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Converting a 19 acre lawn ... but not just yet  RSS feed

 
Tom Harner
Posts: 95
Location: St. Louis, MO
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My wife and I are in the process of purchasing an old 19 Acre homestead from my in-laws. It's been in her family for 25 years or so as a vacation/holiday getaway... It was a little homestead for a family before they bought it. But Of course we want to turn it into a Permaculture paradise... (Shameless link to blog post: http://ourhomesteadingjourney.com/index.php/2016/12/25/buying-the-farm/ )



As you can see it's almost entirely pasture... What you might not be able to see is that there is approximately 3 acres of lawn... Currently cut weekly like it's a personal golf course only 75 miles away from home (we are not in possession yet). I have an overall design plan that is about 90% complete. One thing I'm struggling with is the first couple years. I have no intention of continuing to mow 3 acres weekly, but we won't be ready to implement the major features during the first few years. My concern is that by ceasing the regular mowing regiment, I'll introduce 'weedy' trees and make it more difficult on myself to implement my plan, especially if it takes longer than planned to get into the zone 2/3 border. There are some fencing/structures that need to be removed and some earthworks that need to be put into place in this area. The remaining 16 acres of the property are currently being used by a neighboring farmer for hay production. I plan to continue that arrangement as long as I can, shrinking the hay field year after year with swales and food forestry, until the farmer says it's not worth his time.

I'm looking for your thoughts on this. Right now all I'm seeing is black and white... Cut or don't cut. What alternatives am I missing? Keep in mind that money, time, and resources are especially limited in the first few years.
 
Tracy Wandling
steward
Posts: 1650
Location: Cortes Island, British Columbia. Zone: 8ish Lat: 50; Rainfall: 50" ish; sand and rocks; well water
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Hi Tom;

Congratulations on your new property. It looks beautiful. One thing that popped into my head was to seed the 'lawn' area with a meadow mixture. There are tall mixtures and short mixtures that you could use. Your regional seed catalogs will probably have ready-made mixtures that you can plant. Although these can often be expensive, they can give you an idea of what will grow well in your area and you can make your own mix. These mixes generally only need to be mowed a couple of times during the season. And you can leave the mulched trimmings on the ground to start building healthy soil.

I have heard of people buying cheap bird feed seeds and using that to see large areas. That might be a good idea for a less-expensive seed source.

Now, most will say that you need to till and rake the soil smooth in order to plant the seeds, but you might be able to get away with broadcasting seed heavily onto the present lawn, and I'm sure many seeds will take.

I think the main thing is to get some really good vegetative mass growing, and then cut it a couple times a season to build up some really great soil. You can also use that organic matter in other areas such as building up soil in the garden.

These are just some ideas off the top of my head. I'm sure others will come along and share some more great ideas!

Cheers
Tracy
 
Genevieve Jones
Posts: 12
Location: Saskatoon, SK, Canada. Hardiness transition between zone 2 and 3
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Hi Tom! I have a couple ideas, hope they can trigger something for you! Personally I would bring in an animal to deal with the grass. A dairy cow would be perfect, you could even find a small breed like the Zebu. If you don't have time to milk or no space for meat that is okay. The cow can be your friendly lawn mower, it will even enjoy the hay field you have.

Option two: You could try to reseed a more vigorous transition crop over the grass. Try a blend of 10+ different species. Look for species that spread by seed and by root, especially nitrogen fixers. Look up your native plants and make selections from them, they will be hardy to your area and many may be vigorous enough to take on the grass. You may already have some plants in mind with the design you've been working on.

I work in landscaping so i have the luxury of renting a sod cutter and getting grass out of the way in a single day. This could always be an option for you if you work in small sections and rent a sod cutter, just be sure to immediately seed any open ground.

Hope that helps!
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 212
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Tom, this is similar to my project, except you have a pond, which is pretty awesome. You probably are starting out with a better soil than I am, but it's possible in Missouri that may not be so.

A couple ideas Genevieve referenced for adding different seeds in like birdseed, which is often full of millets and annual grasses, can be pretty cheap. My experience with them is that the germination is poor with broadcast spreading. I have had better success from the Feed Plot stuff everyone is marking down right now because deer season is over. This stuff can have radish, rape, sunflower, annual rye, sometimes chicory and all manner of good carbon producers. Many will also include nitrogen fixers, but you may have to buy those separately. I got some daikon food plot seeds (because of compaction here)5$ a pound and germination has been excellent.

I bought 30# today for $30 which is about 1/3 the price of buying the component seeds. I will plant in early spring and add some mycorrhizal cultures, based on the advice I have gotten on here, once they are rooted a little. Just some ideas to get some carbon and other species in there...

I don't know if this will stay a forage field or be converted to shrub or tree habitat, I am going to see what having actual soil looks like and make a decision.
 
Simone Gar
Posts: 167
Location: Alberta, zone 3
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I facing a similar situation. Does broadcasting on lawn really work and when is a good time to do this?? Does a thick lawn let the seeds grow?
What's feed plot stuff?

