Oilseed radish pasture improvement

Patchy buckwheat stand

I’ve had very mixed
success with buckwheat in the garden, so I wasn’t terribly surprised
when the cover crop failed to thrive
our chicken pasture

Despite reports that buckwheat is great in poor soil, my experience has
shown that
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
— shade.

Girdled tree

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.

Oilseed radish seeds

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.)

Buckwheat flower

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
Rotting oilseed radishplants 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
rotting oilseed radishes will attract worms
for the chickens just like
they did in our garden last year?

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