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Planting cover crops

 
COGreg Hatfield
Posts: 4
Location: Northern Colorado
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I am purchasing our new homestead and I have about 2 acres of land that I would like to start building up the soil.  This is in Northern Colorado.  Zone 5 - not much rain ~ 15" in a good year.  I plan on putting in some hugelkultur beds but after that I would like to plan some alfalfa and clover. (does that sound reasonable?) My biggest questions is what is the best way to plant alfalfa and clover if you do not have a tractor & a seed drill?
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I'll say:

Till - broadcast - rake - roll
Till - broadcast - harrow
Till - broadcast - 50% straw mulch

Note these prescriptions are just the achieve certain functions:  (1) create vacant niche for new species, (2) get seed distributed, (3) improve germination by improving seed-soil contact and increasing dead air at the soil surface.

Maybe replace till with animals if that is more convenient, because you get the manure.

I bet in your dryland climate that it is timing that is truely of the essence.

I don't know about your species choice.
 
COGreg Hatfield
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Location: Northern Colorado
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Paul - Thank you for your response.  We do not close on the property until April 29.  I am itching to get working on it.  You mentioned manure.  I think I will have access to a lot of sheep manure.  Can you just throw that on top of the soil or does it have to be tilled into the soil?  How long should I wait to try to plant any seeds after I put manure down?
 
                    
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congrats! or almost. i'm excited for you. if you are building hugelkultur you have some trees? look on craigslist for free firewood? any reservations taking down trees?

i personally have a hard time taking down trees (until the chainsaw gets burnin gas) but i got a lot of maples which are semi useful and its kinda tough to decide who stays and who goes.

i am building a path with various sized stones to my front walk. i finished about half so i decided to put some clover seed down in order to help lock the stones in place and keep erosion down. (maybe purslane would have been better, but i can always make more. but what im trying to get to is that since my soil is somewhat clay i ended up throwing some of the seed on hardpan. all my seed is germinating with the rain we been getting and its clear some will not make it through. doing it again i would mix the seed in with the soil as i lay and surround the stones.

i also just threw several pounds of clover and field pea out into some grass of mine. i figure it equals no work other than the time making the money to purchase the seed and since i know the seed is quality they will germinate when they feel like it. if they can't keep up with the grass they dont belong. if they only wanna colonize where the grass didnt make it as much then thats fine with me. it saves an awful lot of work and its really no loss if only some survive. this is my attempt at a patient approach, i feel as if in several years of doing this the field will no longer be 80 percent useless (to me) grass, and something more like 40 percent.

options i came across or purchased. clover (many types) vetch hairy, chickling (peas) oilseed radish. you might be interested to buy bag of some useful grasses like timothy and mix in each of those i just named. throw them all around or mix them with your dirt and see what happens.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Fresh manure is not a good seed bed (If I recall, the soil solution is too strong, making it hard for the seed to pull moisture in using an osmotic potential gradient,  and ammonia gas from the local N surplus is a poison to seeds.)

Some might recommend dumping some manure on the wood under the soil cap in the hugelkultur to offset nitrogen sequestration as the wood starts to decompose.

Except for the hugelkultur, I would personally save your manure, and the labor of hauling and spreading, to accompany a specific plan that benefits strongly from manure.  If your soil is in bad shape, a modest ammount of composted manure tilled in will give your legume crop a big jump, speeding up the soil development process.

If there are no legumes present, consider innoculation with the appropriate bacteria.

Since you mention it, as a preparatory activity, consider a compostables staging area, and consider aerobic composting to start building a reserve of high quality organic matter on site.
 
T. Pierce
Posts: 254
Location: Virginia
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manure needs to age and compost before using it.  except rabbit manure. that can be used immediately.  one practice is to cover the garden plot in the fall with it,  till it under and by spring youll be in good shape.  this yr i added it a month before i got ready to start planting.  i only did that b/c my soil is in its 3 rd yr of being "doctored" up.  and i wasnt able to get any horse manure all winter.  hopefully im not to early/late with it and it burns the garden up.  time will tell.
 
