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Drylanders: need a a cover crop idea PDQ

 
Ann Torrence
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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The spring rains aren't coming. What is my back-up cover crop/prevent weeds erosion strategy?

The contractor is digging the irrigation retention pond now. Like while I type. In the long run, the pond will give us the resiliency we need in this climate. In the short run, they are turning out more dirt than everyone calculated. It's being formed into a windbreak berm (a good thing). If I don't get something on it as soon as they finish, it will turn into a bindweed mound before mid-summer.

I can't get water on it except by brute force. It's uphill of the irrigation flow. The best-laid plan was for a hugel, but there is more soil than hugel material and the work is going too fast. So I need to revise on the fly.

On the hunt for a cover crop seed I can throw out there now, minimal water requirements, and hope for rain. The monsoons won't start until mid-July. But the way it's looking now, it might not rain again until then. 100' long, 5' high. Something will grow there besides bindweed, but what?
 
Russell Olson
Posts: 181
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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You could grab a bag of deer food plot mix, usually available at most hardware/sporting goods stores. Depending on what you're interested in there should be an annual mix that could be foraged by animals, an alfalfa/clover mix that would be perennial, or even a daikon/turnip/chicory mix that would loosen the soil up.
Just a suggestion to take up the bare soil until you can figure out what to do more permanently
 
jimmy gallop
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http://www.outsidepride.com/seed/
http://sustainableseedco.com/
http://www.edenbrothers.com/
http://www.southernexposure.com/
http://www.seedsofchange.com/home.aspx
http://www.seedsource.com/catalog/
http://www.wildgardenseed.com/
http://www.jlhudsonseeds.net/
http://www.mightymustard.com/where-to-buy
http://www.fedcoseeds.com/

clover,dent corn,sugar sorghum,amaranth,lambs quarters,rye,oats,wheat,mustard,
barley
I would put out a mixture including wild flower seeds, they are drought tolerant then cover with old hay or straw ,If you can find some willows to cut you can use them to hammer in the ground to hold every thing in place till you get some roots going. or just lay them on top to hold the mulch in place to keep from blowing away.
 
Ann Torrence
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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I realize if you are not from the southwest it's hard to imagine desert climate. It's not like I'm talking about a just a little dry. When I mean no rain, I mean it could be "severe clear" blue until July. As much as I hate this idea, i am considering a landscape barrier cloth until fall. Seed won't germinate without moisture and I would need a pumper truck to wet down that berm. In ideal circumstances we would have dug in the fall, but I didn't have the funds or the contractor available. In the monsoons, I can peel it back, start seeding with fall cover crops and move on to a long term plan.

Get some hay-let's do the math on that: 1500 square feet of coverage, assuming the berm is a half-sphere. One bale, maybe 15-20 square feet. 75-100 bales. I can buy poor quality cow hay around here for $4 a bale if anyone's selling. And then I have to figure out how to keep the wind from blowing the hay away.

Just typing is helping me think this through. It's a suboptimal situation, but one where temporary measures may be justified for the long-term health of the system. There is no way I'm getting seeds to sprout without watering them several times between now and July. With equipment I do not have. Water that could be better used elsewhere. If I looked and saw an opening in the weather pattern that would bring us a few storms from California, I could chance it. But no rain=permanent bindweed infestation and that might not be recoverable in a decade.

Thinking hard.
 
Kelly Smith
Posts: 699
Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
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what is the standard weed in the area?
in my area it is kochia (http://www.permies.com/t/38516/plants/Bassia-scoparia-kochia-fireweed) it is a FREELY reseeding annual.
around here (12in rain, zone 5) it can get to be 6 ft tall with rainfall alone - 7ft+ with irrigation.

maybe you can find a few old weeds and start smacking them against the berm?
the kochia around here is already sprounting.... just waiting for the first rain to start growing. pretty amazing plant, really.

i also like the old hay idea. you could have it ready, then ideally get it down before a snow to help it from blowing away.
we have used field fence to hold hay mulched mounds, but was more of a temporary thing.

let us know what you choose.
 
