• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Fallow Field Soil Improvement  RSS feed

 
Brett Bailey
Posts: 6
Location: Georgia & Massachusetts
forest garden tiny house
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi,
My family recently inherited about 25 acres of land in southern Georgia.  About half of the land is a field that has been regularly mowed for the last 10 to 15 years and the other half, planted slash pine.  I hope to slowly transition it in to a fully functional permaculture landscape that includes a little bit of everything.  Right now I'm most concerned with improving the soil for future use.  Currently Fescue, Chamber bitter, and dogfennel are some of the most common occurring plants covering the field interspersed with small patches of exposed soil\clippings. 

Soil pH: 5.6-6.2
Soil Test Resuts (lbs\acre): P:124-179; K:29-74; Ca:744-1177; Mg:60-144; Zn:4-8; Mn:5-7

I am thinking that the best thing to do would be to plant a good cover crop for soil improvement until we're ready to plant other things.  First, however, we would need to remove the weeds.  Any suggestions on best practices for weed removal and cover crop planting with considerations for lower cost and labor requirements?

Any pointers to resources specifically for landscapes in the deep south would also be greatly appreciated.  "Sustainable Gardening for the Southeast" is providing some guidance.
Thanks in advance!

 
 
Brett Bailey
Posts: 6
Location: Georgia & Massachusetts
forest garden tiny house
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
So I've been continuing to research this challenge.  I've had a hard time finding information on multi-year strategies for soil improvement that doesn't involve active cultivation throughout the year.  I believe the best first step is to gradually start sheet mulching, perhaps 1/4 or 1/2 an acre at a time.  Planting cover crops in those areas seems like the next logical step, but I'm uncertain about the best approach.  My goal is to have at least a couple acres ready for planting in 1 to 3 years.  Is there a perennial or re-seeding annual that I can plant and leave or plant and occasionally mow during that 1 to 3 years? What would I do after that period; cover the area with weed fabric before planting? 
 
O. Donnelly
Posts: 39
Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
4
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Are the nutrient numbers the suggested additions? What is the organic content? What are you planning on doing with the field - to state the obvious a mixed orchard may require a different strategy than row crops. what is your budget, timeframe and infrastructure (tractor? water? etc)? Was the field hayed or just mowed?

Maybe to start, as you're putting together your plans, (1) work on applying soil amendments and (2) continue (or start) flail mowing or mulch mowing a couple times a year. Can do this either locally or over the entire field depending upon your plan and resources. This would start the long term process of correcting mineral deficiencies and increasing the organic content of the soil without disrupting the soil food web that is in place. Many organic options take time...Lots of resources on the web for interpreting soil test and converting them into action. Here's one. https://blogs.cornell.edu/gblblog/files/2016/07/Veggie-Info-Sheet-2016-1jsq90e.pdf

I'm in year two of a 30+ tree orchard, started two hours from my current home at the site of a new house I'm building in a pasture. Common advice (even from beyond organic growers like Michael Philips) is to till and cover crop for at least a season, then sow a diverse pasture mix. To me that seems to be a lot of expense and effort, pretty destructive to the soil ecology, burns up a lot of existing organic material that may or may not be fully replaced by the cover crop, and gets you back to a plant ecosystem you may already have. All for the goal of getting rid of weeds, which you may or may not accomplish depending upon how timely you are with the cover crop regiment, and which you could accomplish anyways with strategic mulching.

I don't yet have any power equipment and I already have a feral, diverse pasture. Albeit one that has been hayed for decades and therefore has been "strip mined" of soil minerals. So I started 6-9 months ahead of planting by scything the tree rows, double digging a 10 sq ft station for each tree, amending with dolomitic lime (for ca, mg, and ph), bonemeal and greensand for potassium and phosphorous. Sheet mulched with the scythed hay. I'm sheet mulching out from the original stations as the trees grow. As the mulch rings from adjacent trees touch I will plant insectary plants, nitrogen fixers and dynamics accumulators.

I would've liked to have done more and would have if I had had the equipment. But I think I did enough right where I needed to with the time and equipment I had at hand. Il do more as I go...starting exactly with what I recommended to you.

I guess that's the overall point - do what you can with the resources you have, tailored to your specific plan, guided by a critical and common sense analysis of all the advice out there.
 
O. Donnelly
Posts: 39
Location: Hudson Valley Zone 5b
4
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
PS - I think properly sheet mulching even 1/4 acre will take a huge amount of material and effort.
 
Adriaan van Roosmalen
Posts: 33
Location: Netherlands (moderate maritime climate)
4
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You can search for "cover crop" at http://extension.uga.edu/publications and find a lot of info of suitable plants.

According to http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.cfm?number=B1436 cereal rye and crimson clover are the most used cover crops in Southern Georgia. They also reseed well.
 
Brett Bailey
Posts: 6
Location: Georgia & Massachusetts
forest garden tiny house
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
OD & Adrian, Thanks for the replies!

OD:
Those nutrient values are the range of lbs/acre equivalents of what is actually in the soil at 8 survey points.  Unfortunately the results did not include organic matter.  Based on my handling of the soil, I would guess that it has somewhat poor structure and lower organic matter.  The soils drys out quickly and so far I haven't seen a single earth worm while working with the soil, only mole crickets. The soil is loamy sand. To answer your other questions.  The land has only been mowed, not hayed.  We only have a mower, no tractor.  A vegetable\herb\medicinal garden will probably be the first priority followed by a milk cow, goats, hay, and some grains.  The margins of our planted pine host a variety of natives which I hope to expand along with thinning.  Some fruit and nut producing trees will also be part of the plan. 
Right now I feel like the mixture of weeds, especially low ground covers like chamberbitter are doing little to improve the soils.  We're currently mowing with a blade height of something like 5" which doesn't even cut a lot of them.  I read that some cover crops could possibly be directed seeded after a closer mowing perhaps I could try that or just start sheet mulching an even smaller area?  Perhaps I could make use of all the pine straw and future pine chips for mulch or hugel mounds if it's just going to sit there a while...

