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Cover Crops vs Deer  RSS feed

 
Posts: 36
Location: Central Texas
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So, we got about 4 acres of land which has a thin layer of topsoil and the rest is a rock hard caliche (clay mixed with chalk and a ton of rocks). I'd love to plant cover crops over the entire land to prepare it for my food forest. But we have a ton of critters who would thank me for such feast. We got: deer, jack rabbits (who are apparently a sign that your area has been severely overgrazed), opossums, armadillos, raccoons, cats, snakes, etc. Plus we get temps in the 100s every summer for about a month, not too much rain during the hottest periods, and some good amount of rain in the spring and fall. Our winter is green, it rarely snows. We built a garden with a 8 foot tall fence (about 2.33m) which is protected from the critters and from the sun via a shade cloth. But the rest of the lot is pretty much wide open space.

Most people who recommend planting cover crops live in an area with plenty of grass everywhere. We have barely any grass because of overgrazing for centuries. There are pitiful lumps of brown grass growing with soil showing through between them. If I plant any lush greenery, every critter in the neighborhood will zero in on our lot and not let the cover crops do their job. Plus I don't know if I'd have to water the cover crops when they first sprout, because we often get long periods without rain even in spring or fall. I even wonder how do people plant corn out in the open without fences? I'd love to plant some outside the garden but can't.

Any suggestions for me outside of fencing the entire property ($40k)?
 
Posts: 247
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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Perhaps start small and do your observations.  Fence in two areas (to keep it affordable), in one, add your cover crops and the second one leave alone as your control area. Time it so the cover crops have a chance to grow,  again observe when is temperature and moisture  levels appropriate  for growth.  

If at all possible try to get free mulch or shredded vegetable matter to cover the soil, both in and outside the fenced in areas so that you start healing the land at an sustainable pace.

much success,
JD
 
pioneer
garden master
Posts: 1979
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Tatiana,

This company is based in the Hill Country and they really are trying to help.  They have native grasses especially for caliche.

http://www.seedsource.com/catalog/detail.asp?product_id=2860


This is the description for their caliche mix.  You don't have to buy a mix as they have seed for different grasses described in their catalog.

Meet the harsh challenges of dry, thin caliche-type soils. Native perennial grasses will slowly stabilize vegetative cover. By planting in early spring you take advantage of natural rainfall to sprout the seeds. These natives should reach maturity in three growing seasons. Bronze, red, and golden colored seed-heads during the fall are a breathtaking addition to your native landscape. Special consideration should be given to provide for erosion control, soil organic matter, and seed-to-soil contact.

 
pollinator
Posts: 1676
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Cover croping large areas gives you advantages over say a small 20ft x 20ft feed plot. Sheer volume compared to amount of animals.

Diet also plays a role. The amount of browse (leaves, twigs ) that deer eat compared to grass. I don't see the animals being a problem at all.

You didn't say where you are but i have a similar description of land and climate. Rye grass is great in fall. I wait til a rain (usually in october), then broadcast annual rye grass seed. Its up within 7 days. The key with timing is i want the seed to hit wet ground. It helps it stick. Cover crops in winter is very easy. Acorns are generally plentiful then as well as juniper berries.  Deer, foxes, etc probably prefer those to the grass.

Other techniques can be used also. Last year is the first time i saw wheat straw in my area. It had wheat seeds in it. If you can find this it seems that you get $50 worth of seed in $50 worth of hay. Spreading this out holds moisture, sprouts seeds, and adds a little bit of organic matter over your rocky areas (builds soil). Its a great way to not just add a cover crop,  but jumpstart the addition of organic matter. In my case it also feeds my cows. I roll it out rather than put it in a hay ring cause i want coverage. Whats not eaten is not considered waste, but an amendment.

Even old hay (cheap, sometimes free) is good to put over broadcast seeds for the same reason,  just don't expect viable seeds.
 
pollinator
Posts: 915
Location: Longbranch, WA
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For a gradual approach try chicken tractors. I feed my chickens whole grains and they always plant some that they don't eat. The wheat from last fall and winter is ready to harvest for this fall.I will do this by leaving the heads on the stalk and throw some in the tractor each day for them to peck the grain out. As mentioned above a sheaf of grass hay or straw will supply some seed as well as the mulch to protect it.
I soak the seed for 24 hours before feeding it so that it has a good chance to sprout if buried by their scratching.  I switched to bird seed mix this spring and I now have a nice stand of millet,sorghum and sunflowers.
 
pollinator
Posts: 2023
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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How about azolle in tanks, for animal feed and green manure?
Water is rare, but it does rain, right?
A water tank/stock tank/ pool, etc, could be covered in a layer of nitrogen fixing azolle.
It will also stand ready to catch rain when it comes.
This would create biomass in the fastest way possible.
Ideally it would feed domestic animals, and their poop would become soil, but even if you just spread it on the land and let it rot, your building fertility.