Bill Bradbury
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Location: Richmond, Utah
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Don't fear the bindweed Anne. It actually can be beneficial; high in nutrients and amazingly deep rooted. We have a large, long huge on the perimeter of our rural downtown lot. I built it about 9 years ago, mostly with roadside fill and other nasties. We planted native perennials, added wood chip mulch and neglected it, hose watering once in a while, just at the roots of the babies. The bindweed came in and tried to smother all. I just mowed back the bindweed with a scythe and left all that for mulch. There is no non barrier mulch that bindweed can not use as a substrate, but a good layer of straw will hold in moisture. I like the big bales; I can stack 2 in the back of my 1/2 ton pickup. They cost $25/bale here and you'll probably need 10 or 12. To keep it from blowing away, stomp it in a bit while the soil is still wet. I like barley or timothy grass, since there will be a lot of seeds left and they will sprout quickly and generate more mulch.
To me it's all about the mulch, I don't care what kind so much as having lots. The hugelbarriers around our house are now basically bindweed free, honeysuckle and choke cherries are now a bushy 8-10', sumac and honey locust are 10-20 and the cottonwood trees are 60'. I like cottonwoods since they grow unbelievably fast and produce tons of mulch and branches for hugels.
I buy 50 lb bags of wild bird seed and black oil sunflowers. They make a great low cost cover crop that feeds the wild critters and needs no water.
I know you'll be fine, you have the knowledge and skills to take care of this!
Bill
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Carpet, billboard tarps, etc. Anything headed for the landfill that you can just divert for a few months.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Anne - can you get your hands on tepary beans? I've also had amaranth and black-eyed peas (buy in bulk from the grocery store) do really well on utter neglect and very minimal water here in Phoenix.

https://www.facebook.com/NativeSeedsSEARCH?ref=profile
http://www.nativeseeds.org/

Other things I might try are Punta Banda cherry tomatoes: http://shop.nativeseeds.org/collections/tomatoes/products/tm007
Devil's Claw: http://shop.nativeseeds.org/collections/devils-claw
Tomatillos: http://shop.nativeseeds.org/collections/tomatillos
Sesame seeds: http://shop.nativeseeds.org/collections/seeds-sesame (can also buy these raw from the grocery store sometimes)

Good luck and let us know how things go!

Edited to add this: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/30-heat-tolerant-strains-of-beans-identified/



 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands
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Ann: Weeds make a great cover crop! The weeds that are growing in your area are locally adapted. They have thrived there for decades, centuries, or millions of years, depending on the weed. They will cover and protect the soil against blowing away -- or they won't. Whatever grows will add biomass to the soil. Might already be too late in the year for annuals to germinate, depending on whether or not there is a spring rain, and how much moisture is in the berm's soil still. If you toss out seeds, then they may germinate with the next rain, whether that is a spring shower, or a late summer monsoon. Or the birds and bugs might eat most of them...

Great cover crops are the things that are already growing in the nearby wildlands... Sunflowers, clovers, grasses, rye, dyer's woad, tumbleweed, and wildflowers like flax, daisies, parsley, balsamroot, yucca, yarrow, mullein, chamomile, ice plant, mallows, etc. Unfortunately, most of them germinate and grow best in winter, and that's already done. I gave up trying to prophecy the weather a long time ago... These days I say: Looks like it's not going to rain... I'll plant something anyway... Never can tell...

Bindweed thrives in Torrey, especially along the roadways where it gets a bit more runoff. I agree with Bill. Since it does so well there, might as well use it as a cover crop.

One thing that I have found really helps with germination in drylands, in spite of erratic rain, is to plant seeds much deeper than recommended. That way the seeds can feed off the deep moisture in the soil, instead of depending on the surface layer to stay moist. It also helps to stomp the seed bed well. That keeps the seeds moister longer. It seems to me that fluffy soil and shallow planting are for places that are constantly wet, not for the drylands.

People in rainy areas really don't understand dryness... One of my favorite pastimes is making graphs of rainfall: For my garden, and for gardens in other areas where the occupant has told me "It never rains here"... I can tell by satellite images, and by Google Street View that it not only rains there, but frequently and heavily.. So I make charts. Then they tell me that they live in a unique micro-climate and the nearest airport can't be trusted for weather data. I just giggle.

Here's what the rainfall looked like at my place in the 2011 growing season... During the frost free growing season of about 100 days, less than 1/2 inch of rain fell. It's common for folks to get more rain in a single storm than I get in the entire year.


And for the same time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania...



 
Bill Bradbury
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Hi Anne,

I took a couple of photos of our old hugelbets out in front of our house. We no longer have a bindweed problem because the soil has improved past that stage of succession. They no longer have that hilly shape either, but take a look at those cottonwoods! They are a big part of the overall plan, developing mulch, providing shade from the summer heat and wood for more hugelbets. I think they hit 50' at about 6 years.
IMG_7755.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_7755.JPG]
9 year old cottonwoods
IMG_7756.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_7756.JPG]
Mulch!
IMG_7753.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_7753.JPG]
Honeysuckles, serviceberries and sumacs
 
Ann Torrence
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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Did you all see the movie Tremors? There's a great line, "we plan ahead, that way we don't do anything right now."


