Preparing for the Fall

We in the city think of the fall, the presage to winter, as a slipping into a slower, easier time of the year. Instead, it is one of our most pressing times of the year as we plant our winter pastures in the effort to keep green grasses available for our creatures. We fall back on hay when we have to but the cattle and the pigs are happier when they have the green stuff in front of them. Happy creatures are healthy, growing creatures.

What is the winter pasture process? Here is this year’s plan: first, we shred* the pastures in an alternating pattern. That is, we shred an 8 foot lane, skip another 8 feet, shred the next 8 feet. The shredding insures that when we plant the seed, it will have access to sun and air. The un-shredded lane will allow summer grasses to thrive as the warm season persists. Those grasses will die and provide dry roughage for the creatures to offset the richness of the winter grasses. If the pasture is too rich, there is too much moisture being ingested and the creatures get what we affectionately call “green butt”. A little of that is fine but it can get out of hand quickly if the dry matter is not available, and the creatures will not thrive.

In times past, the next steps would be many. We would first have to disc (or “till”) the shredded lanes. Then we would spread seed through a broadcaster into those cultivated lanes. The several varieties of winter seed cannot be combined in the same broadcast hopper because they are not all planted at the same depth. So the broadcasting will be a 2 or 3 step process. Following the seed broadcast, we would then pull a drag over all of the shredded lanes in order to pack soil over the seed. So, there were 4 to 5 passes made. When you’re talking about say 50 acres, you will have spent tractor time over 200-250 acres. That’s 5 times more time, fuel and labor spent than if we had the ability to combine all of those steps in one.

Our handy-dandy three seed box, no-till seed planter comes to our rescue this year. It combines the many steps into one pass. First, it has 3 seed boxes so that seed, regardless of size, can be planted simultaneously. Second, it cuts a thin trench, nine at a time, into which the various seeds will drop from the seed boxes. Third, it packs dirt over the trenched seed. All in one process. That’s progress!

Because of the new, one-step planter, we will also be able to plant a wider variety of winter grasses, another advantage. This expanded pasture will not only add variety and more quality forage but will also allow for the planting of soil enrichers. Here’s how that breaks out. For pure nutrition, we will add turnips, kale and collards to our typical pasture of oats and rye. The other grasses which not only add nutrients but also enhance the soil are the legumes - clover and cowpeas.

Finally, this combination of seed will provide green forage from the fall through the winter and into the spring. We believe that this approach will grow our creatures fatter and healthier while improving the JVF ecology. Will it happen? As always, its full benefit will depend on the weather. Do we have a harsh winter? That will reduce the life of many of the various plants. Do we have adequate moisture? A dry fall and winter will retard the growth. So what’s new? In the end, our success is always dependent on the weather. If you’re not a willing risk-taker, stay home.

* when a Texan says “shred”, think mow. Same thing.