On the subject of soil, It occurs to me that your caliche could be an asset,as a  building material.
A "quarry" might need a concrete saw to harvest blocks in any reasonable manner, but one could be making a place to capture water at the same time.

I recommend Austrian Winter Peas as a cover crop. The leaves and seed are pretty tasty for a crop that is considered "fodder"
 
pioneer
gardener
Posts: 204
Location: Morongo Valley
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Along the lines of Ann's suggestion, here is another company with some great mixes for the Southwest.  You might consider doing a dryland grasses mix, and maybe also a wildflower mix appropriate for your area.  Oftentimes deer aren't as interested in dryland wildflowers and native grasses as they would be interested in the more lush stuff.  I think that's why they seek out gardens and human-changed areas.

Plants of the Southwest dryland grass mix

Plants of the Southwest wildflower mixes for various ecosystems

For some reason, their search refinement tools don't work so well on all the pages.  But you can read through their products very quickly.

People don't always think of wildflowers when they think of cover crops, but I think they are quite underappreciated.  Wildflower mixes usually have a wide diversity of plants that are medicinal, pollinator attractors, and plants that are likely dynamic accumulators that just haven't been studied much yet.

I think the advice above to start with a smaller area is very sound, as well.  I have so often started too big, and had less success because of the additional attention a big project requires...  Start small is now my personal motto. :-)

Good luck!
 
Posts: 582
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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I'll betcha you'll find a lot more critters eating your grass than deer, as in rabbits, mice, voles, gophers, pack rats....anything that makes a nest out of grass or herbivores. 

1 acre takes 800 feet of fencing, so I second the idea of start small, so you won't spend the rest of your life maintaining a fence.

I used 4 foot wide chicken wire with 1" holes run on the bottom layer horizontally, the bottom 6 inches bent outwards wired to poles that are up 8 feet.  Then a second layer of 4 foot chicken wire horizontally on top of that, connected by thin, pliable, galvenized wire sewing the two edges together at the 4 foot level.   So it's 7.5 feet high with a colored construction string run around at the 8 foot level.  This string lasts about 2 years, but what is helpful about it is that you can see from a distance if anything has happened at the top where the deer might jump over, or the fat raccoons pull themselves over the top and squish down the height. to get to the fruit.   And it's the extra 6 inches that stop the deer.

Rabbits can't get past this, voles and gophers have to dig under, pack rats (which do a lot of damage where I am) can't get past it.   The 8 foot poles also act as platforms for hawks and owls to hunt from, kestrels, peregrine falcons, they all love the tall poles.

It's not hard to maintain and can be repaired in patches pretty inexpensively.

 
gardener
Posts: 3639
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Tatiana Trunilina wrote:If I plant any lush greenery, every critter in the neighborhood will zero in on our lot and not let the cover crops do their job. 



Perhaps it would help to redefine the role of a cover crop... If you are attracting "every critter in the neighborhood", they will be dropping manure all over your place. That sounds super-wonderful to me: Free manure imported from the whole neighborhood!!! What's not to like about that?

As an example: When I pruned trees at my place as part of wildfire-proofing, I removed limbs from the lower 6 feet of the trees. Then the free-range cattle started flocking in for miles around to use them for shade during the summer. So I ended up collecting tremendous amounts of manure under the pruned trees. The manure just mummifies, because it is the desert after all, but the mummies are sitting around waiting to be activated by a rainy season one of these decades.



 
Anne Miller
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Posts: 1979
Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Something that you might want to think about is planting a plot especially for the deer and wildlife.  This might attract the deer so they leave your other areas alone.

We do this every year.  This would also make a great cover crop.  We buy our seed at the local feed store.  We use rye, oats, millet and milo.  You can buy special deer mix if you really want something especially for deer.  There are special mixes for fall and spring.

Deer don't eat grasses though when they are hungry and there is nothing else they will try tasting anything.  I do think they like the seed heads off established plants.

Deer don't bother our wildflowers either.  The best time to put out seed for wildflowers is in October.
 
gardener
Posts: 4972
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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Tatiana Trunilina wrote:So, we got about 4 acres of land which has a thin layer of topsoil and the rest is a rock hard caliche (clay mixed with chalk and a ton of rocks). I'd love to plant cover crops over the entire land to prepare it for my food forest. But we have a ton of critters who would thank me for such feast. We got: deer, jack rabbits (who are apparently a sign that your area has been severely overgrazed), opossums, armadillos, raccoons, cats, snakes, etc. Plus we get temps in the 100s every summer for about a month, not too much rain during the hottest periods, and some good amount of rain in the spring and fall. Our winter is green, it rarely snows. We built a garden with a 8 foot tall fence (about 2.33m) which is protected from the critters and from the sun via a shade cloth. But the rest of the lot is pretty much wide open space.

