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Cover crop for disturbed clay soil - suggestions?

 
Jesse Fister
Posts: 73
Location: Missoula, MT
18
chicken forest garden hunting
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Hey Permies!

Having moved into our new home almost three weeks ago now, one of the things we knew we had to face going into the purchase was water in the crawlspace. We began mitigation efforts the second weekend after arrival. This included the installation of a french drain behind and around the house, since there were four acres of hillside sloping up to and higher than the foundation in places. So I rented a mini excavator and a skid steer and we started cutting. It was much more than we anticipated, and we ended up cutting a deep channel into the hillside, approximately 7'x7'x50' to make a spillway/walkway behind the stone building where we store wood. It was a lot of work, and we didn't finish that weekend!


I like the idea of trellising peas on this wall.

Facing north in this picture.

Facing south.

Still facing south.

In the process, we moved a lot of dirt. Well, I should say clay. Then, not knowing what to do with it, my brother on the skid steer started re-profiling the hill to the south of our house. He added a few flat areas (like mini plateaus) near the barn. We liked it. Today I went out and seeded the crap out of the sloped part of it with heirloom garden vegetables, especially beans, sunflowers, potato, squash and pretty much everything else you might put in garden. I added a thin layer of mulch and manure we had on hand, then began watering heavily. I'm curious to see what will grow, and if my improvised garden can help hold the shape of the slope intact or if anything will grow at all.


Facing south-ish.

Facing SE.

Facing SW.


As for the rest, we disturbed a huge area of clay soil. It was all dust and rocks when the project had settled. We are not done, and will be going back over most of it again for the final french drain installation around mid summer (yes, people, I read the thread here on the "Paul Drain" variation). Then I want to start improving the soil there by means of a cover crop, then crop and drop (by scythe). I found a site with bulk, organic, heirloom cover crop seed called:

Sustainable Seed Co.

Of these, my favorite choices thus far are:

Dundale Peas
Grain Sorghum
Fava Beans
Winter Cereal Rye
Daikon Radish
and of course: the clovers

Site/project information:
Zone 5a
Huson, Montana
Animals: Alpacas, 1 lama, chickens, (goats in the future?)
Project area: between 1/8-1/4 acre
First planting date: mid-late July

We're looking for yields that can feed everybody. We'd love a pea harvest, and fava if we could grow it for ourselves. Grain sorghum would be great chicken feed. The winter cereal rye would be as well and it has amazing fall biomass. Clover is too high in nitrogen for alpacas and lamas (as I understand it from advice that it is "too rich").

What sorts of rotations would you use? What would you plant this year, and at this time? In the future? Which will do best in this rocky, clay soil and very seasonal environment?

Thanks!

Jesse
 
Jocelyn Campbell
steward
Posts: 3805
Location: Missoula, MT
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books food preservation forest garden hugelkultur toxin-ectomy
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What a cool stone building! Paul's mantra lately has been do your earthworks first, so it looks like you were doing that!

Did anything grow since you posted two months ago?

I added your post to the soil forum, and/or could add it to others where it might make sense.

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1903
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Plants that put down deep roots are going to be needed to hold those new terraces in place.

You might want to do the slope parts with alfalfa, and some "native" grasses such as buffalo grass  just for their soil holding abilities.

I am not familiar with the nutritional needs of Alpaca and Lama but I would think they are designed for a high fiber, lower protein diet.
Since the areas they come from are high mountains where grasses tend to be that way.

For a start I think you have selected a darn fine blend of plant seeds. Diversity is really key when it comes to clay soils.

Redhawk
 
Jesse Fister
Posts: 73
Location: Missoula, MT
18
chicken forest garden hunting
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Thanks Redhawk and Jocelyn.

Since I posted several months ago, I have planted the cereal rye.  I chose this since we would be planting late in the season.  It is supposed to grow into the winter, so I'm hoping my new Icelandic chickens can forage on it.  It will also provide good biomass.  It's growing nicely already, especially where I mulched.  I also added apple and pear remains from pressing this year to the mulch to help acidify the soil somewhat.

For the slopes I planted a mixed bag of wheat, mustard and a number of other things.

Next year I'll plant more!
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1903
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
137
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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hau Jesse, yes once the cereal rye gets up to around 6" it will hold that height all winter long, when grazed down it will simply grow back to the winter hold height.
Your chickens will be able to feast all winter long on the rye, in spring it will grow taller and get "woodier" as it prepares to seed out.
 
Kai Duby
Posts: 44
Location: Colorado~ Front Range~ Zone 4/Wheaton Labs
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Hey Jesse,

We planted bare ground here at the lab with a huge mix but a large portion of it was rye, ag. mustards and the same wheat I gave you. I hope it's all coming up as well there as it is here!

Fava beans seemed to do very well here at the lab this year. Out of three experimental seeds planted I got at least a handful (30-40 seeds), which seemed pretty good since they weren't irrigated or tended at all.
I soaked them overnight, inoculated them and planted around mid-March. I harvest the dry beans around early August but the greens were ready mid-July.

When we visited I was very impressed with the terrace under the power pole. Some before and after pictures of that would be cool to see!

 
Jesse Fister
Posts: 73
Location: Missoula, MT
18
chicken forest garden hunting
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I'm excited to try fava, since they have such a nice caloric yield.  I'll probably throw that whole list I made above next spring.  I threw your seed on the slope of my terraces to help hold their shape, I hope.

Here's the winter rye coming up in the grade:


 
chip sanft
Posts: 347
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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You might think about adding hairy vetch, too. It's effective against erosion, hosts nitrogen fixers, attracts pollinators, and provides animal feed.
 
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