SSF - Frost Seeding

Those first fleeting sunny afternoons in April bring us a particular excitement. At this point, we’ve been lambing for a few weeks, and new moms are still very happy for the cozy barn on wintery nights. But on those warm afternoons we look around and see the snow receding, see the tree buds swelling, feel the sun on our faces, and our thoughts turn to GRASS! Of course, those first days of Spring sunshine are inevitably followed by sobering cold snaps but the season is not without its opportunities.

Sheep grazing between brown canary-grass stems and the dairy barn our pasture once produced bedding for.

As the soil thaws and grass awakens, we reflect on our pasture. We’ve noticed that much of our pasture grass is reed canary-grass. This grass grows well here, but quickly grows tall and stemmy. As our animals graze, they delight in the young leaves, but stems are much more dry and lack nutrition. Each grass has its purpose though. The long stems of reed canary-grass are well suited for bedding – which makes it an unsurprising citizen of these pastures that were once managed to provide bedding for the dairy barn on the ridge.

Rather than producing stems to cut, dry, and transport to a barn, we want a pasture that provides tasty and nutritious food for our grazing animals. To move our pasture from mattress factory to salad bar, we bought a seed mix of ryegrass, white clover and red clover. Ryegrass is a leafy alternative to reed canary-grass’s long stems. The clovers, being legumes, are high in protein and enrich our fertile marine soil with nitrogen so neighboring plants can better access the rich stores of other nutrients. Together they work to provide a balanced diet – tender grasses with carbs and sweet clover packed with protein – all while improving soil fertility.

Our animals and the other plants in our pasture would benefit from these newcomers, but the problem stands: how to get them into the pasture? To germinate, these seeds want to be under ¼ inch of soil. To achieve that, many farmers will use a drill seeder on their tractor to push seeds underground as they drive along their pasture.

Two visions of grassland flora: on left, dead reed canary-grass stems stand. On the right, a rich mix of clover and grass was planted a few years ago when the pasture was disturbed to put in a septic field.

Rather than invest in that expensive equipment and the fossil fuels needed to run it, we let nature do that work for us. When the snow has melted but the ground is still frozen, we simply spread seed over the pasture. Then, as April takes us from midwinter blizzards to balmy sunshine and back again, the freeze-thaw cycles are each day working our seeds into the soil. Drivers in Vermont are intimately familiar with how frost can heave and crack our roads (so too many historic barns), but this action is also, on a much smaller scale, what opens cracks in the soil to create homes for our new clover and ryegrass.

Next time you enjoy a balmy April afternoon with full knowledge that tomorrow will bring snow and polar wind, raise a glass with us to this season’s help with frost seeding.

Posted on 26 de maio de 2020, 12:10 PM by pkm pkm


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