October 14, 2015

A Modified Fukuoka Method of Planting Winter Pasture

Those of you interested in permaculture have likely read Masanobu Fukuoka's The One-Straw Revolution (available as a free download here). His natural farming method of growing grain is brilliant, yet simple. He does not plow, till, nor add fertilizers or even compost. In summer, he grows rice, in winter, a grain mixture of barley and rye. He uses the straw from his grain harvests to mulch the growing plants. He adds a bit of chicken manure to help decompose the straw and that's about it. This ongoing cycle is not labor intensive, yet productive. Sadly, it wasn't for me.

By the end of September, the doe pasture was sparse and sorry-looking

Why not? Because that straw is valuable homegrown goat feed, and I would rather my goats eat our own hay than purchased hay. We've been having our soil tested for microminerals and slowly adding them, so I know our own soil and hay are healthier than anything I can buy. I needed to figure out something else.

When it came time to plant for winter forage for the goats, I decided to modify the Fukuoka method as an experiment. That experiment is to plant the seed and then mulch with goat shed cleanings. Usually we muck out the shed and use it to make compost piles in the chicken yard, where the chickens help turn it into gloriously lovely compost.

Our chickens help us make faster compost with less work on our part.
Click here for how we compost with chickens. (I'm now up to 3 bins.)

This time I decided to skip the composting step and use it directly on the pasture. I use the deep litter method, so the goat stalls contain a gold mine of straw, wasted hay, manure, urine, and barn lime. There are different kinds of lime (for more on that, see my "Amish Whitewash" post). Barn lime (calcium carbonate) is also called agricultural lime, garden lime, or lawn lime. This is the stuff that's used to mark the lines on sports fields. It not only helps with odor control in the barn, but also helps with insect control because it is just alkali enough to deter insect eggs and larvae. My soil is acidic and could use a little sweetening, so its addition is good for my pasture soil.

I spot-planted the seed fairly thickly in the bare places and then spread a thin, airy layer of straw over the seed,  just enough to hopefully hide it.

I like doing this in the rain for several reasons. One is that it keeps
snoopy goats out of my business; I don't want them eating the seed!

The idea is to sprinkle, not smother. This is something Mr. Fukuoka stresses in his book. The seeds are somewhat hidden from hungry birds, yet still receive enough light to grow. Clumps are shaken out and spread widely, especially if urine saturated. The straw first mulches the seed and then breaks down to feed the soil.

I'm planting for the best variety I can, because goats thrive on variety. I have found that deer plot forage mix seed is cheaper to buy than pasture seed, but contains exactly what I want for a winter pasture. This year I bought a mix of wheat, oats, and Austrian winter peas. To that I'm adding annual pasture rye grass, also ludino clover and orchard grass (previously purchased perennials), plus garden and herbs seeds I've gathered on the homestead: radish, chicory, turnip, yarrow, parsnip, oregano, and echinacea. There are also pasture grass seeds in the wasted hay and straw.

How's it doing so far? I gave you a glimpse in my "Around The Homestead" post.

This is from seed I planted at the end of September.

We usually get a dry spell in autumn, so I'm hoping the light mulch will also help retain soil moisture for the newly emerging seedlings. I should also add that chickens and pigs are strictly banned from this pasture at this time, because they'll eat the seed! The goats probably would too if they could see it, but they tend to avoid the smelly wasted hay and straw.

The first photo in this post served as my "before" picture; here's my "after," two weeks later.

There are still some patchy areas that need seeding, but I'm pleased.

Forage plus soil building all rolled up into one. I'm going to declare this first experiment a success!

32 comments:

Farmer Barb said...

Everyone looks happy!

Beth said...

This is great info. I have aspirations of having dairy goats one day, so I'm trying to learn all I can! :)

DFW said...

Good for you Leigh! I read that book a few years ago & was very intrigued. Glad to have someone "I know" actually test it.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Hi! Your new pasture sure does look like it is doing well. Hope it continues to for you. Nancy

Perry said...

I have to say I am a little jealous that you have a pasture to work on, all we have so far is woods.

Also had to post a quick comment to thank you for the reminder. Been trying to figure out a place for the compositing bins at our new place, so I clicked on the link to your composting post from last year only to find out I commented there about the system at my old house which involved the chickens! :) Crazy how quickly we forget! Off to figure out how to best to build my new compost bin inside the new chicken run!

Leigh said...

If there's food, they're happy. :)

Leigh said...

Beth, you are so wise to prepare. That being said, it's so very true that experience is the best teacher!

Leigh said...

It's tough because there is no one-size-fits-all formula for homesteading. When I first read the book I was a little disappointed I couldn't put it to use. Now I'm thinking, why didn't I think of this before?

Leigh said...

Thanks, Nancy! Me too!

Leigh said...

Perry, that's so funny. Sounds like something I would do. But isn't the internet the greatest place for ideas and record keeping. :)

Renee Nefe said...

I'm so glad it's working for you...hoping for a bumper crop! :D

Mark said...

Leigh, that is a great looking pasture. I'll be reading Fukuokasan's book and figuring out what I can glean.

Nancy LittleHomesteadinBoise said...

Looks good! I read about him back n the 80's and saw a documentary. Brilliant guy. I think he'd be happy his method has spread world wide :)

PioneerPreppy said...

From what I remembered of it those techniques wouldn't work in the Plains anyway. First off no rice. You could do the same method more or less with river bottom land that was flooded yearly but that flooding is almost the same thing as spraying fertilizer in it's own way. Although natural I admit.

