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Summer biomass Soilympics  RSS feed

 
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Now that the inevitable bribes have been taken and decisions rendered, the summer biomass Soilympics are in effect!

Opening ceremonies were last week, because the extended weather forecast looked germination fabulous and we were expecting tons of rain to get the seeds set before the birds eat them all.

Two events will be considered: biomass in disturbed soil and biomass as a broadcast. This is essentially a follow-up to the winter cover crops post. I hope some of this is transferable to those in near areas/biomes.

Soil is improved in most areas significantly from last fall with obvious increases in organic matter. Last summer worm census was easy- there weren't any in most areas. Now they are present in about 70% of the main fields, some areas with >10 in a shovelful! This summer's goal is to maintain shade on the soil and add one more hit of (mostly) annual biomass before seeding with a few perennials this fall to complete the conversion from a gnarly-looking driving range to a field succeeding into silvipasture in a year or two. I have not done any mowing since last summer, but intend to shred the vegetation in the alleys this fall on top of the winter seeds (if I add anything at all). Trees are in but they are seedlings and not contributing to shade or biomass at this point. Lil' Scrappy is treeless, since it also contains our leech field, but we don't know exactly where... It will get shrub cover this summer just not in until next week when I have time off.

Contestant name/type:
Alyceclover/Legume- better for broadcast seeding than lablab, less viney and obnoxious than Sesbania. Maybe. Cheap for a legume not called cowpeas.
Buckwheat/Taproot- pretty cheap, locally available, bird approved. I like to eat it too. Hear it is hit or miss around here.
Millet/Topgrower- Real cheap, locally available, bird approved.
Sunn Hemp/Legume- pricey but recommended and big seeded, which performed best in winter Soilympics.
Cowpeas/Legume- Didn't show up! Having trouble getting it in time to plant, usually available at FeednSeed but not this year. Crap!
Black Oil Sunflower/Topgrower- Cheap, bird approved, potential for big biomass & shade.

And they are off! Bulbs are there primarily to distract my wife from the area markings and tubes. So far so good...

lil-scrappy.jpg
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Lil' Scrappy, looking sad and ready to burn up again this summer
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Main Wannabe Silvipasture
 
pollinator
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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Have you considered a chicken tractor for soil disturbance and fertilizing before planting cover crop biomass? Planting tractor fuel for the return trip this fall.
 
Tj Jefferson
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We considered it, but at this point I am the main (read only outdoor) labor and I work a week on week off several times a year. So having any tractor-based livestock on this schedule is a non-starter.

The idea is that eventually I can have a sheep prison for the times I am at work (which would be approx 3 acres of pretty good sheep forage) with a watering system. Then when I am not at work I can have the sheep paroled into mobile electric fence paddocks in the new silvopasture (reference the tree tubes). We are not going to max out the carrying capacity because it will be based on the sheep prison alone. If I can get accomplices in this, I may have a similar setup for poultry, but we have a big fox population so the paddocks seem unlikely to be effective.

For right now the idea is NOT to strip the current vegetation, just add biomass and some new perennial species and be ready for the herbivores next year.
 
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Tj Jefferson wrote:(reference the tree tubes). 



Be aware that tree tubes may not be sufficient to protect trees from sheep.  My sheep loved to eat trees more than anything, and would girdle quite large ones, not just saplings.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Wow! even with lots of other goodies? I mean it is loaded in there with vines and comfrey and yumminess!

Is it mineral deficiency? Like phosphate?
 
Tyler Ludens
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It might have been breed-specific; these were Jacobs, a goat-like breed who apparently like to browse as well as graze.  Mine chose browsing over grazing whenever possible.  I think there are breeds of sheep who much prefer to graze.

 
Tj Jefferson
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Good to know! I was going to get Katahdins/crosses but I will ask the expert when he recovers a little bit from his chainsaw experience. Can't be ringing my trees, not neighborly.
 