Most people who recommend planting cover crops live in an area with plenty of grass everywhere. We have barely any grass because of overgrazing for centuries. There are pitiful lumps of brown grass growing with soil showing through between them. If I plant any lush greenery, every critter in the neighborhood will zero in on our lot and not let the cover crops do their job. Plus I don't know if I'd have to water the cover crops when they first sprout, because we often get long periods without rain even in spring or fall. I even wonder how do people plant corn out in the open without fences? I'd love to plant some outside the garden but can't.

Any suggestions for me outside of fencing the entire property ($40k)?



Lots of good suggestions have been given already but consider this idea. If you do a heavy planting of covers, grasses, etc. then you will have plenty on a 4 acre space, so much that if animals do graze it down they won't be killing those plants, just trimming them down.

I have lots of wild animals that pass through my place, I even have a donkey that free ranges and I haven't seen any problems except for when the donkey makes a new dust bath area (four to date), but these are easy to reseed in fall and spring.
I'm increasing the size of our pastures so the deer will come more often (I have silvopastures so there is some shade available most of the days).

Most wild animals will stop their grazing before they kill the plant, it is beef cattle and sheep that cause most of the damaged pastures.
Fencing is not natural, we really only need it because we don't want our domesticated critters wandering all over, or we need to keep deer and other "nibblers" from getting into the garden areas.

The more you grow on your land, the better that land will become.

Redhawk
 
Tatiana Trunilina
Posts: 36
Location: Central Texas
6
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Thanks so much y'all!


JD, I didn't find anyone willing to dump their woodchips on our property for free, we live quite a ways out in the sticks. But we are planning to cover a significant portion of our land with mulch that we will buy. But will cover crops grow in mulch?


Anne, thank you for the link!


Wayne, that makes so much sense! I like this idea!


Hans, we don't have chickens yet, but we'll see in the future.


William, thanks, I'll read up on azolla


Kim, thanks for the links, I like the Texas prairie mix a lot!


Cristo, we have a lot of land we wanna plant stuff on, and we do plan to fence the entire lot eventually. Right now it's not feasible.


Joseph, oh my gosh, that makes sense! How didn't I think of that??? Thank you! I can maybe mix in stuff that deer likes with stuff it doesn't eat so that I can still have vegetative cover AND get deer dropping. We do get rabbits and hares too.


Anne, that's a good idea too!


Bryant, thanks, I didn't know that deer don't kill plants. In my experience with them, they pretty much decimate an entire bush of something delicious, so I just assume they are destructive to everything edible in their path.
 
pollinator
Posts: 373
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
24
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It may make you feel better about herbivory to consider that the animals you mentioned are working on a one in, one out policy when it comes to food-feces. They are trading what you have for something that was more abundant elsewhere. They are building soil as macrodecomposers, but of course they don't consider the optimal time to harvest like you might want. Mollison would tell you to feed those animals and then eat them. You could also use motion activated sprinklers to scare them off.
 
wayne fajkus
pollinator
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I think redhawk is talking about pasture. I can give several examples of deer destroying whole plants in an annual garden. Gotta keep those fenced high.
 
Ben Zumeta
pollinator
Posts: 373
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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Of course they will strip trees too, which is why predators are so helpful ecologically (or dogs in your landscape, or just eat them yourself). But when you are starting from nothing, they are probably giving as much organic matter value as they take, and are introducing soil biology. It’s all the more reason to learn to graft, gather seed, and make Fukuoka seed balls to more efficiently manage costs and time as you let nature do the heavy lifting for you.
 
Jd Gonzalez
Posts: 247
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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Tatiana Trunilina wrote:Thanks so much y'all!


JD, I didn't find anyone willing to dump their wood chips on our property for free, we live quite a ways out in the sticks. But we are planning to cover a significant portion of our land with mulch that we will buy. But will cover crops grow in mulch?



Some legumes might grow in mulch such as beans, peas, cow peas, and pigeon peas, other cover plants will not do too well, However you may plant by removing the mulch in furrows, plant your seeds and then re-cover it with the mulch. The mulch helps diminish soil temperature, and maintain moisture in the soil, which in turn makes the microbial and fungal activity possible, eventually breaking down into rich compost-like material.  Go slow and observe, tweak as needed.

I am not sure on how low  the temperature gets in your area but Moringa might be a quick biomass producer so by doing chop and drop.  Another fast growing candidate could be the black locust tree that is also are able to fix nitrogen in the soil.

 
Posts: 10
Location: Zone 3b
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I put up an 8 ft deer fence around my orchard this year. 2 acre pen. Cost me $1,700 in materials, everything new.

Installed it myself with one helper in 3 days.

Where does your 40k figure come from?
 
pollinator
Posts: 1919
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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If you are worried that a deer/etc, is going to chop and droppoop your leafy cover crop of $80 for 4acres, what will you do when they eat your 350 fruit trees of $30 each aka $10,000.

I would say just plant your covercrop, and then start practicing your wild harvesting skills, bow and arrow anyone?

I am being funny, but seriously fence in 1 acres or more and also harvest as much covercrop from the rest to enrich that 1 acres, then plant your 180 fruit trees at 15ft centers kn that zone 1
 
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