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Soil Building Experiment #3: Hay Growing

Hay fields = hidey places for mice = good hunting.

Last year I started a series of blog posts on building better soil. Some of you may recall my map.

Photo from Carbon and Soil Building: Designing a Plan

I've blogged about building soil in our permanent pastures (in pink):

For hay and other field crops (in blue), we're doing something different. We're alternating green manure crops with harvest crops.

Fall planted green manure of oats, wheat, winter peas, and clover

In mid-April I broadcast a mixture of sorgham-sudan grass, crimson clover, and cowpeas. Then Dan mowed the winter's growth to cover the seed. The last thing we did was to cover this with a layer of old hay. This was an idea we picked up from a Greg Judy video (which now I can't find) as a way to quickly build soil.

I seeded, then Dan mowed. A cart of hay is at the ready for the next step.

The freshly cut grass and clover will provide nitrogen for plant growth, while the hay will provide carbon to feed soil microorganisms. These are key to building soil. (See Carbon: What I Didn't Know)

We had discussed buying hay for this purpose, but didn't actually do it until Dan went to buy hay for the goats.  The ad offered a choice of oat or millet hay advertised as covered. In our region that's important, because our intense southern sun leaches nutrients and rain spoils it. When Dan got there, he saw it had only been covered with plastic.

The bales looked like they'd been sitting wet for a long time.

We haven't found plastic to do a good job of keeping hay dry and this hay confirmed that. Dan told the seller our goats wouldn't eat it. So the fellow offered him two free bales. Thinking of feeding our pastures, Dan took him up on it. We wouldn't give it to the goats, but at $20 per round bale we could certainly use it for building our soil.

On the bale bottoms the hay had decomposed to rich black soil.

When I removed the netting and started peeling off the layers, I found that it probably would have been good hay had it been stored properly. Most of it was leafy and looked to have been cut while it was still alive.


However, it was full of seeds, which indicated that it was cut past its prime. The most nutritious hay must be harvested before the grass goes to seed, assuming cutting and drying conditions are ideal, i.e. about a week of dry sunny weather. Unfortunately that isn't always the case.

We covered the mown grasses with old hay, focusing on areas of bare soil. 

The seed looked to be browntop millet, an annual grass commonly grown for hay. If it's is viable, we got both mulch plus more hay seed!

Here it is two weeks later.

We did the same by our fruit trees

See Soil Building Experiment #1

and also where we grew our winter wheat.

See Saving the Wheat

Now we wait and hope for good hay cutting and curing weather when the time comes.

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