Tj Jefferson
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Holy frijoles! Buckwheat is already up an inch or more! I haven't been checking because I figured it has been less than a week. Got one huge soaker rain and another decent rain. It has emerged in both contested and bare areas! Pix this weekend when I am off. I'm trying to find images of other seedlings, some of the sunflowers already have roots but gracious, they may get crowded out by the buckwheat.
 
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Tj Jefferson wrote:We considered it, but at this point I am the main (read only outdoor) labor and I work a week on week off several times a year. So having any tractor-based livestock on this schedule is a non-starter.

The idea is that eventually I can have a sheep prison for the times I am at work (which would be approx 3 acres of pretty good sheep forage) with a watering system. Then when I am not at work I can have the sheep paroled into mobile electric fence paddocks in the new silvopasture (reference the tree tubes). We are not going to max out the carrying capacity because it will be based on the sheep prison alone. If I can get accomplices in this, I may have a similar setup for poultry, but we have a big fox population so the paddocks seem unlikely to be effective.

For right now the idea is NOT to strip the current vegetation, just add biomass and some new perennial species and be ready for the herbivores next year.



Take care with leaving grazers on any spot for more than 3-5 days and with returning them to the same place before the pasture has recovered (time varies, probably realistic minimum under good conditions is around 3 weeks).  Letting something take a second bite of your grasses before they regrow from the first bite and re-build their energy reserves is a good way to kill those grasses.

You might be able to set up a number of smaller paddocks and use something like https://www.novel.co.nz/product/356247?showFullSite=1 to let animals move while you're away.  Or make friends with a neighbor?
 
Tj Jefferson
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Cool stuff! Unfortunately the main area the sheep would be in is a couple hundred yards from the tree tube plantation. And crosses the driveway. Most of the forage in the sheep prison area is vines anyhow, I am thinning the sweetgums to allow some growth foragers can reach. Mostly multiflora rose, autumn olive and honeysuckle. Not much growing at ground level.

The neighbor idea is good, I have corrupted one quite thoroughly and he would probably be willing to do it. It is much more fun when you have an accomplice, then your wives can speculate on just what the heck you are up to.

So sorry about the no pictures. I promise them. Been super busy with dirty wet jobs and not carrying my phone.

Short version -buckwheat with the early lead. No question! So far this stuff is cheap and growing well on some nasty hardpan areas. With a little cover to keep the crows from eating it I think this is a winner. I will definitely do it next summer. The other stuff is not doing much. The winter n-fixers are still looking really good, it has been pretty warm (like upper 80s) and no rain for a week. I pulled some buckwheat seedlings while planting and they are really digging in, they should explode with the next rain. We had a late frost that nipped it on exposed areas but no problem, some of the deeper seeds are filling in.

 
Tj Jefferson
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So far the best broadcast seed has been buckwheat. Not even close. The biomass per plant is not high, but they germinated at a very high rate from broadcast seeding. The black oil sunflower is mostly in disturbed areas, the germination anywhere else has been quite low. The good thing is that it has been low partly because the soil is so much healthier already that the grass and winter cover species are just thick! I mowed once to five inches just to try to get some improvement in the summer species germination and drop some grass for the worms to start working on, and after one week (been wet and mild here) the grass is back over 12 inches. I am probably going to mow once more then let the winter stuff seed out and harden.

I think this may not be representative of the summer species. It looked like we would have an early spring/summer and then May has been wet and cool. I will overseed sunflower again to see how it does now that it is warmer, but honestly there isn't a real upside to running more tests next winter, the soil is unbelievably improved from simply applying minerals and not mowing short for six months. I can easily dig almost anywhere on the main field with a fat shovel.

Some pictures of the second generation radishes, buckwheat and sunflowers. The worst areas the only germination has been buckwheat and a few iron clay cowpeas. Those areas will get some more cowpeas now that is looking like summer.
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buckwheat in crappy area
BuckwheatSunflower.jpg
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Look.jpg
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future dinner
 
Tj Jefferson
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And the grass is forcing me to move up the sheep settlement. This is after mowing <2 weeks ago and the tree tubes are 5'!


