Shearing the Grass

Warm spring weather and some good rains let the grass grow quite high early on in the summer this year. After a lot of seeding, the cover crops are doing their job in holding soil and building fertility. This field went through massive earthworks in the fall 2014. Then it was turned from a south sloping field  into a series of on couture, key line swales. Now, the grains and vetch seeded into freshly dug banks has taken root and improved these pasture strips between each berm.

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A neighboring friend and fellow land owner brought her tractor to Leafhopper Farm for a day of mowing and a little material moving. Cooperative use of larger, more expensive farm equipment helps support the care and utility of the machine and maximizes its use. Quick reminder of what this area looked like shortly after earthworks:

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Notice the mulched and fenced swayles above? That seeding brought on the thick grass and vetch you see now. Clover thrives in the lower ditch, where water collects in heavy rains during the winter. Where there was once minimal top soil and lots of rocks, a thick sod of grains and grasses have transformed the pasture into a fertile space building topsoil for future plantings.

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The swales were cut on the upper end of each berm, leaving the lower ditch intact for habitat. The lower ditch is full of clover, which offers great pollination for a variety of nectar seeking insects. Mowing is also a huge disruptor to ground nesting species of birds, and small ground dwelling animals like snakes, frogs, and small mammals, to name a few. By leaving un-mowed swaths, we offer sanctuary to the field ecosystem.

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In the above photo, you can more clearly see the breaks between each swale. The uncut strips are about 4 feet deep below the mowed swaths. Later in the summer, a scythe will be used to cut the clover filled swales. This is certainly a renewed template for future food crops in a permaculture design to allow understory annual crop plantings sheltered by an over story of berry shrubs and dwarf fruit trees. The harvesting avenues where we are mowing, will also host movable chicken systems and rotational sheep grazing.

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The cuttings from this first shearing after replanting in 2014 will stay on the ground as mulch to add green manure to the growing topsoil. The grain avenues along the drive will be cut in late summer using a scythe, then hung and dried in chafes for winter stock feed. In future, these grasses will be managed in a combination of rotational grazing and scythe harvest for grains, animal feed, and thatch material.

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