I’ve had very mixed
success with buckwheat in the garden, so I wasn’t terribly surprised
when the cover crop failed to thrive in
our chicken pasture.
Despite reports that buckwheat is great in poor soil, my experience has
shown that the
grain is much less tolerant of low fertility and waterlogged clay than oats, annual ryegrass,
and oilseed radishes are. Here, I think the issue was a new one
We tried to girdle the box-elder trees in this
pasture last fall, but the trees shrugged off our efforts and keep
plugging right along. The result is a pasture that’s in pretty
much full (although dappled) shade, so although the buckwheat came up,
the plants are so spindly I doubt I’m gaining much organic
matter. Time to bring in the big guns — oilseed radish.
radish isn’t listed
as shade tolerant either, but the leaves will be off the trees in a few
months, so I might get some good growth anyway. And I know for a
fact that a radish cover crop will thrive in problematic soil where
other things won’t grow.
(Yes, we do turn any
pitchers that crack when being turned into chicken waterers into grain scoops.
Mark has gotten pretty good at the process, but there are still
mistakes now and then.)
In the garden, I
generally sprinkle seeds of the next cover crop amid the blooming
buckwheat, then pull up or cut the buckwheat so it forms a light mulch
to get the next round off to a good start. Part of the purpose of
cutting the buckwheat is to ensure the plants don’t go to seed,
leaving me with lots of buckwheat weeds next year. In a pasture
setting, though, volunteer buckwheat wouldn’t really be a weed, so I
just sprinkled the radish seeds amid the standing buckwheat and walked
I’ll keep you posted on
how this second round of cover crop pasture improvement goes.
Even if the radishes grow as abysmally as the buckwheat did, I’m pretty
happy because the summer’s work has already knocked out 95% of the tall
weeds, which will make it much easier to plant clover into bare ground
next spring. And maybe the
rotting oilseed radishes will attract worms for the chickens just like
they did in our garden last year?