The origins of this picture go back quite a ways…
About four years ago, maybe five, Wright and I met an interesting fellow who called himself The Keyline Cowboy. Complete with a cowboy hat and boots, and always a true enthusiast, the Cowboy encouraged us to try his drug of choice, the Keyline Plow. This plow (I may have told you about it) was developed in Australia by a fellow named Yoemans in days of yon and yore (read the 1960s).
A mysterious instrument to the untrained observer, The Slippery Imp, as it’s known Down Under, is a subsoiling plow that cuts a mere slit in the ground, and creates a void 6-12 inches under the surface. This opening allows air and water to accumulate and more easily absorb into the earth. Because seeds need just the right combination of air and water to germinate, the plow also ‘unlocks’ dormant seed. This means you often get new grass growth after plowing, in addition to the huge benefit of water retention.
While water retention may be a concern or even frustration for some, for a hillside farmers like us, it’s paradise. See, there are three types of pasture we deal with – Ridge, Slope, and Swale. The richest of these is always, always the swale. Also known as bottom land, this is the premium soil because all the other topsoil and water collects here. Think green, lush, moist and fertile. The ridge would be next in production, but it’s still poor because water’s always running away from it, but not quite as bad as on the slope. Here, nothing sticks around – not water, not soil. And this is why the Cowboy was pushing a drug.
Think about it – converting ridge and slope to something near swale. Holding water on the side of a hill makes a grass farmer quiver like a whole bag of arrows.
That was bad, sorry.
Anyway, the plan is to shoot contour lines on our hillsides with a laser level, flag those lines and plow them. This way the water is not only caught by the plow cuts, but also evenly dispersed throughout the hillside because we are making level cuts into the soil, not cuts that funnel water downhill. Whew!
We have actually done this several times on our farm. Well, we did it the wrong way. Following some mistaken advice, we plowed and then put animals on the land within 6 weeks. Recently we discovered that the plowed land actually needed to rest for about four months before animals returned. This rest would allow the soil to take in lots of water and air before the animals’ hooves stomped in and sealed those slits in the ground.
Regardless, with noticeable positive results from plowing and resting the wrong way, things can only get better from here!
Wow. That was a lot of build-up to get to the point!
The Cowboy sold the plow to Mr. Permaculture – http://www.spiralridgepermaculture.com/ – who we’re renting the plow from beginning Monday. No, stop. Not Monday. It was supposed to be Monday but now the picture of the bushog comes in. The ‘snow’, as you’ve guessed is no snow at all, but seed from Sage Grass. This seed is so very fine and chockingly thick this year that it shuts down our tractor. Instead of hopping on our green beast, bushogging from dawn til dusk, and plowing next week, the radiator has clogged repeatedly and Lemongelo has overheated.
Remember that last letter about figuring things out more quickly? Well it only took us twice to discover that a mere garden hose won’t clear a tractor radiator clogged with seed. High air pressure and nothing else will do. But that’s not all. You have to blow the radiator out before every cutting venture AND, while cutting, stop periodically to unroll the collected blanket of seeds from the radiator itself.
It’s a bit of a hassle, but we’re making progress – and uncovering improvement! The grass hidden below Sage Grass Sea is thick, new and expanded from last year. The areas where we unrolled hay to feed the cows (see last winter’s letters) have improved most dramatically. Folks, I’m happy. I’ve already got visions of thick, lush pastures decorated by scores of cows mooing in simultaneous delight while giving me a thumbs up with one front hoof and pointing down to the grass with their other.
Happy Fall, Y’all!