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Bargain Cover Crop Alert

 
Tj Jefferson
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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I have had good success with this stuff, especially the daikons. I went to the Evil Empire today and bought them out of this stuff. This is the third different seed type I've found on clearance. Deer hunters plant in the fall, but most of the species can be planted in spring. At Walmart this was 1/3 of the usual price. I got Daikon, chicory, and a rapeseed/clover mix, and going to just let them duke it out in the field! There is often quite a bit of annual grains in them as well.

Cabelas, Dick's, Bass Pro and Walmart are good places to check!

Not quite craigslist cheap but worth checking if you have one nearby. I included the seed list for one, others have been straight chickory or daikon. Hope this helps, I was stoked!
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wayne fajkus
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My Tractor supply has fence chargers half price. Must be changing brands or model changes.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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A very good idea Tj, positively brilliant !

I do similar but have not thought to use those types of blends. I will be checking the local wally world for sure.
Those types of seed blends also do well for forage pastures where you want a wide variety of plant types so animal interest is always high.

Redhawk
 
Marla Kacey
Posts: 121
Location: Wyoming Zone 4
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I'm curious about price ranges.  I checked at a local feed store today for some dryland cover seed which contained several grasses including rye and lots of other seed that looked . . . ok.  They wanted 4.95 per pound.  Or $220 for 50 lbs.      What kind of price ranges are others seeing?

Thanks in advance for any info.  I will be checking Wally World and others soon.
 
Marla Kacey
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Location: Wyoming Zone 4
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Holy crop!!  I just did a quick google and found a company in Bismark ND selling cover crop seed for around $50 for 50 pounds!  Pulse USA.  Guess I won't be shopping local on this.  Still need to check other sources in town though.
 
Travis Johnson
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The best place for me to buy seed is the Soil and Water Conservation District of my county. They buy in bulk and being a non-profit organization do not pass to much overhead onto those that buy it, they want people to cover there bare soil. But they also make a blend of grass mixtures that is a nice cross between cover crop and nitrogen fixing and ideally suited for my area.

Even if your local county does not directly sell seed mixtures, they can probably tell you the best place to buy it as well as what works well in your location. This was what they were created for 75 years ago!
 
Dan Boone
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I am more interested in nitrogen fixers and taproot covers (like radish) than I am in grasses; my use is hand-sowing for soil improvement in degraded former pasture areas that I'm trying to convert to food forest.  For me grasses are a problem, not a solution. So I use a lot of clover and legumes, many of which can be sourced as human food also.  My rule of thumb for food seeds is that almost all of them can be found for about a buck a pound if you shop around.  And I can buy most radish/beet/turnip type seeds in bulk for one to two dollars a pound at my local feed stores.  Certain clovers are in that price range as well, but some of them (like Durana and some of the other short white perennials) range up to five dollars per pound or more. 

I think it's a genius idea to watch for clearance sales on deer food plot products of the type marketed to hunters.  Just checked my local Walmart and their one offering (not currently on sale) was five pounds for ten bucks; at 50% off or more I would consider it a bargain. 
 
Tj Jefferson
Posts: 96
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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I am more interested in nitrogen fixers and taproot covers (like radish) than I am in grasses
. I agree, but these are all annual grasses. So they will either give me some carbon or will get eaten preferentially to the other seeds and become fertilizer. I found a clover plot mix (mostly perennial, some crimson) yesterday but was $40 for 2 lbs at Dicks, I'm waiting for them to get desperate because these seeds will not be viable next fall and they will drop the price until it sells. WalMart is the best early season (like now) because they turn the shelf space into other stuff. Cabelas and Sporting goods places generally don't practice rotation marketing (weak joke) so they will try to sell it longer. I will check back in a few weeks and see if desperation has set in...
 
William Bronson
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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I hope it isn't of topic to mention that some of these same places sell trees for fodder plots.
Dunstan Chestnuts are one I think I saw at a Lowe's or Home Depot.
Tractor Supply has had small fig and hazelnut starts for under $10.
 
Troy Rhodes
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If you go  buying hazelnuts from big box stores, make sure they are blight resistant, otherwise they die in 1-2 years every time.
 
Tj Jefferson
Posts: 96
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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The best place for me to buy seed is the Soil and Water Conservation District of my county.
Travis, I am starting a two week project and will be off-line, but I tried tracking down our Conservation District for about two hours. They have a website and FaceSpace and.... no seeds as near as I can tell and no phone number for actual people. They have numerous capabilities to donate on all platforms, though! I am going to reattack this in early February, this seems like a good idea. The local Ag Supply (we have a couple real ones, not Tractor Supply) did not have it when I checked but I just forgot about it.