                    
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Dead Rabbit wrote:
manure needs to age and compost before using it.  except rabbit manure. that can be used immediately.  one practice is to cover the garden plot in the fall with it,   till it under and by spring youll be in good shape.  this yr i added it a month before i got ready to start planting.  i only did that b/c my soil is in its 3 rd yr of being "doctored" up.  and i wasnt able to get any horse manure all winter.  hopefully im not to early/late with it and it burns the garden up.  time will tell.


i have also heard that rabbit manure can be used immediately. Do we think that is because they are herbivores? how about collecting deer manure? could that be used uncomposted?

do you happen to know if the manure enriches the soil immediately or just can be used immediately?



another question i have is if there is any way to know if your clovers are fixing nitrogen. can clover be inoculated after growth has begun? i hear of inoculating the seeds, but i would think it would be more efficient to inoculate several plants roots after they have begun growing. and let it spread to the other plants with their own effort
 
T. Pierce
Posts: 254
Location: Virginia
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boddah wrote:
i have also heard that rabbit manure can be used immediately. Do we think that is because they are herbivores? how about collecting deer manure? could that be used uncomposted?

do you happen to know if the manure enriches the soil immediately or just can be used immediately?



another question i have is if there is any way to know if your clovers are fixing nitrogen. can clover be inoculated after growth has begun? i hear of inoculating the seeds, but i would think it would be more efficient to inoculate several plants roots after they have begun growing. and let it spread to the other plants with their own effort


i know nothing of clovers and very little as of yet about what type of plants are good for nitrogen. 

rabbit manure is good for immediate use.  composting it is good too.  but for immediate use. its like time released fertilizer.  i use rabbit manure quite abit.  b/c i have a small rabbitry.    it does not burn up plants like most other manures.  as for deer....................there would have to be ALOT of deer around to make it worthwhile.  ive never heard of doing such a thing.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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If you excavate the root system you can find pinkish nodules on the roots of legumes... around the size of a grain of rice or smaller.  Not all nitrogen fixing symbioses are apparent like that, but with legumes it is more obvious.  I don't know if this is consistant with all Legumes, but I recall seeing it on peas, clover, beans and vetch.

I have read that fixation is a response to nitrogen deficit, and if you have lots of free N, then nodule formation and N fixation is reduced.  While tolerant of low N, I have read that legumes are often limited by P availability, and thus manure, guano, bone, or rock phosphate may be important on damaged or P poor soils.

I suspect the symbiosis can initiate at any time -- and I have also read that bacteria are naturally present in quantities to support fixation in many soils.  Innoculation is insurance.





 
                  
Posts: 114
Location: South Carolina Zone 8
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Rabbit manure is good beacuse of the composition of the manure is such that it has less waste products and still has viable edible nutrients in it. In fact rabbits in the wild consume thier own droppings redigesting them to get all the nutrient value. Deer in my opinion being browsers are like goats and the manure is less filled with nutrients and contains more waste products which needs composted before use in the garden.

Getting back to the op's biggest question. For sowing cover plants you can simply till, scratch, or in whatever way you choose prep the soil by loosening it up so the seed not only can fall below the surface but has an easier time as a seedling pushing out the ground. To a point the deeper you do this the better as it keeps things from becoming root bound. After that you can sow seeds by hand allowing them to fall on the prepared ground much like you would sowing grass seed for a lawn/ Keep in mind broadcast sowing of seeds sometimes creates a bird buffet and while you do not need to do anything further especially if you do this before a light rain. Personally I take it one step further and depending on the size of the area I planted cover the seeds with soil and/or straw or in some way get them below the surface by say raking. If covering a large aria I have been known to till sow lightly till agian, sow agian and then "rake"  (btw if using a tractor by rake to me is more of a drag as I use an old bedspring to cause the dirt to fill in and level out which hopefully covers over a majority of the seeds this could also be done with a very lightly weighted roller which only presses down a bit not compacts the soil ). One thing I try not to do is compact the soil over seeds in any way as I believe seeds in loose soil germinate and grow better thus my use of the backside of a rake small scale or drag large scale for non row plantings.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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A length of chain or chain-link fence can also provide the drag function.  One time I remember I was planting a lawn, and I didn't roll, but did walk across the seeded surface to place my sprinkler.  The best germination was in my footsteps.  This was summer sowing, so perhaps this phenomena only applies to forcing germination under hot dry conditions.
 
Bill Schulz
Posts: 10
Location: Central Montana
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Hi    I have had fairly good luck with alfalfa just broadcasting it in the spring and then either 1) doing nothing and seeing what germinates, or 2) running around with a small harrow behind a riding lawn mower. I know that option #2 works better, but since I no longer have such a machine, I now get by with #1. I am in central MT zone 3 with similar rainfall and the alfalfa does very well during the dry summers since it developes a deep root system. I am letting most of it mature and go to seed each year (vice cutting it for feed, compost, mulch, etc) so that it reseeds itself and spreads. I also have patches of sweet clover that volunteer here and there each year and this also has a very robust and deep root system. The finer clovers will probably need supplemental water if you have a long dry spell but are worth trying on an edge of an irrigated or naturally wet area. Good luck with your new project! WB
 
COGreg Hatfield
Posts: 4
Location: Northern Colorado
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thank you everyone for your inputs.
 
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