October 13, 2018

Fall is Finally Here

I'm not one who thinks much of what the calendar says when it comes to seasons. Every year we have the calendar proclaiming the first day of autumn to be around the 20th to 22nd of September, but if we're still in the 90s (low 30s) and I'm in a t-shirt getting all sticky and sweaty from working outside, then I don't if the calendar says it's October 9th. It's still summer! Autumn to me is when it's time to pull out my barn sweater and put an afghan on the bed. It's crisp mornings and crunchy leaves under my feet when I go out first thing to do the chores. It's color in the trees as the leaves turn. Until then it's still summer.

Finally, Hurricane Michael pushed summer out of the way this week and let autumn in.

Love this rain gauge 'cuz I can read it from the window!
It was a gift to Dan & me from Mike at Living Prepared.


Rainfall day two.

What a difference! All the critters feel it. Time to make that end-of-summer check list and start getting things ready for winter.

How is it in your neck of the woods? Do you feel the change of season? Are you ready for the next one?

Fall is Finally Here © October 2018 by

October 10, 2018

What Dan Found Inside the Old Oak Tree

A goodly portion of our firewood this year is coming from an old oak tree which used to grace our backyard. About a year ago it stopped producing leaves, so Dan took it down. We knew at least part of it was rotted, but hoped we could get quite a bit of good firewood out of it. That's been Dan's priority project this month.

48 inches in diameter and over 100 rings.

It has not been your straightforward firewood job. The base of the tree is four feet across, and he has a 20-inch chainsaw. After pricing larger chainsaws and one- or two-man crosscut saws, he decided to buy a 24-inch bar and chain for his saw. By cutting from all directions he's been able to cut it into sections.

The surprise came when he hit something inside the tree, something that sent sparks flying. At first he thought it might be a piece of metal, perhaps an old nail? It was all the more puzzling when he hit it again farther down the trunk.

Several ruined chains later, he managed to chip away enough of the trunk to discover this



Not easy to tell in the photos, but what you're looking at is either concrete or a rock about 70 years or so into the tree. Was someone trying to fill the hole, or did the hole form as a result? We'll never know.

Trying to drill it out. No joy.

It's an odd shape and it's impossible to tell how far it extends toward the base of the tree. Very curious.

Higher up, this section measures 33" by 38". It has two ring
circles indicating a double trunk which eventually grew together.


These sections are quite heavy.


Once they are cut into wedges they're ready for the log splitter.


Then it's stacked.

The old carport is making a nice firewood storage area.

Considering that our temps are supposed to drop quite a bit this weekend, I'm very glad to be well on our way to a good winter's supply.

Yesterday Dan finally managed to free the mystery rock from the tree.


He wanted to get it out whole, but ended up having to cut it into pieces. Here's a close-up.


Any ideas?

October 6, 2018

Developing a Pasture Rotation Plan: Part 2

In "Developing a Pasture Rotation Plan: Part 1," I shared what I've learned about pasture rotation. Each method has a different focus--forage health, animal health, or soil health--but similar strategies. All limit grazing time according to the condition of the forage and allow for a period of rest. The challenge is trying to figure out how to adapt the particulars to our property.

The simplest rotation strategy is to leave stock out in the field and just move them (and their water) to the adjacent paddock. That's how it's done with beef cattle, but dairy animals must be brought back to the barn for milking. For that, the best plan would be a centrally located barn with grazing paddocks extending from it like spokes on a wheel. The other option is to use lanes or corridors.

We've just begun a specific plan to improve the soil in our pastures and the forage along with it. As that improves, we should be able to have a number of smaller paddocks, all with good grazing. Since we aren't there yet, larger but simple seemed like the best way to start.

First step toward better grazing rotation.

We subdivided our pastures with electric fencing.

Three strands, the top exactly nose height for adult Kinder goats.

Some people say goats can't be contained with electric fence, and I'm sure for some goats that's true. Especially those inclined to jump. They do have to be trained to it, and we had a couple of break-throughs initially. After a zap or two on the nose they steer clear of those wires.

As forage improves we plan to break it down to smaller paddocks. My goal is to give them about four days in each. That would allow for a minimum three-week rest for the forage, more if possible.

Proposed, but subject to change.

This plan uses corridors for the doe rotations (in blue in the diagram above). That will require gates that can be hot wired to maintain a complete electrical circuit from a centrally located solar charger. For the bucks (red lines), it made more sense to relocate their shelter to a more central position. That's another building project, but makes for a less complicated set-up for the fences. Plus, having them closer to the house also makes it easier to bring them water, feed, and hay.

