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Replenishing Hay field fertility

 
Aaron Martz
Posts: 29
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Hi everyone, in my recent education in deep mulch gardening and in cob building projects I have become concerned about the practice of pulling organic matter out of hay fields for repeated years (by the practice of selling straw bales). Does anybody know of:
1) Practices that are known to work in replenishing this fertility? (I know of a few but am curious about other practices)
2) How big of an issue this is?
3) Perennial alternatives to straw in various applications?
 
Jack Edmondson
Posts: 240
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Aaron,

Good observation and forward thinking.  Yes it is a concern; but is a concern for all Ag enterprises.  One of the principles of the new pasture management systems is to have a living crop/root on the land at all times.  This protect the soil, feeds the biology, and cycles nutrient.  In a year round growing cycle, it is possible to have a cash crop, hay/straw crop, etc...; but the key is to also let a cycle grow just to feed the soil.  Remember, the soil is just dirt without the biology that manufactures the nutrients to feed plants.  As long has you have dirt, you will not deplete the raw goods necessary to grow.  However, you need the 'factory workers', in the form of soil biology, to do the work of conversion.  That is your limiting factor.  The microbes, fungi, and biologics are the 'active ingredients' that will not be depleted, if you feed the soil as part of the yearly rotation cycle.

It is a very big issue, one that traditional and industrial ag, are just now responding to, after losing organic matter, fertility, and soil loss for a century.  Many believe the issue is what created the North African desert, and other low fertility places that in antiquity were much more productive.  If left unaddressed, it is a very destructive process. 

As a replacement for straw, look to bamboo fiber.  By soaking and pounding bamboo culms, one can harvest very long, high tensile strands of organic fiber that are renewable, inexpensive, and high grade binding agents for cob.  As far as a replacement for straw into gardening, one can grow in place all the material that will be re-cycled back into the soil that grew it.
 
Jack Edmondson
Posts: 240
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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As for specific practices, what region are you looking for resolution?  What is the climate, rainfall, and 'hay season'? 

In my area, if I were practicing the above, feed the land, rotation; I would come into my fields after the last cut in the fall (late August); and plant a 60 day hemp crop to recharge the nitrogen in the soil, and through down some heavy organic mulch.  After that was shredded, I would throw down cereal rye (October) for the over winter crop.  In the early spring that would get chopped and dropped (March/April) to suppress weeds in the spring, feed the soil, and retain moisture to get the hay crop established.  So my productive months for hay, April - August, would have good healthy well fed biology to drive the growth, with up to seven months of rest and care.  If the fields were doing double duty as a cash crop/forage crop; along with hay; some of the chop and drop plant matter would go to feed in the off months.  Or the cash crop would be planted before or after the summer heat in the rotation.

If you can give more information on your area, I believe a rotation could be planned that would address your concerns for your area.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Jack, I think you have this statement backwards.

Remember, the soil is just dirt without the biology that manufactures the nutrients to feed plants.  As long has you have dirt, you will not deplete the raw goods necessary to grow. 


Soil is a living thing, full of organisms, (they are what make it soil).   Dirt is dead, devoid of any living organisms.
 
Jack Edmondson
Posts: 240
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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You are correct sir.  My meaning was as long as one has dirt, they have the raw material.; but no soil.  If you care for the biology, then you will never run out of soil.
 
Aaron Martz
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Thank you for the very detailed information Jack, I was surprised by such an informative answer!
I was not necessarily asking in a region specific way, but I will eventually be moving to mid-Michigan, so details for there would be interesting.

That is great to read about using bamboo fibers instead of straw. More work, but using a perennial planting that you can selectively harvest only pieces from is a great idea for a smallholder/homestead type of situation. I know of the usual industrial examples of bamboo such as flooring, building materials, paper products, etc. Do you know of any more industrial products that a single family unit or small community could make out of bamboo without the costs of large industrial machinery (and the idea of uses that are low-energy, i.e., without fossil fuel use in their processing)?
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
152
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Aaron Martz wrote:Hi everyone, in my recent education in deep mulch gardening and in cob building projects I have become concerned about the practice of pulling organic matter out of hay fields for repeated years (by the practice of selling straw bales). Does anybody know of:
1) Practices that are known to work in replenishing this fertility? (I know of a few but am curious about other practices)
2) How big of an issue this is?
3) Perennial alternatives to straw in various applications?


1). chop and drop, cover cropping with Legumes and other nitrogen fixing plants that are annual in their nature, Mob Grazing methods. All are good for building better soil.
    It is also well known that any time soil is tilled, the necessary organisms that provide soil life are diminished or killed off, soil left bare will erode quickly.

2). It is a huge issue, if it weren't there would not be as much research going on as there is now. One of the focuses is on Carbon Sequestration by the plants growing and what happens when these plants die and are not replaced immediately.

3). in most places there are several alternatives, but most straw comes from the harvesting of grains. Once the grain is harvested and the straw bailed, new planting occurs or the field is left fallow for a season or year. This makes straw a not bad thing to use.
      The new models being suggested all use a no-till methodology which lowers the amount of fuel used, which means less air pollution and less degradation of the atmosphere.
      If you were to disk in the straw, you would actually be using a lot more fuel energy than if you bale the straw and plant through the stubble.
This is because you make a disking run, a harrowing run, a leveling run, a seed drill run VRS a cut run, bale run, seed drill run, for straw, some are now combining the cut and bale into one pass, this is more efficient since straw is already dried when the seed heads are harvested.
      Since straw is part of the Agriculture of wheat and other grains, the ideal model puts more dollars in the farmer's pocket so he is more likely to continue using the ideal model that benefits soil building and fuel conservation.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
152
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
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Aaron, you might want to look into coconut choir as a straw substitute, it would need far less processing than bamboo and it would be almost as if not as strong a fiber for cob than bamboo fiber. (Bamboo suggestion is simply brilliant by the way Jack.)
 
Aaron Martz
Posts: 29
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Thanks for that suggestion Bryant. I have used coco peat (same stuff right?) for making soil blocks, but not for building projects. My problem with it is that palm trees don't grow in cold climates! But I do like coco peat for it's many great characteristics, especially when I used it in the soul block mix.
 
John Stannum
Posts: 13
Location: NSW Australia
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Replenishing a hay field.
Spread compost.
Try leguminous plants for hay.
Graze with livestock during the year.
Grow mixed species pasture and graze for 2-5 years.
Only a few ideas but with different legumes, pasture species, and livestock species its a lot to try.
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