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Allison Rooney

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since Mar 24, 2010
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Recent posts by Allison Rooney

The Montana Whole Farm Fertility Workshop is drawing nearer! We're very excited to be hosting such high quality instructors!

I was a student under Owen Hablutzel and Neil Bertrando last August in Oregon when they taught Keyline Design in great detail, and it was a fantastic course.
I was so thankful for the opportunity to finally learn the nuts and bolts of Keyline design last year from these guys. It made large scale land planning logical and digestible, and I was very happy to gain cheap and accessible contour mapping skills, which is the basis for everything related to water harvest. For farmers, ranchers, land designers and consultants, this information is priceless.
We've got a Yeomans Keyline Plow headed over from Australia for the course, and to begin plowing our land, and that of neighbors, and it will be available to lease over the coming years to folks in our region.

My 20 acre permaculture farm is located in a really cold, arid part of Montana, and farming and ranching on the land in excess of its capacity is prevalent all around my valley, and much of this state. We've been in a serious pattern of extreme temps and drought for over a year, wildfires were stoked last year, and crop yields were dismal. Using Holistic Management grazing and planning principles and combining it with Keyline Design to catch water, plant trees, and herd livestock to build fertility, yields and resilient farm businesses holds more promise to change our difficult circumstances on a large scale than anything else on the table.

I'm trying to build a community of Holistic Management/Keyline practitioners around Montana to spread and develop these technologies. I think sharing knowledge and experiences is crucial to the adoption of this nature-mimicking work, and hope you'll join us!

Allison Rooney
Cloud Nine Farm
Wilsall, Montana
9 years ago
I think it is important to have this Permaculture Pastures discussion!!! Thanks for starting this thread....and hello Deb Berman! I hope you are well, and your workshop sounds wonderful, I'd love to attend! My farm is located 35 miles NE of Bozeman, MT. I've got 20 acres of overgrazed zero fertility (no soil OM, no nitrogen) rangeland...and our elevation is high, and growing season painfully short...so, for my farm, the best bet for long term sustainability and soil building I'm thinking is a combination of the right plants, adapted to our conditions, and the services of animals (trampling, manuring, among the other abundant yields). I think developing an amazing mix of species of plants in the perennial pasture is paramount. I started experimenting with pasture seeding and various pasture species in 2008, the first season on the land. Since, I've come up with a seed mix that combines the best plants that I've worked with so far, but I know it can be improved upon. It has 17 species. I'd like to see a dozen more species in the mix, and I'm looking for ideas. I'm also curious to know if there are particular reference texts or articles that experienced broadscale restoration people (Deb Berman, Owen Hablutzel, Neil Bertrando ?) have used when deciding to re-seed a degraded, low-rainfall, cold climate area to research and select plant species? What plants (grasses, particularly)used in these scenarios (Keyline, Holistic Management) have done particularily well, regardless of bioregion, with the least amount of post-seeding management, other than grazing?
I've gleaned things here and there from Acres USA articles over the years, and have found the following books to be extremely helpful in terms of selecting particular species for an "Herbal Ley", another term for a mixed-species perennial pasture: Fertility Farming, and Fertility Pastures by F. Newman Turner. Get these books, you can find them at the Acres USA website bookstore, or via Amazon. I've also observed our nearby mountain meadows for some idea of native species to include. I feel that using adapted introduced pasture species mixed with natives is my intuitive inclination. Often, in conventional landscape restorations of native prairies, the typical method is to seed a prepared area with native grasses and forbs, and then use herbicides to knock back weeds, which considering the slow development of native grass and forb seedlings, come in very heavy the first couple of years. I've found that using adapted introduced pasture species fills the niche in the first seasons that is filled by annual weeds in strictly native plantings. The natives are coming along underneath them. We also mow to knock back first flushes of annual weeds with great results, while the perennials are establishing beneath the weed canopy. The plant varieties I am seeding now are: Grasses: Indian Ricegrass, Western Wheatgrass, Bluebunch Wheatgrass, Orchardgrass, Perennial Ryegrass. Legumes: Ladino Clover, Red Clover, Sainfoin, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Purple Prairie Clover. Other forbs: Annual Sunflower, Chicory, Small Burnet, Yellow Prairie Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, Blue Flax and Western Yarrow. Other varieties I am interested in are native mints, bee balms, other medicinals, but also other grasses.
I did not include Alfalfa specifically because of the release this year of GMO Alfalfa around the US. I've planted this mix all over some berms and a swale we built last year, as the understory to a fruit and berry food forest. So far so good! On the leeward and water catching side of the berms and swales, the mix is green despite the drought, though we have the fruit trees on a drip line. We did have some Sweet Clover (a plant often utilized by Newman Turner and Sepp Holzer) germinate within the planting, which we have a lot of dormant seed of in our soil, and here and there the Smooth Brome and Crested Wheatgrass is present from the soil seed bank. I'm not a fan of Smooth Brome since it is coarse and aggressive, but my goats like it. I started a thread about this seed mix under the Resources heading, and have some current photos I need to post there. I have about a 1/4 acre dryland seeded from last fall, and it is crispy. Interestingly, the Blue Flax seems to be hanging the toughest of all the plants, holding the soil at least, and hanging on to life. We mowed some Field Pennycress and Lambsquarter coming up in it earlier this spring. Some native wildflowers have started growing there, and the Crested Wheatgrass as well. Not much of the new seed mix even germinated, but now we're digging that area up to add more berms anyway.
10 years ago
That's great Rick! Keep us posted on your results, OK? And thanks for your support of this project!!
Hello everyone! Finally, here are some photos of the pasture mix! This is a planting of the first version of this particular seed mix...it does not have the Echinacea, Annual Sunflower or Chicory in it, but we just overseeded those into this planting from last spring yesterday, and I took the opportunity to multitask and photograph this early spring, second year stand. The ratios of species/seeds within the current seed blend are refined, as in, exactly as I wanted them to be represented in the stand. The planting in the photographs was done with seed from a different company, and they were too busy to assist me in developing a mix properly, so I found another company to work with, and am excited to have more "say" in the actual recipe that we are now selling seeds of.