Honestly I could have saved money on seeds, because the minerals were the issue. I used some azomite/dolomitic lime, and some rock dust from a local quarry. I got the idea from bionutrient.org- I think it is genius. There is a small company that basically pairs local quarries with farmers http://rockdustlocal.com/index.html and I may use them eventually but I suspect most igneous rock dust is better than what I have now.
field.jpg
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Hans Quistorff
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I had good results in my sparse areas by spreading ashes from the wood stove.  Mowed the vetch after it dried in late summer which distributed the seed. That combination has deepened the root mass this spring.
May has been warmer and dryer than usual this year so grasses are forming seed heads earlier and shorter than usual.
 
Tj Jefferson
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I just got finished with the winter soilympics planting and can pretty much wrap up the results from this summer.

First, and this is just SUPER encouraging, is that the mineral replacement (and I unfortunately spent several hundred bucks on it) seemed to make a yuuuge difference. Way more than the species planted. I would reiterate that whatever you spend on seeds is what you can't spend on minerals. Rock dust around here is under $20 a ton, and 7% calcium. Spreading it is a pain in the neck but my spreader can handle about 700# which is about 1/2 yard of material. So putting down minerals takes a whole day using my smallish equipment.

Caveats from the summer- I ended up mowing twice this summer, after planning on not doing so. The grass was smothering my little trees and making the ticks hazardous working in the field. To be honest the grass and clover seemed to thrive getting mowed when they got up above a foot or so. I think that proves (I think it is Joel Salatin's thing) that mowing or grazing before you go from robust growth to nursing home grass gives the healthiest field. Mowing was done at 5 1/2".

Different events and winners:
Alyceclover/Legume- germinated really late, and is barely 12 inches high. I would recommend it only in warmer climates with long hot summers.
Buckwheat/Taproot- made two full generations, and I anticipate there is enough seed from it to come back next year. Winner!
Millet/Topgrower- pathetic. This did not perform well in broadcast seeding.
Sunn Hemp/Legume- Similar to Alyceclover. Probably 25-50% more biomass than alyceclover. Same recommendation. 
Cowpeas/Legume- Recommended! This came up through cover, survived mowing, and was a nice trap plant for the japanese beetles. This stuff is pretty cheap as a deer fodder. 
Black Oil Sunflower/Topgrower- did not appreciate getting mowed. Probably would have done OK without that, it did germinate strongly.
Volunteer radishes (from winter)- they kept at it until about a month ago, when we had a dry spell. I am going to concentrate on stuff like that that will reseed rubustly.

So I would say (and this is not my idea, have heard it from smarter people) that biomass will just happen. I don't see any benefit from seeding for it. I did seed areas that have little field grass so there is will at least be sparse desirable bunch grasses.

I have seeded the winter stuff which is really hopefully the steady state- radishes, chicory, a trial of beets and turnips, and some clovers I got cheap. Hopefully I am in Gabe Brown territory this coming summer with some herbivores.

If anyone wants to know specifics, especially for this climate, I could likely save you some money and time getting a field established and would be happy to help!
 
Tj Jefferson
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Hans Quistorff wrote:I had good results in my sparse areas by spreading ashes from the wood stove.  Mowed the vetch after it dried in late summer which distributed the seed. That combination has deepened the root mass this spring.
May has been warmer and dryer than usual this year so grasses are forming seed heads earlier and shorter than usual.



I haven't found a cheap vetch seed, but there was some as a contaminant in some deer plot seed I threw out last year. I have thought about adding it in, and may do so. I had forgotten to snoop around for it, thanks for reminding me! I was reading Travis' post about the NPK of wood ash, and I am dealing with some acreage. I have been thinking about trying to find a source for it, there may be a biomass plant or something around here. I would need a whole lot of it! I am hoping my biochar has enough ash to at least get things reasonable. 
 
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