Sunday, April 11, 2010

Permaculture Pasture Improvement: Part 1

If you’ve arrived on this page, having “Googled” or “Yahoo-ed” your way here having searched “permaculture pasture improvement”, prepare for a degree of disappointment because I don’t actually know very much about the subject; I wish I did.

Through growing experience, we’ve learnt that different breeds of pigs get involved with the land to varying degrees. Our Kunies grazed a lot; the Gloucester Old Spots rooted more but are known as orchard pigs in that they’ll eat what’s on the surface, such as windfall apples, before starting to root; but the Berkshires were true organic ploughshares, turning the whole of their paddock into a tribute to the Battle of the Somme.

We didn’t want to leave the earth bare over winter but the choice of groundcover to sow at the end of November is very limited; it’s certainly not the time to sow grass. Our farming neighbour Paul suggested oats. We were two weeks late and it didn’t get away (as his had done) but provided plenty of free food to wild birds and our roaming flock of chickens. We needed to re-sow with a good pasture mix and, as often, I did plenty of research on the Anglophone part of the Internet.

Although I’d already found an English supplier, I thought I really ought to make the effort to find the French equivalent. The Breton seeds should better suit Breton earth, I reasoned. Julien, who farms a dairy herd with his mother and is hoping to convert the farm over to organic beef when his mum retires, is becoming a bit of an expert in pasture. To cut a longer story short, he put me in contact with a German woman near Rennes who could supply (mostly organic) pasture seed mixtures.

With her advice I chose a suitable mix for our soil type and needs. It arrived a couple of days ago, courtesy of a man-in-the-ubiquitous-white-van, all the way from … Germany ! Doh. Our ever-helpful pig-farming neighbour Paul lent me his elderly Massey Ferguson with a harrow attached. Although it took several passes, it only tilled the first four or five inches (100 – 125 mm) of the soil, so didn’t bring up subsoil and bury humus as huge modern ploughshares do.

I sowed the seed with a modern plastic seed spinner, walking up and down the field and then across. I passed the harrow once more, to turn the seed in, then returned the tractor. In a rather round-the-houses sort of way, Paul vaguely suggested that I roll the ground, pressing the seed into contact with the soil and leaving less on show for them pesky birds. That extra job made a late finish, largely ameliorated by a pint of English bitter beer. I shall report how the new grass fares.

1 comment :

Val Grainger said...

I am interested to see too! I left my patch to natural regeneration....Well I will explain!
10 years ago when we moved here the area known as the 'pig area' was impenatrable! I got across it with a slasher just to try and find where the edges were!!! It was head height in Bracken and bramble....not a blade of grass to be seen!
Once mapped fencing was erected and pigs bought in (2002)....we couldnt even see the pigs for several days, just left food as could hear them! Gradually they cleared the whole area, in 2 goes of 2 lots of pigs until it too resembled the Somme! Pigs just adore bracken and its roots, they are quite partial to bramble roots too!
After each lot of pigs we left the area for 6-9 months to recover a bit and to rest it. In 2005 we had breeding Berkshires on the patch for a couple of years with winters spent indoors (we have an adjoining building and yard) and from 2007 - 2009 we had Kune Kunes variously on the patch and indoors.Grass started to grow during the pig interludes from about 2003 as did lots of other marginal woodland plants such as opposite leaved golden saxifrage, the odd bluebell, primroses and town hall clock!Pendulous sedge is abundant in the damper parts. Since March 2009 nothing has been on the ground and a thick grass sward has developed over fairly even if a bit lumpy ground, along with all the afore mentioned plants.There has been no reseeding BUT a lot of sprinkling with good meadow hay from local fields and feeding of hay to pigs and bedding them on it too....this provides seeds of local provenance! We have just purchased 3 new pigs who will strip it again, the grass providing lots of food for them and being again bedded down on hay and fed hay with their other food the grass will grow back after they have been relocated to the freezer in late summer. I have consideed using this area for the sheep and indeed they were allowed to graze it in late autumn but sheep and pigs do not really mix as pigs leave the ground full of copper from their copper rich poo which is toxic to sheep!
Our pig area is about half an acre, is surrounded by woodland and is a margin/edge....and as Holmgren says "value the margins and edges"