Time to plant forage

August is a busy time of year in my climate. Contrary to what many people think, this is the time of year to plant perennial forage plants, not in spring. I had to learn this the hard and expensive way, planting seeds in April and expecting something by summer. It doesn’t happen with most perennials, particularly grasses. Annuals, particularly Oats, are a different story, but with Ryegrass, Whiteclover, Bluegrass, and the like, you have to be patient.

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Think about it for a minute. How do perennial grasses reproduce? Almost all of them grow leaves in springtime to photosynthesize and store energy and then attempt to send up stems to produce flowers. If you keep mowing them, you can delay their reproductive phase. But most grasses just patiently wait until the lawnmower or herbivore gets lazy and gives up in the heat of the summer, and then flower and soon set seed. The seed then falls to the ground in August and September. There it waits, quietly working itself through the resides down to the soil with every rain, hoof, and tire that passes over. When winter finally comes, snow and rain and freezing and thawing work over the hard seed coat softening it up for the coming spring. Then, finally, frost action in late winter and early spring works that seed down into firm contact with the now very moist soil. Finally, it germinates at the perfect time (the seed knows what it’s doing) and races for the sky. Many don’t make it, of course, their neighbors crowd and shade them out. Many were eaten by voles or other critters. But those that landed on good real-estate are perfectly primed for success as a plant by this 3/4-year-long process.

Most seed catalogs fault a species for being slow to germinate. Kentucky Bluegrass, Reed Canarygrass, and Bromegrass (all the sod formers, by the way) take 3 or more weeks to germinate they say, while itchy Ryegrass and Orchardgrass (both bunchgrasses) are off quick, often in only a week. The truth is, that all of them really take three quarters of year to prepare for germination!

The modern farmer gets around this with his no-till-drill in a way. Modern drills get the seed into good contact and slice a micro-furrow through the sod/reside, giving the seed a real advantage, but the same thing can be achieved by just broadcasting in August and letting “nature” do the work, and a $300 broadcast seeder is much less expensive than a $30,000 no-till-drill. In fact, I get away with a $30 Earthway lawn seeder, since I am only doing at most 6 acres at a time. I substitute money/machines/fuel with patience. This is a theme that re-occurs frequently in alternative farming.

Now, it might seem strange that I am broadcasting Timothy grass. Timothy is a hay grass, right? Well it turns out that Barpenta, which is a particularly late maturing Timothy that stands up well to grazing, is supposed to work pretty well in a Ryegrass/White Clover pasture. Since my pastures are also hayfields, I think it makes sense. The biggest problem I have is that Ryegrass and White clover are so lush and low-growing they like to tangle up and form clods in my sicklebar mower, though not too badly. I am hoping that Timothy will help them stand up better. I also hope that Timothy will add some more long-chain fiber to the diet of the animals, reduce bloat risk, and it will add some diversity at the very least.

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