For my 4 acre field area, it may make sense to get a bulk seed purchase. For smaller (like 1/2 acre and under) these seed plot mixes average $1/lb for the majority-annual mixes, $2/lb for the more premium mixes with chicory/perennial clover, and $5/lb and up for annual grass-free mixes. I can get white clover at $5/lb in bulk for >25lbs, but I am not going to use that much before it is nonviable.

Where I have put this stuff-
Field- existing lespezeda w/ some occasional orchard/bluegrass in spots. Seeded trefoil but no germination noted.
Seeded chicory/annual grass/daikon mixes total 110lb of cover mixes. Will post pictures in spring, germination is pretty good. Will mow high at some point just to lay carbon to suppress crabgrass. By that time the perennial grasses should be established and grow through, along with the clovers. I am going to try seed balls but I have access to a single row planter and I may just plant rows without discing and rake the cover back on when seeds are set because that is a lot of seed balls. Is that reasonable?

Garden hugelbeds- purely annual mix grass/clover/radish. Next fall will use turnips as well (something called 7 card stud which has a nice mix that we can also harvest!

 
Troy Rhodes
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I have an experiment going with Durana clover.  It's a clover variant with a high number of stolons per plant, and per square foot, and very good persistence under heavy grazing.

It's also one of the lower clovers and may require very little mowing. Like all clovers, it fixes nitrogen and thus needs less or no fertilizer. 

If my test section goes well, it's going to replace my yard and the grass in my orchard.

The food plot/deer hunters like because they don't have to replant every year or two.

It is definitely not the dollar a pound seed though.  More like five bucks a pound if I recall.
 
Erin Cross
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Location: Spacecoast Florida
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You can also buy things likes beans, flax, amaranth, chia, etc. from the grocery and ethnic food stores on the cheap. Amaranth is deep rooted and would work well if you mow it at 18" high or so. I personally like sunflowers, amaranth and lentils for improving my gardens or for sprouts/shoots. You can also look at bird seed in large bags which often has good forage things mixed in like millet, rye, peas, sunflowers, etc. It is inexpensive compared to cover crop marketed seed.
 
C Jones
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This thread is inspirational....both to some action but first to study and understand exactly what you're talking about!  I just got some "raw" land and was thinking of trying some kind of low-effort initial planting, to establish something more useful (to me) than the natives
One of my ideas is to lease it out to a neighboring rancher for grazing, and I imagine something along these lines might help with that.  And/or with just building soil.
 
Marco Banks
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If there is a particular plant that you really like and you want to replant it next year, it's not that much work to just hand harvest the seeds when they are ripe and ready to be picked.  You'd be shocked how quickly you can fill a couple of paper grocery bags with seed.  I harvest white oats, daicon radish, all sorts of beans and peas . . . just by walking though and grabbing the seed pods at the right time.  Over the course of a month and a half, I've got all the seed I'll need for next year.  Some seed is hard to harvest this way (hairy vetch) so I still have to order it, but most grains and legumes are easy.

Don't bother threshing it out or cleaning the seed: just throw it into a paper bag and put it somewhere cool and dark to dry and wait for next planting season.  My goes out in the garage.  I've got 4 of those big plastic milk crates filled with random paper bags filled with seed.  I'll occasionally misplace stuff, and then find bags of seed a year or two later . . . oh . . . that's where I put all those carrot seeds.  After it's dried for months, then you just crush it a bit with your hands to break the seeds loose from their pods.

Carrots, dill, beets, brocoli, lettuce. . . those plants go to seed so easily and give you so much seed.  I throw a big handful of these veggie seeds in with my various cover crop mixes.  (Lettuce and carrots are always going to seed in the garden).  If I see something interesting that has gone to seed in someone else's yard while I'm out on my walk, I'll sometimes grab a handful of their seeds to add to my mix.  I grabbed a handful of some red amaranth seed from someone's yard 2 years ago, and now I've got all sorts of it growing in my cover crop.  Onions --- I cut the seed-head off a big bunch of onions last year --- guess what is scattered throughout my cover crop?  Little green onions.  Marigolds.  Tansy.  Poppies.  Bok Choy.   Swiss chard.  I was at an estate sale a year ago and they had a half-used bag of bird seed sitting there by the garbage can.  I asked if I could take it.  Sure.  Into the mix it went.  This year, I had all sorts of milo coming up, along with black sunflowers.  This is a horrible time of year to plant those crops, but they came up and added to the cover crop cocktail mix.  My wife was throwing out one of those bags of multiple mixed dried beans that you get at the grocery store—lentals and blackeyed peas and lima beans, etc.  It had gotten buggy.  Into the mix they went.  For a couple of years, I had those plants coming up in the mix.