None of this is written in stone, but with a plan we have something to take steps toward. If we run into obstacles or it doesn't work out as we hoped, we re-evaluate and adjust. 

October 3, 2018

Developing a Pasture Rotation Plan: Part 1

In my "Soil Building Experiment #2: Pastures" blog post I mentioned our five subgoals for pasture improvement. Subdividing them for a better grazing rotation is one of those goals.

Until now, our pasture rotation system has been a simple one; two paddocks each for the does and the bucks, so sometimes I put then in one, sometimes in the other. The problem with this system is that it hasn't helped the condition of our pastures. That needs to change.

I learned a lot about pasture rotation while I was researching for Prepper's Livestock Handbook. Over this past summer I've been working on how to apply what I learned to our own homestead. I started by analyzing the goals and methods of the books and articles I read. It seems to me that the rationale for rotating grazing can be divided into one of three focuses.
  1. Health of the forage
  2. Health of the animals
  3. Health of the soil

Health of the forage

One of our big mistakes when we first moved to our homestead was treating our pastures like lawn. We mowed them like they were lawn and Dan was concerned about things like de-thatching. What we didn't understand, is that different kinds of grasses have been developed for different applications. Lawn and turf grasses were developed to grow thick and short, which means they require certain management techniques. Pasture and hay grasses grow tall, and require different management techniques. Unfortunately, scalping them like lawn is not one of them.

It's not just a mower that can scalp pastures, so can livestock if left in an area for too long. This is why a rotation plan is important to keep forage healthy.

The focus with this goal is the height of the forage. There are charts that list the different pasture grasses and the heights to begin grazing and when to quit. I suppose one can be scrupulously technical about this, but a generalized summary for this method is:
  • Don't graze forage down below four inches
  • Allow 20 to 30 day for forage recovery
  • Allow grazing again when forage is 8 to 10 inches tall

For more details, On Pasture Magazine has a good introductory article on the subject, "Grazing Height Determines the Health of Your Forages."

Health of the animals

The particular concern here is internal parasites, especially worms. Pasture rotation is part of "integrated parasite management" (IPM). IPM includes use of wormers based on test results (fecal or FAMACHA i.e. level of anemia) rather than a schedule, developing the animals' immune system through culling and breeding for resistance, good sanitation practices, forage that promotes parasite resistance, and pasture rotation. Sounds complicated, doesn't it? It has become complicated because livestock parasites develop resistance to chemical wormers. Some wormers no longer work in some parts of the country.

For this blog post, I'm just going to focus on the IPM guidelines for pasture rotation. Recommendations seem to vary depending on the source, but here's what I've pulled together:
  • Don't graze forage below a couple of inches
  • Multispecies graze to "vacuum" the fields (because cattle aren't susceptible to the same parasites goats and sheep are)
  • Don't graze any paddock more than three to five days
  • Don't graze when forage is wet (parasite larvae need moisture to climb plants so they can be ingested)
  • Don't overstock paddocks
  • Allow pasture to rest. Recommendations vary between 21 to 65 days, depending on the particular parasite problem.
  • Some sources are now recommending mowing down to about an inch or two in height to allow sun and air circulation to dry the soil and kill larvae. (Personally, I think this is a very bad idea, but it's out there.)

You can learn more about IPM at
And you can find some encouraging personal testimonies on the effectiveness of pasture rotation in controlling internal parasites at the following:

Health of the soil

This one is used for soil building, and ties in with everything I've been learning about soil and carbon. The technique here might be called intensive rotational grazing, although it has other names. It was pioneered by Allan Savory in Zimbabwe and popularized by Joel Salatin as "mob grazing." Here's a summary:
  • high stock density (250 - 500 cows per acre)
  • rotate stock once or more per day (rule of thumb - graze 50%, leave 50%)
  • long forage rest (5 to 6 months)

Some people have trouble with this one, because the high stocking density pretty much goes against everything we've been taught about livestock and grazing. But when managed properly, the results are phenomenal, as reported by everyone who practices it. Allan Savory, for example, is using this method to turn desert back into grassland. Missouri cattle rancher Greg Judy has been able to stop buying pasture seed, fertilizer, and hay, eliminate the use of machinery, yet has doubled beef production and increased forage quality and diversity.

