Fall growth started with legumes

Summer here is hot and dry and there are not many plants that grow in those conditions. Lucerne was the legume that kept growing throughout the summer providing fresh fodder for our herd. There were also some grasses that did well relative to the rest, notably the chiendent (couch grass) and yellow foxtail. Each of these has since died down as the cooler-season grasses take over.

In late October it started raining again and with the moderate temperatures we saw growth from other plants. It is spring all over again! The first things to start growing again were the legumes. There are a few I haven’t identified, but there’s certainly been a lot of growth of clover.

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In the middle of the lucerne hay fields we are getting other species growing through. Anywhere where there is a thin patch we’re seeing grasses and clover push, as well as plantain and the occasional dandelion. This is a good thing as we are fencing these hay fields and grazing them next year. We can do with some diversity of plant species.

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Gene Logsdon describes that on his farm, if he just mows periodically he’ll get a pasture of kentucky bluegrass and white clover. One grass dominates, and one legume works with it to provide the nitrogen. I’ve been wondering what grasses and legumes would dominate on our farm’s natural pastures.

This is the first year the grasses have been grazed tall with the litter left behind. This is also the first year there’s been adequate rest for the plants after grazing. The standard usage of pasture here is to hay everything in spring then to chase grass the rest of the year. Any significant grass growth is grazed down bare.

A rotational system like ours should favor taller grasses, like fescue and dactyle (orchardgrass/cocksfoot – apologies for my inconsistency in usage, our farming vocabulary is now a mix of French, English and American terms). Here is a photo of Sleepy Hollow about a week after it was grazed. The taller grasses are starting to grow up over the shorter ones. I’m thinking that over a few years the percentage of these taller grasses will climb to dominate the pasture.

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And then there are the unexpected findings. I presumed that clover would dominate the legumes, but white clover isn’t tall and suffers with taller grasses. Maybe something else will fill the Nitrogen need? I see sainfoin in the field and also a lot of lotier (Birdsfoot Trefoil). I wouldn’t mind seeing more lotier in the fields since it has no risk of bloat. It is called Birdsfoot Trefoil because the seed pods are shaped like a bird’s foot. We just call it lotier because it is easier to say.

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As fall progresses things keep changing. Right now many fields are shooting up with a fine-looking ryegrass. I don’t know enough to identify it, but it looks soft and sweet for the cows.

7 thoughts on “Fall growth started with legumes

  1. A.A. says:

    Glad spring’s arrived for you 🙂

    I read somewhere that white clover’s a compacted soil kind of plant, short roots. For now, compacted and poorly growing spots are the places I see it the most around here. I’m just thankful to have any legume growing in those spots 🙂 Red clover grows much taller and seems to come up more in the better spots. Cow vetch too, which is like lotier and can definitely compete. Dandelion seems to come up as a sort of a soil rescue plant too, though I don’t know what it does specifically. This being a marshy area, I’ve been thinking why the pasture strips where the blind drains run seem to grow much better especially on the poorer pastures. It could be for the draining, but I think it’s more likely because the pipes were put down and the trenches filled in less than ten years ago and the soil’s less compacted and the roots can grow deeper. I don’t know if there’s plowpan underneath in some of the worse spots, but I think I’ll take a shovel and go see one day out of curiosity.

    We’ve had an oddly warm fall, a month and a half behind the typical schedule now. There hasn’t been much growth for the lack of sunshine, but litter’s been decomposing very well.

    Gene Logsdon seems to think these days that weeds need to be either sprayed or hoed out in the long run :/

  2. bc says:

    Yeah, white clover definitely grows well where it has been compacted. I can’t tell my clovers apart yet and I’m hoping we’ll get enough tall legumes to help with the permanent pasture else I can always seed some. There’s a bit of lucerne that has made its way into the pasture and is surviving, maybe I should disc and broadcast some of that in a small part of a field to check it out.

    That’s an interesting idea re the drains breaking up the hardpan. Some folk run the subsoiler through their pastures periodically. I think Matron of Husbandry does this. Lucerne has such long roots that it can break up hardpan, too. My non-permanent fields are going to get lucerne in a rotation so we’ll get improvement over time. The ‘permanent pasture’ is something different, though. We had a visitor from the chamber d’agriculture the other day and he wanted me to plough up and reseed my pastures and declare my lucerne fields as ‘permanent pasture’ but I think we can improve the permanent pastures without ploughing.

  3. Susan Lea says:

    Such an interesting post! It challenges me to get out and learn more of the names and qualities of what grows in our pastures (mostly fescue and bermuda, but plenty of other things). We did seed some winter rye in one pasture and are seeing the first few little green shoots pop up. We definitely need more rain! Next year we’ll try some red clover, but we missed our planting window for that this year.

  4. bc says:

    Now I’m looking for it, there seems to be a fair bit of red clover around the farm. I’m going to try seeding some too. I might be cutting it fine to seed it on the vineyards this fall.

    Susan, you need to put some pasture photos up so we can see what is growing there. I don’t even know what bermuda grass looks like.

  5. couch grass says:

    Using it as compost for certain areas in your house or farm can lead to a tragedy of being overrun by this persistent pest. This grass simply doesn’t die once pulled out of the ground.

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