crop (zone 6), I think that you would be best off trying to get in some good green manure crops that will continue producing some bio mass.

Winter rye, Austrian winter peas, Hairy Vetch are things that should do well in that zone.
The peas & vetch will both produce some nitrogen for your soil, besides some good organic matter.

About 30 days before first frost, you can broadcast some buckwheat in any remaining bare spots.
It will winter-kill, but not before it has produced a decent quantity of biomass.
In warmer climates, buckwheat is often used in a 30 day sow-to-mow - it is very fast growing.
It grows so fast that it is often sown just to smother out weeds.

Good luck at your new homestead.

 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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What tools will you have to work with? Are you willing to hire someone with the right machines?

Only seed if you have water to sprout it. Lots or people feed the birds expensive seed because they broadcast it when it is too dry. But I would sow a fall mix with all the mentioned stuff plus a couple taproot plants-turnips, daikon, chickory, etc.

Mow down what is there and no till drill it in is ideal, but do what you can with what tools you can get your hands on.
 
Lee Matthews
Posts: 3
Location: Zone 6
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R Scott wrote:Only seed if you have water to sprout it. Lots or people feed the birds expensive seed because they broadcast it when it is too dry.


This is the answer I was seeking, I had a feeling we would be feeding the birds on this dry land. We will start with some other techniques. There is actually only a few neighbors in this area and one of them had lots of heavy machinery on his property. I will be baking cookies for him first!

Thank you all! what a nice group.
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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Yeah, you can't toss seeds into a parking lot and expect much to grow. Mark your beds and layer organic materials. Come spring, you should have some nice planting areas.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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On a larger man-sized scale, you can use silage tarps. They will last for a lifetime if you take care of them. They will cover LARGE areas. If you are OK with plastic, it is one of the better uses for plastic mulch. Put it down to kill the area for a few weeks, then move it to the next spot and plant the last spot, progressing forward like a chicken tractor.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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