Why does it work? Because when livestock are concentrated in small areas, they will either eat it or trample it. However, they are moved before they overgraze (graze 50%, leave 50%). The trampled forage begins to decay which in turn feeds soil organisms, helps retain soil moisture, sequesters carbon, and builds the soil. The long rest period allows forage to recover fully before being grazed again.
  • The key is monitoring forage and knowing when to move them. 
  • The challenge is that rotation and rest cycles are highly variable, depending on the season, weather, and condition of the forage.

For further reading I highly recommend:

If you're like me, I'm sure you see the similarities amongst these three management methods. So I see no reason why I can't accomplish all three goals. That's what I'm working on now, so stay tuned for "Developing a Pasture Rotation Plan: Part 2."

September 30, 2018

Photo Wrap-Up for September

It's the last day of September! Here's a look back to wrap it up. 

Sam

Blue mistflower

Cushaws

Cushaw pie (tastes like pumpkin)

Fancy bindweed aka morning glory
on Jerusalem artichokes.

Fancy bindweed on corn.

Dehydrated okra

September salad: fresh daikon greens, baby daikon
radishes, tomato, hard boiled egg, and feta cheese.


Cantaloupe

Window progress on the barn

First hint of fall color

Firewood

Photo Wrap-Up for September © Sept. 2018 by

September 26, 2018

What I'm Learning About Fall Gardening

Volunteers grew up through the mulch in my newest Hugelkultur swale bed.
 The Hugelkultur swale we dug in July was intended for fall planting, but it
couldn't wait & filled itself with volunteer radishes, corn, & a cushaw vine

Every August I start thinking about the fall garden. My planting chart from the cooperative extension office says I can start fall planting in August, but I have to admit that August just doesn't feel right, because it's too hot. On the other hand, I've learned that waiting too long isn't good, because I never know what kind of winter we're going to get. Some years our first frost is mid-October, other years it's closer to December 1st. Some years our winter temps are mild enough to grow winter greens for us and winter pasture for the goats. Other years everything freezes out. So I'm always in a quandary over when to plant.

Recently I read an article at the Sow True Seed website, "Fall Gardening Know How: Root Crops." It shed some light on my gardening dilemma, explaining things I've observed but couldn't figure out why. I've been contemplating this as I clear out space to plant a winter garden.

Sprawling sweet potato vines have overtaken the cardoon plants.
Sprawling sweet potato vines and cardoons.

1st sampling of sweet potatoes found growing under the sprawling vines.
I cleared out the outermost vines to plant peas
and discovered a few sweet potatoes for sampling.

Sprawling sweet potato vines also hid sweet basil I thought didn't make it.
Sweet basil hidden under the sweet potato vines I cut back.

According to the article, cool weather crops need warm soil to germinate and begin to grow, but prefer cooler temps as they mature. So if the soil temperature remains above 70°F (21°C) at that time, the roots become tough and woody and the plants bolt (go to seed).

This explains why some years my fall garden barely grows but goes right to seed. It happens in spring too. If we have a cool spring I get a harvest. If we skip spring and go right into summer, I get seed instead. So even though I plant according to the suggested dates for my garden zone, our unpredictable seasons don't always cooperate.

A handful carrots found in the turnip and
 radish bed I let grow for saving the seed.

This year I decided to stop planting according to the calendar, and start planting according to soil temperature. I bought a cheap soil thermometer and started monitoring my garden soil.

Soil thermometer.
The thermometer has a nice knob so you know where it is.

I checked it almost daily throughout August and early September, but even under the mulch it remained around 84°F (29°C). Finally, after the remnants of Hurricane Florence passed through, the thermometer read below 80°F (26.6°C).

I prefer the old-fashioned kind of thermometer, rather than a digital.
Mid-September soil temp reading: 78°F (25.5°C)

That's when I started planting. Hopefully by the time the plants are starting to mature, the soil will be just right for them.

Speaking of Florence, our only casualty was my popcorn.

Wondering if the ears will still mature.
Lodged popcorn.

I have a lot of planting to do this year, but between the garden and pasture I won't get finished until October. Even so, I'm hoping for a productive winter garden.

Is anyone else planting a fall garden?

September 23, 2018

Learning to Adjust to Retirement Income

It's been almost nine months since Dan's accident and about six months since Social Security retirement kicked in. I have to say that even though he no longer goes to work, he's busier now and works harder than he ever has. And he couldn't be happier.

There have been several aspects of learning to adjust to our new income. We always knew it would be quite a bit less than what were were used to, but that's part of why we took up homesteading in the first place. By meeting more of our own needs we don't have to be as dependent on money. "Retirement" came earlier than we expected, but since a financial scaling down has always been a goal, it wasn't that difficult to adapt. The more challenging adjustment has been in the pay schedule.

