Nature is Awesome

Salad Bar Beef

Jolie Vue Farms – A salad bar of weeds.

Jolie Vue Farms – A salad bar of weeds.

Joel Salatin invented the description “Salad Bar Beef” to describe the menu of the wide diversity of grasses and flora found in native pastures and upon which our cattle make “grass-fat” beef. We have now raised our count to 16 of those native grasses at JVF. But you must understand that the salad bar that Salatin refers to includes more than grass. It includes what many of us would generically call “weeds”. But here’s the story on weeds – our soil protectors.

Weeds have a number of beneficial functions. This year has been alternating between very wet and cool to very hot and dry. The latter cycle causes weed-pop. Why is that? Weeds shade the soil to keep the surface from getting too hot; grass will not grow at surface temperatures of 95 and above. Drop the air temperature from 95 to 85 and it encourages grass, and that’s one beneficial function. Grass grows under the shade of the weed canopy. The second benefit relates to the “how” of weed-pop. Weeds in dry weather have an ability to reach deeper for moisture in the sub-soil than grass does. In the deeper soil the weeds also intersect more minerals and when they do, they bring those minerals up to the grass roots level, enriching the soil and adding fresh stores of minerals to the grasses. Third benefit? Weeds can be palatable to cattle and pigs, high in protein and minerals. Not all, but many. So weeds are forage despite the effort of conventional farmers to spray them to death. When you spray them with herbicides, you are killing a friend and poisoning your soil.

Long live the weeds in the salad bar of a native pasture! 

Praise For “Weeds” Too

We were surprised this summer when we had a big weed “pop” at the summer’s beginning. That usually doesn’t happen in a year when so much rain occurs. Rain usually brings the grasses out and smothers the weed seed, preventing its germination, but this year we got both, grass and weeds together. Weeds serve several constructive purposes, including providing shade for the soil to keep it from overheating, thus allowing grasses to renew themselves (it is said that soil temperatures above 95 degrees will not produce grass). What’s going on here? Is it possible that the weeds knew we would make a rapid turn to hot and dry, so provided shade in advance of that turn? Who can say, but we have learned this much – never underestimate the supernatural power of Mother Nature.

Soil Armor

One of the keys to a successful grasslands farm is what we call “soil armor”. A vibrant living soil is the foundation for good grasses and it is at its productive best when it has cover over its head. The armor makes it warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and saves its moisture from the drying wind and sun. What it’s really doing is protecting the home of the soil creatures – be they microbial or the larger versions.

This time of year, that armor starts with the grasses of the previous warm season. We were lucky in that regard because fall rains were plentiful and the grasses recovered quickly from the dry heat that August always brings. Those grasses become standing hay that provide some dry matter for the cattle through the winter but more importantly, put that roof and wind-break over the soil. When we see spring approaching, we shred it down, and it then becomes a blanket, and that is when you see the benefit of the armor – green stuff is revealed that was previously hidden by the armor. As the blanket dissolves into the soil, it provides food for the soil life which in turns grows more green armor. In your electronic version of the newsletter, the 3 photos below show the three stages described here.

Nature is an amazing thing.

The Spring Flush Is Here

It doesn’t matter that we have witnessed the Flush for some 25 years now. Each time it is new, fresh, and inspiring. Grass, flowers and the aromatics jump out of the ground. The animals, domestic and wild, hurry about excitedly as they fatten up following the winter lean period. Birds are everywhere, chattering incessantly, preparing their nests for the coming eggs. There is nowhere to be found that doesn’t offer great bounty for all of them, great and small, and their babies or babies to come. It should not be considered heretical to describe this as Mother Earth’s replay of redemption and resurrection.

It is a grand thing. We are all fortunate to see yet another Spring Flush.

One of Those Fabulous Sights

Nature giveth as well as taketh away. We experienced that one Sunday in the early afternoon as we were entertaining friends and family on the highest spot on JVF where the new house is located. As we enjoyed lunch in the warm weather that preceded the cold front just mentioned, Honi exclaimed “My goodness, look at what’s coming at us!” Looking to the north we saw a huge, dense fog bank covering the entire northern horizon and moving at a fast pace. As we scurried out to the porch, it soon engulfed us, simultaneously changing the temperature from very warm to very cold with a blustery wind. In an hour’s time, the temperature dropped 29 degrees. Down came the windows and on came the heater. Off came the shorts and on came the jeans, coats and rubber boots.

Nature is awesome.