Some things to consider in looking at these photos: Where we farm is possibly one of the coldest places in the lower 48, we just got a three day snow event/sometimes blizzard. If you live in a warmer part of the West, these plants would already be two or three inches taller. Here, they are about 4-5" tall so far, with a peak size of over 30". The soil where we planted these plants was totally grazed out barely fertile (zero organic matter, zero soil nitrogen) alkaline clay. This planting has seen no additional soil amending, besides where the fruit trees and berries are planted, and they are individually composted/mulched with pole peelings, and sprinklings of chicken bedding and manure we clean out of the nest boxes, only around about 3' in diameter around each new fruit tree/berry youngling.

I'll post more photos in several weeks when the growth gets toward its full potential. From looking at what we've got now, this planting is about to go OFF!!! !! And there is very little to no evidence of any undesirable weed presence. We did not mow this last summer at all.

Thanks for all the great responses to this mix so far!


PS Cloud Nine Farm, Wilsall, Montana is on Facebook, be our friend there, and see the other stuff we get up to!
Hi Peony,
I've got a planting in its second year. I can get a photo for you, but the plants are still small, and we have possibly the coldest shortest growing season in North America, so take that into consideration. Perennial pasture plants need time (first year) to develop roots before they'll put on too much top growth, so it's a good idea to wait until later in the second year to graze them. I don't expect this planting to reach full size until late July or early August of this year, and I'll definitely post a photo of that. The seed mix I planted last spring didn't have any Chicory, Echinacea or Annual Sunflower in it like the current recipe. I have other plantings of other predecessor seed mixes with Chicory in them, and it is an awesome gorgeous plant...and we've had a few patches of Annual Sunflowers volunteering around the farm. I noticed that wild and domestic birds go nuts for Sunflower (they eat all parts of the plant), and I felt it would be a great addition to the mix. I'll be planting a few acres of the current recipe this spring, to continue the development process. I'll try to take a pic today and get it up here...

Susanna, I'll put you on the custom seed (no flax no yarrow) list for fall! Thanks!

Hi Merry,
I can be reached by phone 406-578-2144 or email: rooneymontana@imt.net

Contact me anytime with questions or to place an order!

Thanks everyone!
Thanks for your reply Susanna! I would be happy to combine custom orders and ship them separately for the mix without the flax & yarrow to reach the minimum order of #200, so just let me know how much you are interested in.

For anyone reading this thread, and for Julie and Susanna, I received a copy of F. Newman Turner's book, Fertility Pastures, published by Acres USA after I posted the original description of this seed mix. In this book, written in the 40's, Turner describes his work restoring spent pastures with herbal ley seed mixtures and herds of Jersey cows. He used very much the same types of plants that are in this mix. In fact, reading his book, Fertility Farming was one of the reasons I decided to try to make such a mix for our farm. In Fertility Pastures, his description of his programs with herbal ley pasture seed mixes is detailed. I was struck by how much seed he advocates planting: upwards of 50# per acre! You may have noticed that above, I recommend #15 per acre. Well, I am amending that recommendation now, in light of this new reading, to 25# per acre. In my earlier research, I looked at recommended seeding rates for a number of pasture seed mixes, and the recommended rates were anywhere from 10-25# per acre. I decided to suggest that people plant at a rate in the middle. I was particularily concerned with this seed mix being affordable, and felt that the middle road of seeding rates would help keep costs down for folks. Now, I am thinking that a rate of 25# per acre is more realistic. I want to succeed with this mix on our land, and planting at a heavier rate will mean more germinating plants from the start, and a thicker stand. I also want people who plant this seed on their own properties to succeed, so the heavier rate of seeding seems wise. Of course, feel free to try less to start, if you are concerned about costs.