As a truck driver Dan got paid once a week. We calculated our budget monthly and put weekly amounts into our budget categories: bills, tithe, groceries, fuel, household expenses, etc. Most months have four weeks, which was how our budget cycle was set. An occasional fifth Friday in the month was like a bonus, with an extra paycheck for the month.

Social Security pays out monthly. We still work off of a monthly budget with weekly spending categories, but some months are longer than others. Out of habit I still start our budget week on Friday, and if there are four Fridays in the month, all is well. But the occasional fifth Friday is no longer a bonus. It's an extra week we have to wait before we get paid again, so we had to figure out something. 

We discussed a number of ways to deal with it. Choosing another day to start our budget week wouldn't change anything, because those extra days can hit anyplace. We could do monthly spending adjustments to compensate for a 5th week, but that seems like too much trouble. We finally decided to make all 5th Fridays no-spend weeks.

As it turns out, occasional no-spend weeks really aren't that difficult. A large part of our diet is homegrown and I'm a stock-up shopper anyway. So it only takes a little planning beforehand, and really, no extra spending. The best part is that I get an occasional week off from shopping and running errands. I like that part a lot!

September 19, 2018

Soil Building Experiment #2: Pastures

Pasture improvement is one of our homestead goals for 2018. Actually, sustainable pasture has always been a goal, but there's been a huge learning curve to go along with that goal, and so far I haven't seen the results I hoped for. In fact, I admit that this year I was discouraged because of our lack of progress in growing good forage. We seem to grow more weeds! Finally, my recent research into carbon and soil building has given me information, answers, and the motivation I needed to tackle this year's goal with new hope. 

We have five subgoals for pasture improvement:
  1. Build the soil.
  2. Establish a polyculture of predominantly perennial forage.
  3. Subdivide large paddocks for better grazing rotation.
  4. Trim low tree branches shading our pastures. (I've observed that our forage does best with filtered sunlight from a high canopy.)
  5. Develop a management plan to keep it in the best condition.

The first two are interdependent and since September is the month we designated for fall planting, that's what this blog post is about. I'll share more about subdividing, rotation, and our idea for a management plan in upcoming posts.

It's going to take a several weeks to get it all planted, but I thought I'd make a blog record of the first two we did, outlined in red below.


This first photo is of the "buck pasture."

 
It's been tilled twice in the nine years we've lived here. The first time was to remineralize and plant corn the other time to plant pasture. I've used my modified Fukuoka spot seeding method here for several years, so it has some nice grasses, herbs, and clovers growing. But they are scanty, which points to problems I'm trying to correct.

The first isn't so much a problem as part of my learning curve. When I first started working on pasture improvement, the only seed available was tall fescue for winter and Bermuda for summer. Both are popular, because they tend to dominate an area to make a good monoculture pasture. But tall fescue has problems with endophytes, and Bermuda is too invasive (AKA "wiregrass!"). So I did my first pasture planting with deer forage mixes, which are annuals.

Theoretically seasonal annuals should work if one can coordinate planting with their life cycles and so have continual forage. But somehow it never worked out that way, and every year we had long stretches with little for the goats to eat. 

The other problem is weeds which tend to grow fast, shade out forage, and completely overtake grazing areas. Hopefully we can choke some of them out, but the weeds are one of the reasons I need a management plan implemented. More on that in an upcoming post.

This second photo is labeled "Front pasture" on my little map.

It's called "front" pasture because it's closest to the house.

It's never been tilled, nor had organic minerals applied. Yet it grows more forage and has less weeds than any other place the goats graze. Like the other paddocks, I've spot seeded with manure and mulch from time to time, but it lacks forage diversity, so that's a goal here. 

As with Soil Building Experiment #1, we started with soil samples.

Buck pasture soil sample

This one is very similar to the samples we took near the fruit trees, isn't it? On the surface it's a little darker, but otherwise there is no organic matter and it's pretty lifeless looking. However, it contains roots! You can see them peeking out at the bottom of the sample. Roots are important for soil building, because (1) soil microorganisms need roots to live, and (2) as plants die their roots leave organic matter in the soil.

Here's the "front pasture" for comparison.

Soil sample from front pasture.

It is darker in the top couple of inches which indicates more organic matter, but other than that, the sample doesn't look much different from the other samples we've dug. I had hoped it would look better because it's never been tilled. What that tells me, is that the soil biology on our property is severely lacking.