This year I threw in some borage seeds and it's popping up as well.  Borage is beautiful and it attracts the bees.  I was out there yesterday between rain showers and sure enough, the bees were working over the borage in the cover crop.  Purple flowers.  It's a great bio-mass producer.

You don't have to collect nasturtium seeds more than once.  Once you've had a couple of nasturtium plants growing in an area, you'll forever have volunteer plants popping up. Around here they grow year round.  We like the peppery flowers for salads.  I like them in the cover crop mix because they produce a lot of biomass, but they also have a way of crowding a lot of other stuff out.  That's fine -- I yank them up easily and they go into the compost or are a great chop and drop mulch.

The ONLY thing I will not put in my mix is fennel.  It's so invasive once it gets established.  I've got more than enough of it coming up volunteer throughout the garden and orchard.

I'll still buy 10 lbs of a cool season cover crop mix because I want to also purchase the correct bacterial inoculant.  I throw it all together --- their seed, my seed --- wet the whole mess, dump in the inoculant, give it a good mix and I'll sew it around Nov. 1.  So my winter cover crop has been in the ground about 11 weeks now and it's almost hip high in places.  I'll drop it sometime around early April, but I'll be out there in the weeks before, hand picking next year's seeds.


 
Dana Martin
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Location: North Dakota
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Travis Johnson wrote:The best place for me to buy seed is the Soil and Water Conservation District of my county. They buy in bulk and being a non-profit organization do not pass to much overhead onto those that buy it, they want people to cover there bare soil. But they also make a blend of grass mixtures that is a nice cross between cover crop and nitrogen fixing and ideally suited for my area.

Even if your local county does not directly sell seed mixtures, they can probably tell you the best place to buy it as well as what works well in your location. This was what they were created for 75 years ago!


I tried to go to my conservation district and look at their seed. And they had a wonderful selection! I started to do a little research on the seed company and they ended up being own by Monsanto. UGH! I think i will keep on shopping.
 
Tj Jefferson
Posts: 96
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Thanks all for the discussion. I contacted my local soil conservation district and it was an interesting conversation. They don't actually seem to be very integrated. They have a very nice full-time staff to hold a meeting every month. Seriously. They don't provide any consultation services, but they do attempt to get grants. None of the grants are for individual conservation, just modern ag. There is ZERO large scale ag in our district, it's hobby farms and suburbs! Holy crap, what a waste of money! They put me in touch with another district that actually does something. Those guys were helpful, but do not order/provide seeds. They did have a program to get bulk seed from a grant, that has succeeded to the point that the farmers are ordering their own and "we can't compete with the private sector", so I am going to count that as an improvement, it is now popular here. They put me in touch with a feed/seed store well outside my area (about 90miles) that does order seed. Turns out, it is actually cheaper to order from mail-order, and possibly less environmental impact, because that is what the seed store does, but it comes to my door not theirs!

I am going to see about contacting one of the nearer farmers and getting a couple hundred pounds of his seed, since these guys are getting semi-loads! And they have often optimized the mix for the area so I don't have to think as much. Next step is to figure out how to make seed balls that will go through my 3-pt seed spreader. Not important this year because there is no mulch, but hopefully next year it is important. They aren't going to be very big, and I may have to add dirt so I can get it through the machine.

Will update if I learn more. This has been...interesting.

UPDATE: Wow, there is so much variation between districts. This may change from year to year as well. The feed store that was storing the cover crop mixes for the program does take orders, and are very nice and knowledgeable. I asked them about the price and it is probably a little lower than getting a mix online, but not much. Maybe save $40 on 100# seed. But it is an hour away. I would say the best course of action is to find a farmer near you who buys a cover crop, and then just ask nicely if they will order extra for you. Offer to prepay and it will put them at ease.

Second course: the wildlife plot mixes seem to be very productive. I already have grass in the fields and so it is hard to tell at this point if that is germinating, but the other components like radish and rape are doing very well. Interestingly the deer haven't touched it! They seem to prefer the native forbs, and they are welcome to them. I paid about $1/lb for most of them (annual rye/wheat with a minority of other seeds), $4/lb for daikon, and $15/lb for chicory. Those are really good prices, for the same amount of Berseem clover alone I would have paid the same amount! So I got some rapeseed and bird food out of it. I can't tell yet which clovers are doing well, and that affects the cost/benefit. Plus the birds are very happy and have largely left my perennial grain planting area alone since the annual grains are bigger and more desirable. Probably another week will have some pictures of the different plot areas.
 
