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Suggestions for what to start establishing in a fallow field?

Matt Smith


Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
New poster here... found our way to the forums via Paul's youtube videos, which we have been devouring voraciously. So, hello all! Looking forward to learning with/from you.

About one half of my property (3.5 acres or so) has been left mostly to it's own devices for a decade or so. The previous owners (an elderly couple) had been keeping it in a government conservation program, so it's mostly in switchgrass and native weeds (and rabbits. ). The soil is quite lovely.

I'm not sure what we'll eventually utilize the land for... I've only owned the place for a few years, and other more pressing projects have kept me busy. Options include pasture for livestock, orchard-space, food forest, or some happy combination thereof.

In the meantime, however, I'd like to start getting some beneficial plants established out there. Perennials and self-seeders would be ideal, as I don't get out there a lot.

Looking for some ideas as to what to plant/sow. It's fairly wet (flood plain-y) clay-ish soil in Central Ohio, zone 6A. Any suggestions?
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Switchgrass and other native plants look fabulous to me. Personally I would keep it in that, if it were my land. You don't want to mess with a flood plain.






Idle dreamer

Matt Smith


Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
Well, most of my property is adjacent to a flood plain, so I may not have much of a choice. Most of this field wouldn't truly flood unless we got some extreme conditions, but it is possible.

I'm shooting for a pretty diversely-functioning homestead on 7.5 acres, so I might find it kind of hard to commit half of that land to something like switch grass.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
What do you plan to do with the land in the future? Switchgrass is a highly productive biomass crop, so I hope you don't feel like you necessarily should replace it, or certainly not all of it!
osker brown


Joined: Jun 28, 2011
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
Pawpaws grow in flood plains. Black walnuts like moisture, and pecans could work as long as they're not constantly wet. Aronia melanocarpa (black chokeberry), highbush blueberry, and cranberry may also work depending on moisture levels and soil acidity. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a nitrogen fixer that does well in moist areas also, that might be a good bet as an early succession crop (nutrient dense, but unsweet, berries).

I'm not sure if it grows where you are but Sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata), aka greenheaded coneflower or cutleaf coneflower grows well in moist areas and produces very tastey edible greens. It will self-seed easily.

I'd say the first step would be identifying as many of the existing plants as you can, and maybe catch yourself some rabbit.

good luck
peace


Glorious Forest Farm
Matt Smith


Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
Switchgrass' potential toxicity to horses, sheep and goats is of concern, as I may well want to have one or more of those living on the land one day. My understanding is that cattle can safely consume it, but I'm not planning a big cattle operation here at any point.

I'm not exactly thinking of removing the switchgrass, per se (and wouldn't that be a fun chore, with the root systems it develops?). While there are frequent clumps of it, there is also quite a bit of open space in which I was thinking of interplanting some things.
Chris Dean


Joined: Nov 07, 2009
Posts: 105
Location: Central Texas
Something to keep in mind is amount of livestock you're thinking about. You won't be able to graze very many medium-large animals (goats/sheep/cows/horses) on 7.5 acres. Chickens are a different matter though, of course, as they don't take as much space.

A neighbor lives up the highway from me who has 2 horses, a few goats, a couple of peacocks, chickens, and maybe some other livestock on 12 acres. The land is barren, rocky, chewed to the ground, and he'll have an overabundance prickly pear in the next 10 years.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
As Osker mentions, there are several edible prairie plants, if you might want to develop part of the land as an edible prairie. I wish I could link directly to it, but there's an interesting pdf on this page which lists several edible native prairie plants: http://www.slowfoodutah.org/resources/view/147387/?topic=8804

"Renewing the Native Food Traditions of Bison Nation

This annotated list highlights certain food traditions of Bison Nation (the Great Plains) that could be restored concomitant with the restoration of free-ranging bison to large tracts of the short-grass plains and tall-grass prairies. The RAFT consortium offers this preliminary list to encourage more collaboration among conservation biologists, restoration ecologists, the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, wild foragers, hunters, chefs, nutrition educators and local food system activists. RAFT hopes that discussion of this inventory among diverse parties will eventually lead to more sustainable harvests of the unique, traditional foods of Bison Nation."

This might also be helpful: http://www.ohioprairie.org/
Matt Smith


Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
Thank you Tyler, for the links!

If my research of the natural history of the area is correct, this area was once mostly forest (despite having been cleared for farming a long while ago and more recently planted with switchgrass by a govt CRP). So a transition back to forest might more closely mirror the original state of the area.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5320
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
So much depends on what we prefer to think of as the "original" state of the land. The prairies were developed by the interaction of bison and native americans who used fire to keep back the forest which would naturally grow in that area. For instance my region was "originally" prairie (or savannah) but since the bison and native americans were extirpated it has "returned" to forest. If your area was never historically or pre-historically prairie, and you prefer to return it to forest that is certainly appropriate, though you could with equal appropriateness keep it in prairie/meadow, in my opinion.

Someone on the Australian permaculture board is interested in returning his land to a pre-Aboriginal state of forest; that's really going back a long time (+/- 40,000 years)!
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5862
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  88
Since you don't seem to be in a great hurry, my suggestion would be to start some cover crops, and let them go to seed.