As far as shipping goes, I just shipped the first batch of 25# via UPS ground. It cost $27.00 to ship from MT to CO, so the shipping rates are reasonable, and I don't add a handling fee!

Thanks so much for responding, and being interested in this seed blend! Ladies, get back to me with how much seed you are interested in trying when you can, and I'll organize the custom order if enough volume can be generated, with a turn around time of about 5-7 business days. Otherwise, I have the original mix in stock, and can ship orders now, with a 1# minimum order!

Is there anyone else reading this thread who would like to be added to the custom order (no flax, no yarrow)?

Hi Julie, Thanks for your interest in the seed mix! Regarding your question about blue flax, horses and prussic acid, I've found an NRCS plant data sheet, http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_lipe2.pdf, on Blue Flax, Linum perenne, that states that it has fair forage value for livestock and wildlife during spring and winter. It also states that the flax species with red or yellow flowers have toxicity to livestock, but makes no mention of this in regard to the Blue Flax. Other web sources seem to indicate a toxicity concern with the species...see here: http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/Default.aspx?DN=8e652ef5-f098-43fe-8d9f-d3ceca667147

I have trouble with the data, since it seems to imply a forage crop of solely flax, which is different from the seed blend. The seed blend contains 1% of Appar Blue Flax, so a relatively small proportion of the ley. My opinion is that if horses are to graze this mix, it should be done with care, as there are other potential dangers for horses in the form of the clovers and bloating. I tried to lessen this risk by keeping the ratio of grasses in the mix higher than clovers, but horse owners should use caution. There are so many factors determining whether plants will sicken animals, but the biggest is probably what were they eating before, and when are they introduced to the mix? If the horses were eating dry scrubby yuck like our grazed out pastures for months, and then were turned out onto a field of all of these lush plants in July, or a field of blue flax alone, they'd probably get pretty ill, because of the shock to the system of nutrient density and richness of the forage, or prussic acid poisoning in the case of the flax. Sepp Holzer intentionally sows poisonous plants for his livestock, a means by which they can self-medicate. If they have plenty of other delicious fare, they won't gorge on the toxic stuff, is the gist I get from his writings and work, but they use the toxic compounds in some plant species instinctually to maintain health, as all animals do in nature.
I don't think planting this mix adjacent to your horse pasture is dangerous for the horse. My understanding is that the animal will have to consume a fair quantity of the broken and trampled plants to get sick, since it is when the plant is damaged that the chemical processes happen that create prussic acid. You could be careful to sow the mix 3' from the pasture boundary if you are very concerned about negative effects on the horse, or potential for wind to carry seed over, flax is pretty heavy seed that won't be carried far by wind.
As for your question about the yarrow, do you know the species/variety in your garden, by any chance? The yarrow in this mix is the native Western Yarrow. It is less invasive and more diminutive than Common Yarrow, and less aromatic and oily, but still a good bitter plant. Many of the ornamental Yarrow cultivars are big, potent plants, but not the Western. Chickens may generally not eat much of it, but it has benefit for animals for health maintenance. The ratio of yarrow in the mix is a quarter of a percent, so it will be present, but minimally so.

I hope this helps!

Incidentally, I can't customize small batches of seed, but I can customize special orders of seed with a 200# minimum order, if you want a seed blend with no flax or yarrow.