Letting go of the bindweed fight feels just wrong somehow. But it might be accepting what I cannot change, doing the little I can. Why is it that when things are humming along according to plan (contractor shows up, finds to his shock that there were only 2 small rocks in the whole excavation, improvises a way to simplify the pond overflow directly to the swale), the world moves normally, but when you discover your plan has a huge gap, it's like slamming into a mental brick wall at 1000mph? It's thrown me for a loop, that's for sure.

I really like the idea of birdseed and oil sunflowers: obtainable locally, cheap and doable. I have some autumn olive, Siberian pea and honey locust coming from Lawyer that I can plant down low where I can get water to it to start the perennial progression. I'd love to get some piñon going eventually. Pokey things sound good because it's close to the fence. The self-sown sunflowers in the garden haven't sprouted, so there may be time. I will ask the contractors if they have a line on some bales of spoiled hay. How we have managed to do all we have for 3 years without a pick-up still astounds me, but there it is.

I am going to regret for years that I couldn't get wood into those berms, but it can't be helped now.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Ann Torrence wrote:Letting go of the bindweed fight feels just wrong somehow. But it might be accepting what I cannot change, doing the little I can.


I am laughing my head off right now... The sort of morbid laugh that occurs in an overly cliched horror movie: You know that the expendable crew member is about to open the door that the monster is hiding behind... And you kinda almost like her... And you just know that if she opens the door that the monster is gonna be there to take her...

I hadn't realized, until just this moment, how deeply entwined the fight against bindweed is with moral fabric of this area... Sure there is the intimately personal relationship to a weed that just won't die, because it has become perfectly acclimated to our tilling and cultivation practices and it thrives with the marginal irrigation and dry climate. Then there is the moral/social/conscience relationship to bindweed. Seems like it would be easier, and more socially acceptable, to take up smoking or to stop paying tithing than it would to give up the good fight against bindweed. Ha!!!

I'm going to continue to weed my garden and try to slow down the bindweed. About the only thing that I have found that is highly effective against bindweed is deep shade. That might be mulches. It might be shade from taller or earlier sprouting plants.
 
Cam Mitchell
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Location: W. CO, 6A
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Ann,

I realize this thread is 8 months old now, but I thought I would give you an idea for next year. What I did this spring was buy a custom cover-crop from greencoverseed.com, 18 varieties of all kinds of stuff. I got some free moldy hay from craigslist, and used that to hold the moisture in.
We get 9" rain annually, and our spring moisture is spread out through Mar/Apr/May. This worked pretty well, though it did help that I was able to water a little from time to time.
I hate bindweed too, but my therapist is impressed with my progress in letting go of things I cannot control.
Also, another "weed" you might try is lambs quarters. It grows wild here, and we're super dry and windy. I use it like a free cover crop I didn't have to pay for or plant. Chop and drop, baby!
It's also edible, which is better than bindweed.
You might also try amaranth. Supposed to be super drought hardy.
 
charlotte anthony
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thanks cam, my favorite food is lambsquarters, tastes better, easier to grow than spinach and more nutritious. also listed in weeds and what they tell as an indicator of good garden type soil.

does anyone know where to buy this "weed."
 
Cam Mitchell
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Location: W. CO, 6A
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charlotte anthony wrote:also listed in weeds and what they tell as an indicator of good garden type soil.

does anyone know where to buy this "weed."

Err...not sure about that indicator. My lambsquarter was growing on the most compacted, driest, poorest soil on my property.
I'd not even dream of gardening there until the ground was vastly improved.

Seeds:
http://www.seedsofchange.com/quickfacts.aspx?c=9600&cat=624#ad-image-ProductDetail1_aFirstImage
https://www.strictlymedicinalseeds.com/product.asp?specific=537
or just Google "lambsquarter seeds"

FYI, there's also Giant tree spinach, related to lambsquarters. See http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Chenopodium+giganteum
 
charlotte anthony
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many thanks for the source of this weed cam.

i could be that the plant knows where it can get what it needs. also see elaine ingham video, The Roots of YOur Profits

The Roots of Your Profits - Dr Elaine Ingham, Soil Microbiologist, Founder of Soil

Foodweb Inc

Oxford Real Farming
 
charlotte anthony
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many thanks for the source of this weed cam.

i could be that the plant knows where it can get what it needs. also see elaine ingham video, The Roots of YOur Profits

The Roots of Your Profits - Dr Elaine Ingham, Soil Microbiologist, Founder of Soil

Foodweb Inc

Oxford Real Farming
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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