How do we fix that? By adding carbon. Remember my soil biology summary from Soil Building Experiment #1?
  • Soil bacteria break down compost and mulch into organic matter
  • Soil fungi build organic matter into new soil
  • Both feed on carbon provided by
    • the plants
    • the mulch
  • Conclusion: Feeding soil microorganisms = building the soil

To facilitate that, our experimental pasture planting method is no soil preparation, just broadcast the seed, then mow. The clippings mulch the seed, providing protection and carbon.

My seed mix has been the most diverse I could manage, a combination of both perennials and annuals: wheat, oats, winter peas, perennial rye, hairy vetch, chicory, radish (both garden and Daikon), turnip, timothy, orchardgrass, non-endophyte fescue, alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, rape, small burnet, sanfoin, kale, buckwheat, phacelia, sorghum-sudangrass, and a variety of clovers (red, crimson, sweet, and several kinds of white). In all of that, growing conditions should be right for at least some of it to grow!

So that's the plan. We'll plant the other pastures the same way. We've had nice rainfall so these first two are just starting to show new growth. Hopefully I'll have nice forage photos to show you soon.


September 16, 2018

Super Easy Pasta Cheesy

When I was a little girl one of my favorite foods was my mother's homemade macaroni and cheese. I loved the stuff. But then, that was back in the day when nobody thought about Velveeta not being real food. Back then, nobody really cared. At some point I grew up and tried to make a more "grown up" version of mac and cheese, but let's face it, real cheese doesn't compare in texture and meltiness to Velveeta. That means that all the grown-up versions of mac and cheese just aren't the same.

The other day I wanted to cook some pasta to go with our barbecue duck legs and had an idea. I cooked some pasta, drained it, stirred in a chunk of butter and some chevre cheese, and served it to Dan. We both loved it! No, it isn't the same as macaroni and Velveeta, but then, my tastes have changed over the years. Most of the industrially processed stuff doesn't taste all that great. This simple combination of tastes and textures was satisfying to the point where I will no longer miss my childhood favorite. Here's the recipe.

Pasta Cheesy
  • 2 cups uncooked pasta
  • 1 cup chevre (or any soft cheese)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh, shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to directions on the package. Drain and return to cooking pan. Over low heat stir in butter and cheeses until melted. Serve immediately.

No photo, because I suppose I didn't expect it to turn out so well. But it did, and I find it easier to keep track of my recipes on my blog than my recipe notebook. 😏

Does anyone else have a childhood favorite that just isn't the same anymore? Have you been able to make acceptable substitutions? Or find something even better? Do tell!

Super Easy Pasta Cheesy © Sept. 2018 by

September 13, 2018

Reconsidering Australorps


We've had a variety of chicken breeds since we started homesteading: Delawares, Welsummers, Ameraucanas, Barred Hollands, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Speckled Sussex, and Black Australorps. Our intention was to try out different dual-purpose breeds and eventually choose one as our permanent homestead breed. We wanted to stick with one breed because we raise our own replacements, and we want our replacements to be full breed chickens. Eventually we settled on the Australorps.

The Australorps have been excellent chickens. They provide lots of eggs and the oldest are still laying well in their third year. Besides good production in summer, they give us a small but steady supply of eggs all winter. They are good foragers, have been excellent with the compost, and produce good meat. Our Australorp rooster is an excellent fellow, everything one could want in a good rooster: keenly watchful and protective of his hens, yet respectful of the humans. His only fault is that he dislikes a couple of the youngest hens and is relentless in chasing them away. Other than that, he's perfect.


So why are we reconsidering the Australorps? For one reason and one reason only - hatch rate. Every year we have at least one broody hen, often two or three. The problem? They keep switching nest boxes. They'll set in one box for a week or two and then abandon it. Sometimes for a different nest box, sometimes they just give up being broody.

Last year was our best hatching, with four hens hatching nine chicks. I suspect this success was because all nest boxes were occupied by broody hens and there was no where else to go! The Australorps do make good mothers when they have chicks, it's just getting them to stay put until they hatch them.

We keep a small mixed-age flock, hatching a few new chicks every year to replace the oldest. We have fairly predictable egg production this way. This year, however, we've gotten no chicks but should be replacing our oldest hens. Dan has suggested perhaps we ought to consider a different breed, one that hopefully will be more consistent in brooding.

Some people do well in the hatching department with Australorps, so I can't say this is a breed trait. As with all animals there are breed tendencies, but there are individual tendencies as well. And sometimes those individuals have very different personalities!