Adriaan: Thanks for the link.  I'll check out cereal rye and crimson clover. A mix of species might be nice.

Everyone:  So the use of a reseeding cover crop might not be such a bad idea over at least some of the area?  Any votes for beneficial perennials?

Thanks again!!!
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
289
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
For a good read on a variety of cover crops, I suggest this SARE book :
(Both versions are free.)

Online text version
http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition/Text-Version

PDF download
http://www.sare.org/content/download/29733/413984/file/Managing%20Cover%20Crops%20Profitably.pdf?inlinedownload=1

The online text version is actually much easier to use.  Specific crops, tables, etc are all written as 'live links'.  So, you can use them, and your browser's Back Button to bounce around the book without having to scroll through hundreds of pages.


SARE-Cover-Crops.PNG
[Thumbnail for SARE-Cover-Crops.PNG]
 
Brett Bailey
Posts: 6
Location: Georgia & Massachusetts
forest garden tiny house
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks John,
That seems like a really good book that does provide guidance for soil improvement, similar to my interests.  Perhaps I'll try planting some sorghum-sudangrass and Rye.
 
Angela Aragon
Posts: 50
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You might consider watching a Gabe Brown video on YouTube. His method is no till and uses a diversity of cover crops. It builds a rich soil base with loads of microrhysal fungi.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 3004
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
243
chicken dog forest garden hugelkultur hunting toxin-ectomy
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The easiest way to improve soil fertility is to make use of the soil. Fields simply left fallow do not gain much if any in the way of humus while they are stagnant.

In restoration agriculture the best thing to do is always have something growing, the items that run their course are pressed down which allows the next item sun so it can grow.
It is possible to take a field of red clay and by simply always having something growing have that red clay turn into carbon rich, humus rich top soil in as little as three years.
The longer you continue this practice, the deeper the topsoil layer will become.

Sheet mulching is great for small areas, but not so great for anything larger than a small yard. It takes to much material and time to be of much use to those working on even a middle scale.

If you use the cereal grain, clovers, brassicas model, your grain will head out and then be pressed down, allowing the clovers to come on strong, then those are pressed down and the brassicas get their time to shine.
In this model you have the opportunity to collect the cereal grain heads for a crop and then the brassicas can be harvested as a crop. If you don't take the cereal grains as a crop, they will reseed the area haphazardly and that is a good thing.
Disruption is good for land and soil building, it is not, as many people seem to think, detrimental to soil building. Nature disrupts every time there is a change ready to take place.
The problem is when there is constant disturbance, such as tillage farming implies, that is not good for anything since nothing gets to go through succession. Succession is how new plants get going in nature.

We are supposed to Observe, then copy Nature's methods, that is how the world works and what has worked for billions of years surely will work for us.
We just need to know how best to create a disturbance then allow succession to take place once we have things set up to our advantage.

Redhawk
 
Joseph Lofthouse
garden master
Posts: 2617
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
507
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

I love planting into fields that have been fallow for some time. Seems like the best growing I ever do is the first and second years that I use a field after it has been fallow for a while.
 
chip sanft
pollinator
Posts: 427
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
33
bike books dog urban
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Brett Bailey wrote:Hi,
I am thinking that the best thing to do would be to plant a good cover crop for soil improvement until we're ready to plant other things.  First, however, we would need to remove the weeds.  Any suggestions on best practices for weed removal and cover crop planting with considerations for lower cost and labor requirements?


We have 18 acres at the other end of the country where we're trying to do what you are, plus we live in the Southeast now. Perhaps this mix of ideas may provide something useful.

First, I would point out that plants already present and growing ("weeds" or not) are catching sunlight, scavenging minerals, and producing organic matter etc. etc. already. They are there because they fit the conditions and may be hard to displace without cultivation. But maybe you don't need to displace them: they are cover crops, too, of a sort. Maybe you want to add to the mix, instead of trying to replace it --- at least until you have a specific goal in mind. This is what I try to do: to add to the natural mix, not replace it, at least not now.

My experience with reading about cover crops is that results vary for different reasons. Some things that I know do well in other places didn't work on our acreage (buckwheat is awesome in Knoxville, but got nowhere on our land), whereas some things that got mixed reviews other places got established for us (e.g., field peas). And some things have done well in both places --- hairy vetch, for instance, though at very different times of year. So you may get your best recommendations from your neighbors.

When I learn about new possibilities now, I get a smaller quantity and experiment with that. The seed company I bought from was happy to send out a few 50lb sacks of different stuff at once, though they did seem surprised until I explained I was experimenting. Shipping is a bigger part of the expense compared to buying larger quantities but it's still workable. And of course the garden store in the city will sell you all sorts of stuff by the pound. Bird seed is another possibility.

One thing I hadn't sufficiently considered was the efficiency of deer in locating and eating every single freaking bit of stuff they consider tasty. They ended up being a real pain.
 
Do you want ants? Because that's how you get ants. And a tiny ads:
Jacqueline Freeman - Honeybee Techniques - streaming video
https://permies.com/wiki/65175/videos/digital-market/Jacqueline-Freeman-Honeybee-Techniques-streaming
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!