27 May 2009

Writing a new story on the land

Our pastures are pretty tired. Before we started renting, they had been cut for hay, but not grazed or amended, for 20 years. The last time they were turned for agriculture purposes, they were planted into Brussels Sprouts and farmed with the usual heavy use of chemicals Brassicas receive. The farming venture only lasted a few years, then the fields were sown to Timothy and Red Clover and annually cut for hay. When we turned the first bit of sod for a garden, we could read the story of abuse and neglect in the soil. And we could read the same story in the pastures as the grass and clover reluctantly and without vigor, push through the moss and race to send up seeds. So we are writing a new story on the land.
In our first Fall on this land, we ploughed and worked up about three acres of the poorest pasture, areas that were overtaken by Goldenrod. We planted Rye that fall, and Wheat and Oats the following spring, as well as a half-acre of improved pasture. The mix included Perennial Ryegrass, Fescue, Timothy and Alsike Clover. Last summer, we let it grow and go to seed, and this spring it is out-doing the rest. It is thicker, greener and more vigorous, and we plan to cut it for hay this summer, as it will make a fine, leafy, nutritious hay for does in lactation and kids, in comparison to the stalkier hay in the tired pastures.

Our organic grain fields came up with a self-sown understory of red clover last summer. It did not bother the grain crops, and we had no problem harvesting the grains. Instead of being a "weed problem", it was beneficial, keeping the soil moist and loose, and providing a cover crop after harvest. We turned some new ground last fall, for grains this summer, so instead of turning the old grain fields under and planting them down to pasture, we decided to leave them come up in Red Clover and either graze or cut for hay this summer. This picture is of the Rye field we harvested last fall, with the old stalks intact. The cover crop of Red Clover overwintered, and to our surprise, the bits of Rye we left behind after harvest self-seeded this spring. We plan to cut this for hay as well, and would be able to graze it in the late fall as well.

Here is the emerging Oat field this spring, I just love looking out at our grain fields around us, they are a beautiful crop.

The same sad story of abuse and neglect can be read in the forest on this land. Again, it was clear-cut 20 years ago, and left to re-grow into a thick mass of tangled pioneer species. At this stage in it's growth, it is primarily young Poplar and Fir (80% of which is standing-dead or dying with dry-rot from overcrowding), with scattered young Maple, Birch, Spruce, Pine, and Ash. We burn a lot of Poplar, thinning out the crowded trees to make room for the hardwoods and longer-living Red and White Pines that used to dominate this area. In the process of cutting a logging road into the woods, we get a few cords of summer cord wood. Poplar is actually a great summer wood because it leaves no coals behind, allowing the stove, and the house, to cool down after the morning's cooking fire.

It take a lot of work to re-write the story in this land, but each spring we return to the thinned and tended forest, amazed at how the maples and birch seem to have doubled in size. Our new story is a story of rejuvenation.


farm mom said...

Oh, I love this post. I love the work you're doing with the land and I love the style with which you write about it. Such beautiful pics too. Miss you! :)

ChristyACB said...

Great post! It is wonderful that you are invigorating the land around you.

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

farm mom, thank you thank you. Miss you too!

Christy, thanks, it is rewarding to watch the biodiversity expand around us, especially as we are surrounded by clear-cuts, our place is like an oasis for certain species of wildlife.