Perhaps a combo of a clover with buckwheat. The clover would be feeding nitrogen into the soil while you decide the ultimate use of the land.
The buckwheat would be a smother crop to help choke out the switch grass and weeds.
(Let the clover germinate before planting the buckwheat, or else it might choke out the clover also.)

Clover is an early spring blossoming plant, which is often honey bee's first meal of the year. It will invite many pollinators to your land.

Buckwheat is a fast grower. It grows so fast that it often shades out all the other plants trying to germinate. Many farmers mow it every 4 to 6 weeks for the abundant green manure. Just let it go long enough to reseed itself before the first frost.

I would also get some nitrogen fixing trees going now. Good, mature shade trees are always welcome in pasture lands. Black Locust (Robina Pseudoacacia) is good for nitrogen fixing, erosion control, and fuel wood (good for coppicing). If you let them mature, you can also get some good fence posting (good for 100 years).

For a good (free) read on cover crops, try this:

http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition

The site offers a free download of the book (244 pages), or a read-it-online HTML version. I find the HTML version easier to read. It offers highlighted links so you can easily switch back and forth from text to appendix, chapter to chapter, etc.

Good luck.
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4432
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    4
if you plant trees or shrubs do make sure that you put rings of wire, like chicken wire, around them to protect them from the rabbits..or they won't last long


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
Isaac Hill
volunteer

Joined: Feb 28, 2011
Posts: 343
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
    
    2
Depends on a lot of different variables (microclimates? desires?) but if I had that land I would probably plant hybrid Chestnuts, selected American Persimmons, Black Locust and selected Pawpaws with a mixed under story.


"To oppose something is to maintain it" -- Ursula LeGuin
Matt Smith


Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
Thank you John and Isaac!

I do love the idea of cover cropping, further improving the soil and laying the groundwork for a decent woodlot (I have some small woodspace, but not enough to supply a sustainable supply of firewood, etc.). All of those things would still leave the area open-ended, as I would like to do until the proper plan becomes clear.

I may well go with some combination of these suggestions.

@Brenda... the rabbits and I have been at odds for some time. They took out a goodly number of my young apple and pear trees the first year. I find tree tubes work quite well in this regard. It's a shame to have to do this... the tubes will cost me as much as the tree they're protecting, but it's a necessity, methinks.
Isaac Hill
volunteer

Joined: Feb 28, 2011
Posts: 343
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
    
    2
Ok, well, what you should do is seed/plant the native nitrogen fixer tree first. Here in PA it's Black Locust, which naturally comes up in abandoned places. Black Locust is also great because it has very hard, dense, rot-resistant wood, it is excellent bee forage and casts dappled shade, allowing young trees to grow under it. If you want to plant tree crops, plant tree nitrogen fixers because they will get the soil deep down.
Matt Smith


Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
Isaac Hill wrote:Ok, well, what you should do is seed/plant the native nitrogen fixer tree first. Here in PA it's Black Locust, which naturally comes up in abandoned places. Black Locust is also great because it has very hard, dense, rot-resistant wood, it is excellent bee forage and casts dappled shade, allowing young trees to grow under it. If you want to plant tree crops, plant tree nitrogen fixers because they will get the soil deep down.


I'd ask if rabbits like to eat young Black Locust bark, but I'm almost sure the answer is yes...
Isaac Hill
volunteer

Joined: Feb 28, 2011
Posts: 343
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
    
    2
That's why they make tree protectors, lol. But that really hasn't been a problem for me. They grow pretty fast and will grow out of the reach of rabbits in one season.
John Polk
steward

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 5862
Location: Moving to: NE Washington USDA zone 5 Western steppes to the Rockies
    
  88
For a cheap DIY tree tube, buy a 150 foot roll of roofing felt (about $25). With 3 reusable stakes (rebar?), you can build them any size you want.
Matt Smith


Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
John Polk wrote:For a cheap DIY tree tube, buy a 150 foot roll of roofing felt (about $25). With 3 reusable stakes (rebar?), you can build them any size you want.


After a couple years' experience with Tubex tubes under my belt, I'd say they're worth the expense. They really do help the trees grow, and do a marvelous job of protecting them. They also hold up very well (it's quite flat where I am and we get WINDS), enough to be reused on several trees if they're treated properly.
Jean Lippett


Joined: Jan 28, 2012
Posts: 8
Location: SW England
Matt Smith wrote: It's a shame to have to do this... the tubes will cost me as much as the tree they're protecting, but it's a necessity, methinks.


Now, I think you're confusing cost with value . . . if your protected trees live for 75 years and give you, who knows, say 50lb of fruit a season for 60 of those years, then the cost of the treetubes is the same as a single bucketful of those fruits.
Matt Smith


Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
Jean Lippett wrote:
Matt Smith wrote: It's a shame to have to do this... the tubes will cost me as much as the tree they're protecting, but it's a necessity, methinks.


Now, I think you're confusing cost with value . . . if your protected trees live for 75 years and give you, who knows, say 50lb of fruit a season for 60 of those years, then the cost of the treetubes is the same as a single bucketful of those fruits.


Oh, I'm well on board with initial investment versus eventual payoff... the 75 or so varieties of fruit/nut trees/bushes I've planted in my first two years on this property speak to that.

I'm just sayin', if somebody was to point out that through some magical fluke of nature, rabbits hated Black Locust saplings and never, ever ate 'em, I'd be pretty much OK with that...
 
 
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