Of all the hens we've had the Buff Orpingtons were the best at brooding and chick raising, so they're a consideration. Dan's favorite chicken was a Speckled Sussex named "Sister." At this point, though, I don't know what breed he'll want to go with. I think he's interested in trying a chicken tractor next year, so it looks like I'll have all kinds of upcoming chicken news. Stay tuned.

Reconsidering Australorps © Sept. 2018 by

September 9, 2018

Soil Building Experiment #1

Last month I shared what I've been learning about soil building ("Carbon: What I Didn't Know"). The nutshell version is that soil microorganisms are what make (build) new soil. Here's what I've learned summarized:
  • Soil bacteria break down compost and mulch into organic matter
  • Soil fungi build organic matter into new soil
  • Both feed on carbon provided by
    • the plants
    • the mulch
  • Conclusion: Feeding soil microorganisms = building the soil

Building soil in a small area such as a garden is relatively easy. The gardener applies compost and mulch, and the microorganisms do the rest. We can further facilitate the process by allowing the mycorrhizal fungi to grow and create a network. This is where the no-till technique comes in, because tillage destroys the network.

I will readily admit that we have been tilling, so a big part of these experiments is trying to figure out how to switch to no-till, especially for larger production areas where garden beds aren't practical.

The area we chose for our first soil building experiment is where our row of fruit trees grow, outlined in red in the map below.

See "Carbon and Soil Building: Designing a Plan" for map details.

There are two apple trees, two pear trees, and a small cherry tree down the middle with elderberry bushes along the fence. In the past we've cut the grass there and dried if for hay. Here's how it looked from the bottom of the slope (right edge on the map) before we began.

Planted with sorghum-sudan grass for a hay crop.

Before we did anything we took a look at the soil itself. We dug two samples, one at the top and one at the bottom.

Sample dug at the top of the area.

This sample is typical of soils in the southeastern United States. Any place on our property where we've had to dig (for fence posts, huglekulture swale beds, etc.) this is what it looks like: sandy loam topsoil and red clay subsoil. The sand doesn't hold water, so in hot weather our topsoil dries out quickly after a rain. And it contains just enough silt so when it dries out, it's as hard as concrete!

The bottom sample looks a little better.

Sample dug at the bottom of the area.

The top inch or two has roots and clumps of soil clinging to the roots (clumps are good; they mean soil microorganisms have been busy), but it contains little organic matter and is mostly the same sandy loam.

Excellent soils are said to look like black cottage cheese, and obviously we have a long way to go! It is possible to build soil with only cover crops, but we hoped to give it a jump start. We took stock of our own resources and decided to add some of this...

Aged manure from cleaning out the old goat barn.

This is what Dan scraped out of the former goat barn after we moved the goats. Some of that manure is years old, but it's been under roof, so there has been no nutrient leaching.

Also this...

Mulch pile from the tree trimming company.

Earlier this summer our electric company hired tree trimmers to clear everything away from the utility lines. Dan asked if we could have some, and they dropped off two loads of chipped wood and leaves. Here's what we decided to do.

First I trimmed back the trees and bushes. Then I broadcast a cool season cover crop mix of wheat, oats, winter peas, Daikon radishes, and crimson clover. The fibrous roots of the small grains add biomass below the soil surface, the peas and clover are legumes which fix nitrogen in the soil, and the large roots of the Daikons help loosen the soil. I also read they are nitrogen accumulators and store nitrogen in their roots.

Next Dan cut the grass back with our mulching lawn mower.

Trimmed back, planted, and mowed. The brown patch
at the bottom wasn't from tilling. That's the grass you
saw in the "before" photo, dead and brown from mowing.

The grass clippings covered the seed like a light layer of mulch. I covered that with a layer of the old manure,


then a layer wood and leaf chips.


A week later it was starting to grow.


We hit a hot dry spell about that time, so I was concerned about the seedlings drying up. Even with hot days and no rain for three weeks it continued to grow well.


Here's how it looks now.

One month after planting.

The plan is to let this cover crop grow all winter, then underseed it in the spring. The cover crop will be cut down, leaving the clippings to mulch the new seed and add more carbon to the soil. The idea is to alternate cover with harvest crops to build healthy, productive soil.

Soil building is a slow process, usually measured in years, so I realize it may take awhile to see improvement in future soil samples. Even so, we've  already seen a response.

Ten inches of new growth.

New growth on one of the apple trees! I can't tell you how much that lifted my spirits.

This is a long post, I know, but it will serve as a record of what we did, as well as our starting point for measuring progress in the future.

Soil Building Experiment #1 © September 2018