As you mentioned the grass crop off the fields is more valuable used as feed. Most around here just frost seed this far North after most of the bird life has moved South. If you are sowing smaller patches though mulching with anything is beneficial but barn waste will also add alot more to the soil than just straw so that's a good plan.

I do it a little differently for my large hay field but hopefully this Winter I will be adding the manure spreader to my line up and may be able to by pass the Spring fertilizer run.

Your pasture is looking good!!!

Howard said...

You might try adding forage kale to your winter pasture mix. It is high protein, withstands frost and is sometimes used by sheep breeders to reduce the amount of grain needed to condition the sheep for efficient breeding.

Leigh said...

If it doesn't get too cold this winter, I'll have forage for the goats all winter long. Otherwise everything will go dormant and it will be hay, hay, hay.

Leigh said...

Mark, it's a very interesting read and I picked up a couple of useful things from it. I won't be able to grow grain the way he does, but adapting his mulching concept was a light bulb moment for me!

Leigh said...

He and Sepp Holzer are two people whom I admire. They've actually made permaculture work for them. They admit it took years, even decades to work out a system that worked for them. I understand why. Experiments are seasonal and it takes years to work out one's particular geographic challenges. I'm just happy to be taking a step in the right direction.

Leigh said...

It was the soil building that is really key for us. Our soil is so poor and even though we've added organic soil amendments, it desperately lacks building with organic matter! I couldn't do this if we had acres and acres of pasture, though. It works well for spot seeding, but without a manure spreader like you mention, it would be nearly impossible to do a large patch!

Leigh said...

Howard, good point about kale. Most of the extra seeds I added were homegrown, home-gathered, of which I have no extra kale! It is an amazingly nutritious plant, however, and should be part of that seed mix.

Frank and Fern said...

Very valuable information, Leigh, thank you. Will you be able to maintain this if you can't purchase more seed? That's always a questions I ask myself now days.

Fern

Christine said...

What a difference! Good luck on your book!

Leigh said...

Fern, that's my constant question as well, i.e. how to raise a sustainable pasture. The deer mix is all annuals, so it will only do for fall through spring. It doesn't seem to reseed itself, I reckon because the goats eat it so well. I just planted the orchard grass last spring, so I'll be interested in how it does now. It lasted through most of the summer and then went dormant when we had a dry spell. I got a seed crop of the Egyptian wheat, which is more of a sudan grass. If I can raise a seed crop every year and add it to my mix, that will be good. I still need a good warm weather perennial and will likely plant something like brown millet this spring.

Leigh said...

Thank you!

Erika Keller said...

Been clearing and seeding more pasture here. Always looking for ideas for creating more healthy pasture. Thanks.

Chris said...

Filling in gaps would have to be the main preoccupation with homesteading. ;)

That's because gaps translate into having to purchase from others, who were able to grow an excess to their requirements. Those excesses elsewhere can fluctuate in reliability too, and with livestock, its not good practice to leave your homestead short.

So I can see the importance behind these steps, although gaps always seem to appear somewhere else, after you fill them in. ;)

I have tried this method and can vouch that it works. Only I cannot keep the kangaroos off, like you can keep the goats away. I'm looking at fencing in the near future. Where seeds have germinated near clumps the kangaroos can't get too, tells me this method works.

Leigh said...

Healthy pasture is a huge concern. I knew nothing about pasture when we moved here, and we've had to learn everything. Working in smaller areas has certainly been easier. Learning how to use our own "waste" has been all the better.

Leigh said...

Yes, there are always gaps, LOL. As well as one critter or another wanting to feed off of the homesteader's hard work. Another reason why there's no one-size-fits-all homesteading.

In F. B. Morrison's Feed and Feeding there is a picture of a huge hay wagon being pulled by draft horses. The caption mentions that when the farmer sells his hay, he also sells off the soil nutrition. I think about that, and think it makes a strong point in favor of agrairian farming versus industrialized farming.

Just out of curiosity, what kind of fencing do you need to keep kangaroos out? What works for goats doesn't work for deer, which is an ongoing problem for us.

Chris said...

Well kangaroos can clear all the regular fencing in this region. That's about 1.2m high, but they can jump higher than that too. Where I would be fencing though, is around the chicken coop, so they may not want access to a limited area, unless they're desperate.

Also a lot of mothers tend to raise their joey's in our yard, so they often have a full pouch or a little one at their heels, which wouldn't be able to clear the fencing. The trick is to expand the wild feeding areas elsewhere on the property. Gaps to fill, everywhere. ;)

Leigh said...

It's hard to fence for critters than can jump like that. I agree that something truly helpful is to plant enough to share.

Farmer Liz said...

Hi Leigh, great to see your results. Did you know that Larry Korn has just published "One Straw Revolutionaries" about how farmers are using one straw revolution techniques. I think this is a great method for a small area. I get stuck when I think about how to do this over our 60 acres of cultivation. I want to stop ploughing though. We are planting a perennial pasture instead and I hope that will solve some of the problems. Its amazing to see those seeds sprout without being "planted", just like in nature :)

Leigh said...

Hi Liz, I cannot imagine how this could be done on larger acreage. I thought about that one day while I was seeding and mulching, and as much as we wish we had more land, learning how to steward what we've got is important.

I'll be interested in your perennial pasture, because I've been working toward that as well. I suppose spot seeding will still be necessary, but I want to get away from buying and planting pasture seed every year.

Thanks for telling me about the book! Sounds like a really helpful resource. Adapting others' successes to our own circumstances is always a challenge, and it's good to hear how others do that.