Hi there, I'm selling a seed blend I designed based alot on Sepp Holzer's teachings, and my experiences with similar, though less diverse mixes, here on my farm in SW Montana. I developed this seed mix because our farm is located on a high, dry, cold piece of land north of Bozeman that has been overgrazed for decades. The only plants ekeing out a pitiful existence were, and still are on most of our land, crested wheatgrass, smooth brome, sagebrush and rubber rabbitbrush. Non-natives, mostly, and the rest have emerged as dominate only because there weren't any native prairie plants left to keep them in check. The soil is mostly clay, zero organic matter, zero nitrogen, compacted, crusted, erosive. Ugh. The first thing I did when we got here five years ago was start planting different pasture species, and cover cropping with red clover. Astoundingly, the clovers particularly took to this soil. The voice in my head said: "This is what the soil here wants..." and I went with it. Well, a number of catalystic factors in my life convened around this piece of land, and having studied and enacted traditional organic farming techniques here on our farm since 2008, and having some training in Permaculture from some of the best teachers, and seeing Sepp Holzer's farm in video, and then having the great fortune to read his book, as well as having a background in the landscaping trade led me to the creation of this seed mix. It contains 17 species of plants, specific varieties bred for cold hardiness and drought tolerance: "Synergy West Perennial Pasture Seed Blend" is a unique seed blend we designed here at Cloud Nine Farm for the cold, arid Mountain West and perennial biodiversity-building agricultural applications. Useful for multi-year green manure rotations, nitrogen fixation, pollinator habitat, soil-building, a premium grazing forage for birds/poultry, goats, sheep, cows. People-compatible herbal and traditional native edible species. "Synergy West" contains a blend of: Orchardgrass, Perennial Ryegrass, Indian Ricegrass, Western and Snake River Wheatgrasses, Red and Ladino Clovers, Sainfoin, Small Burnett, Annual Sunflower, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Blue Flax, Chicory, Yellow Prairie Coneflower, Purple Prairie Clover, Purple Coneflower, Western Yarrow.

The purpose of this blend is to create a deep, resilient root mass, a hearty, biodiverse and nutritious forage free from GMO contamination concerns (GMO alfalfa is being planted widely around the West this year), above-ground biomass and insane pollinator habitat, self-seeding capacity, winter forage for domestic and wild animals and birds, and re-introduction of nitrogen into depleted soils. As a bonus, many of the species can be foraged upon by people, for food or medicine. Plus, it is beautiful to the eye. The grasses are cool season grasses, meaning they grow when the weather is cool, and thus are suited to cold climates and high elevations. This mix is an alternative to the pasture mixes and green manure crops you might see in the big alternative ag supply catalogs.

This winter for the first time, wild songbirds overwintered on our farm, subsisting on seeds they found in ungrazed, unmowed stands of this mix. I think that nature likes these plants together.

How best to establish this perennial pasture blend? Prepare the soil by roughing the surface...we've used a disc pulled behind a tractor, and are now using pigs, electric fencing, and mobile housing. Broadcast the seed, 1# per 50' x 50', or 15# per acre. Cover the seed, again, lightly with the disc, a harrow, or the rooting tendencies of pigs...if you can incorporate straw bedding/manure as a light mulch over these seeds, or with these seeds, it will help you get better germination rates right out of the gate. The best results with getting this mix established will be had if you can irrigate, but we're trying to get it established in areas we also DON'T irrigate. If you plan to try non-irrigation, plan to incorporate some type of surface mulch for the best results. We mow no shorter than 4" the first year, once or twice, depending on growth rates and rainfall...this knocks back annual weed pressure, allowing the desired species to dominate, as well as providing a layer of detritus mulch for the planting, so that even more of the seeds will find ideal germination conditions. Since some of the species are wild, they will take longer, with more fluctuations in temperature, to sprout. In the second year, the plants will reach their mature size. Begin to graze...and do that like nature does...for short intense durations. Allow stands to recover before grazing again, for short intense durations. Plan to allow stands of this pasture to mature to seedheads, for winter forage, bird habitat, and self-seeding, to keep the mix diverse. We're using this mix in conjunction with pastured mobile poultry flocks, pasture mobile pigs, and soon larger livestock like goats and cows. I planted it in a series of earthworks we built on the farm last spring. This summer, it will grow as the understory in food forest plantings we put into the earthworks, in it's second year. I'll post photos later in the summer.

This mix should be planted at the rates I mentioned above, and costs $10 per pound. Contact me, and we'll ship some to you, 1# minimum, shipping and handling costs depend on quantity ordered.

I look forward to sharing this, and the continuing evolution of this project, our farm, and other permaculture projects like ours!
Rock on Permies!

Allison Rooney
Cloud Nine Farm
Wilsall, Montana
We've found that electric poultry netting will keep small pigs in very well...Premier Fencing sells a poultry net that now has a double tine ground stake on the posts and it works so much better at keeping the netting from sagging, but also keeps the posts firmly in the ground.  We also took the trouble to secure the bottom run of fence line to the ground with steel ground staples (the kind you use to secure landscape fabric) as an extra precaution, and no escapes or failures (doing this of course with the charger turned OFF)!  We use a standard electric charger that is plugged into an outdoor extension cord.
10 years ago