Tj Jefferson
Posts: 96
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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The birds have eaten the majority of the grain seeds for sure. I see them out there in squadrons every time I disturb the soil and replant. Interestingly they have no apparent interest in the brassica seeds or clover seeds (although in most of these mixes the clover seeds are coated/inoculated).

Overall I would highly recommend this stuff as a means of trialing cover crops, figuring out what works in your area and then you won't blow money on stuff that is bird feed or doesn't germinate.

Lessons from the tests here (cheap cover crop mix stuff first):

Brassicas sprout and grow but don't thrive from broadcast seeding. I probably should have put them in sooner for best effect but they are about 4" high, spindly and bolting! I am going to let them seed out and die of heat in the summer. The cabbage moths are checking it all out. Modest success, plant early if you are going to expect biomass from them.

Daikon: diddly squat. Came up nicely but just never got big enough to put down any sort of root mass. Super disappointing. For compacted/bare areas would probably need some sort of compost for nitrogen. They looked deficient. Not evidently a good frontier annual.

Grains: the small seeds seem to do the best from broadcast seeding by far, either because the birds prefer the big ones (especially the crows) or because they are more likely to frost set and get good soil contact. Areas that I disturbed and planted traditionally with some soil cover I had more of the giant annual tetraploid rye sprout which is great biomass. The deer also have been after it and left my berry plants alone so far. I liked the grasses much more than I thought I would. They will be chopped short after I seed the summer cover (which is 25% each sunn hemp, millet, buckwheat and black oil sunflower).

Clovers: Performed the best in really poor areas. The Barseem is a really nice type. I had to lime to get the pH acceptable, the area I didn't lime had no germination as expected.

Winter Peas: Really poor germination rate in exposed soil. Birds didn't eat them they just sat there and never did anything. In covered areas they actually did well! If there is improved biomass after this summer I will plant more of them.

Vetch (which I didn't order but was probably a contaminant, unsure of type): As with the Peas it did well in competition, nothing on exposed undisturbed areas. Tremendous biomass per plant and grew aggressively all winter. Much more expensive than the other legumes. This fall will probably suck it up and plant crown vetch which should naturalize here. Much taller than the lespedeza which has been the only naturalized legume here.

Lupine: Did well on exposed areas, not as well in competition. If they survive the summer this is a winner species. Grew in places nothing else even germinated.

Chicory: Haven't seen any come up. Maybe it will sooner or later. Disappointing.

How do I get chicory and daikons to grow? I need some hot taproot on clay action and both the species I was relying on were the most disappointing ones. I am trying again with buckwheat this summer and maybe daikon/beets this fall but this is frustrating.



Annual-rye.jpg
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Annual rye being cool
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Poor sickly brassicas
Lupine.jpg
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Lupine where little sedum crap grows
 
Laurie Dyer
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Location: Suburbs Salt Lake City, Utah 6a 24 in rain 58 in snow
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I've been following this thread with great interest; thanks for the updates. I'm much less experienced than you, but wanted to add my two cents re: daikon. Mine didn't do well the first fall I planted it. I planted again the next sprong and it did great. Now it's one of our regular volunteers.
 
Travis Johnson
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Could it be the second year it does well. I know clover is like that. If you plant a field in 100% clover you would swear you have bad seed, but the second year...oh my...it comes in well. I nearly tilled a field under that was planted in clover once, but an old farmer said, "hold on, give it another year", and I did, and I was glad I did.

Sorry to hear about the Soil and Water Conservation Districts not doing well across the USA. It is hit or miss here county by county too. Ours is pretty pro-active on both Homesteading and Big Agriculture, though they sway more heavily towards homesteaders and Permiculturists.

But honestly that same issue plagues County Extension offices too. I know some are really good, but in Maine they just plain suck. They like to hand out brochures to beginner farmers because they it is one thing to buffalo the fans, but another to buffalo the players. A friend once asked them to come to his dairy farm to help get his herd averages up, and their idea was to heavily cull the flock. Well yes...that might be one way to do it...but is it the best way? Sure culling your dairy herd down to (1) excellent dairy cow would get the herd average up, but its not enough production to support the farm...jeesh people. So it is hit or miss.

One sad reality everyone in farming quickly realizes; EVERYONE claims they want to help a farmer out, and while their motivations are pure, few can actually BE farmers.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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More pictures. This was really crappy soil, so these are intrepid explorers.
Vetch.jpg
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vetch growing like a weed
Berseem.jpg
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clover-like a boss
 
Anderson gave himself the promotion. So I gave myself this tiny ad:
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