I also have a plowed field ie. bare dirt (don't ask) that I want to completely cover. Some will be planted but most of it I want to cover crop. How well does that work to broadcast seeds only? I would like to cover it with hay and straw but I don't know if I have enough. I am worried birds, mice and deer (plenty) will eat all the seeds and or small plants. Any ideas?
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 212
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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I would be VERY careful about hay/straw mulch. I almost got some to provide some seed cover (my soil is basically bare but unworked) but nearly all is treated with atrazine and will kill all the legumes and forbs! Only use it if you know for certain it is untreated. It is so cheap but can set you back a decade! So many people have gotten screwed on this.

I did not till, the compaction goes deeper than I could till, and I would have had to buy/borrow a disc harrow. Maybe I should have, but there is some stuff that is rehabilitatable. Maybe. I am not sure how well most stuff will establish in a lawn. I would definitely do daikons or something similar if compaction is an issue. The area that has some grass is about the only area the clover has emerged.

I'm going to put up a quick post about the cheap seeds, should be up by now, just geeked about it. I am going to frost set the remainder at the end of the winter, which here is March. Germination with straight broadcast seeding has been fantastic with the brassicas and radishes, poor with the perennial grass mix, and better with the annual grass mix. Very poor with clover and trefoil. I think I may need to plant annual grasses, get some organic matter for mulch and worm food, and reseed with some inoculated N2 fixer + other stuff as seed balls next year.  I am also going to plant sunn hemp the first year, but you might be too far north for that. Even with my crappy soil I think I can kick start this field.
 
Casie Becker
gardener
Posts: 1474
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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I just planted for the seeds, but here where the grass burns down to almost bare dirt I was able to broadcast seed wildflowers without tilling. Of course, after two years of letting bluebonnets (a legume) go to seed I don't have wildflowers any more. The grass has come in too thick for the annuals to self seed.

I think to work the grass must be very thin or you must scalp the grass when you mow and hope the seeds can establish before the perennial grasses recover.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2749
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
225
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hau Tom, what trees are present around the land?
Those will be the most likely trees that could get a start on a lawn treated with STUN.
Weed tree seeds have to find their way to sprout, usually by wind, if there aren't any within a mile or so, you probably won't see any.

If you want to add to the grass that is there for diversity, just broadcast a variety of seeds right after your last lawn mowing, ever.
Those new seeds then will have a good chance to sprout and grow, taller grasses, brassicas, clovers will shade out "lawn" grasses fairly quickly.
When these are nice and tall or after they have produced seed(if you want to keep on with that mix) just press the stalks down and walk away again.
I like to use an initial mix of oats, winter rye and sweet yellow clover/ red clover. This works very well since the cereal grains come up and grow tall, seed out then get pressed down.
Once they are pressed down the clovers take over since they now get sun, once the clovers are starting to turn brown I press them down and the grain seeds that were ripe sprout and things just continue along till I am ready to plant a real crop.

I like to call this soil building by doing nothing, since everything that is pressed down works as a mulch and then rots in place the soil gets all the benefits including new worm activity.
Once I do plant a crop, those plants have everything they need already in the soil, as well as being in soil that holds more moisture that it previously could.

Redhawk

 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9740
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Redhawk, do you press them down with your feet, or do you use a special tool for that? 

 
Tom Harner
Posts: 95
Location: St. Louis, MO
6
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I don't know why I didn't think of spreading a cover crop seed mix... I did that at my current home... I'll even have a tractor and disc cultivator that I can use. I really hadn't gotten into the shorter of the plant layers yet in my design, so it looks like that is my next research project...

Unfortunately, due to the afore mentioned time and money restraints, any livestock is not an option in the short term... However, rotational paddocks are a main element in my design and we'll likely work our way through the livestock options by size and restock rates up to cattle.

As for soil quality, the are indications that the soil is excellent... At least 25 years without tillage or bare soil, in fact most of the land had been neglected other than a single yearly hay cutting...  Lots of grass coverage... Very most soil... I plan to do some soil and water years in the spring get a sense of what I'm working with.

Some of my concerns is that there are honey locust trees in all the margins of the property... And some of the areas that I'm wanting to stop mowing were only taken back from the honey locusts 5 or so years ago as a fair amount of expense. Those bastards are evil with 6" thorns. I can't afford too many tractor tire replacements before I go broke...  That's the major tree weed. We also have the "cedar" that is common around here, maple, and a smattering of others along the borders.

I think my design, constraints, and resources are all lining up to point at stunting the grass and then seeding a mix of soil builders... Now I just need to figure out which species will work best for my site.

 
Tom Harner
Posts: 95
Location: St. Louis, MO
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Tj Jefferson wrote:I did not till, the compaction goes deeper than I could till, and I would have had to buy/borrow a disc harrow. 


Have you looked into getting a subsoiler? There good for decompacting the soil, fairly cheap, and can be used to install water lines and other underground utilities.
 
Tom Harner
Posts: 95
Location: St. Louis, MO
6
forest garden hugelkultur trees
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Btw, whoever updated the title.... I like it.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
Posts: 2749
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
225
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Redhawk, do you press them down with your feet, or do you use a special tool for that? 

  I use a two wheel tractor with a heavy drag bar or my jeep with the drag bar for now. Next year we have plans to buy a tractor with front end loader, the bucket will do a super job of pressing just by lowering it to the ground and driving along.
I can even harvest the grain at the same time by using the tractor/FEL method.  If you want or have to do it with out motorized help you can fashion a presser that looks similar to a broad fork but with out the "teeth". That is how some of the "crop circle" tricksters make their art work.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9740
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Thanks!
 
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