Establishing new pasture perennials

Bluegrass seedlingsBetween ragweed shading the
ground and me leaving one flock of broilers in the same pasture for
three months, the soil there was pretty much bare.  So I decided
to set the area aside for long term rejuvenation rather than trying to
turn chickens back into it anytime soon.

After removing the
ragweed (
before it went to seed), we planted
a combination of oats, alfalfa, Austrian winter peas, clover, and
Kentucky bluegrass.  I have to admit that the combination of
species is the result of me being over-excited and not thinking
everything through.  I probably would have been better off simply
planting bluegrass and clover for a solid spring pasture or a taller
grass (timothy or orchardgrass) and alfalfa for a good summer pasture,
leaving out the annuals altogether.  Live and learn!

Clover seedlingsDespite my enthusiastic
mixing, the seedlings seem to be doing relatively well so far. 
The bluegrass and clover seedlings are well represented beneath the
taller oats and peas, although I can’t quite tell if alfalfa is present
or not.  The tricky part will be whether the dying oat leaves
shade out the perennials too much over the winter, or whether they just
treat the grass and clover to a quick influx of nitrogen to fuel their
spring growth.

The other sticking point
could be the alfalfa.  With most pasture plants, if you don’t get
a good stand, you can just reseed in the spring and fill in any
gaps.  However, alfalfa  seedlings don’t like to sprout
anywhere near other alfalfa plants, so if just a few come up, we’re out
of luck.  On the other hand, I do have lots of other pastures to
play with, so if the alfalfa fails here, I’ll try again elsewhere.

Here are some statistics
in case you want to follow my lead:

Species Price per
pound (2011)
Planting time
(zone 6)
Annual or
Seeding rate
(lbs/1000 sq. ft.)
Oats $0.33 8/1 – 9/15 Annual 3 (when planting alone as a
cover crop)

0.8 (when mixed with other plants as a nurse crop)

Austrian winter peas $1.08 8/15 – 9/15 Annual 2.3 (alone)

1.4 (nurse crop)

Alfalfa $2.75 8/15 – 9/1 Perennial 0.23
Kentucky bluegrass $3.75 9/15 – 11/1 Perennial 2 to 3
White clover $5 8/15 – 9/15 Perennial 0.05 to 0.2

As you can see, seeds
for perennial pasture plants are pricey.  But once you realize
that you don’t have to plant nearly as many of those tiny seeds, the
cost for reseeding a small homestead chicken pasture is pretty
reasonable.  Even if you don’t have a big bare patch of ground
like I did, you can overseed grass and clover into existing
pastures.  And if you’ve missed the boat for fall planting, don’t
worry — you have another window in the spring.

Our chicken waterer takes the experimentation
out of clean water.

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