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No-till hay method

Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
In august 2009 i took a scythe and cut down a meadow.
I dried plant matter into hay and made some garden beds.
- On a bed with small layer of hay later most plants came back.
- A bed with more hay, something like 20 cm of packed down hay very little plants came back till fall.
In october I planted winter cereals removing top layer of hay, sowing seeds and covering back.
Jami McBride
volunteer

Joined: Aug 29, 2009
Posts: 1790
    
  14
What climate zone, and location are you in?

Thanks for sharing your pictures....
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
I'm in Europe. Zone 6.
jeremiah bailey


Joined: May 05, 2009
Posts: 343
I tried this last year. I wish I had a scythe, but I used my rotary mower to create a similar effect. I interplanted buckwheat and cowpeas in the same patch. The cowpeas were a fairly good success, but the buckwheat was kind of a wash. I plan on trying this again this year without interplanting. I think the interplanting would be okay if my goal was purely soil improvement without crop expectations. I have some winter rye that I plan on working into rotation this fall.

The rotary mower cuts the straw into finer bits, which I just left lay where they were. When I planted, I hand tossed the seeds and raked them down below the mowed grass. Both the cowpeas and buckwheat liked crowding from like plants. I will try planting them denser this year. I plan on buying a few small square bales of straw to supplement last year's residue. I also have a good pile of leaves that I gathered last fall that will go into the mix.

I didn't take pics last year, but I plan on posting some from this year's crop.


"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." - Helen Keller
--
Jeremiah Bailey
Central Indiana
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
How deep was your layer and what was it exactly? Straw or hay?

More mature the meadow is, longer the hay is. That's what you want with this method.

I was also thinking of using leaves the same way as i did it with hay. At least 20+ cm deep layer of leaves. A nice layer of soil and leaf mold in a year time + leaf mulch.

Also, if you bring leaves or hay on a place full of living plants you win. More soil in less time. Of course you could also add fresh om.

I heard buckwheat grows better in poor soil. Cowpeas being to good to his neighbor?
Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 849
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  15
I don't like buying in or hauling in organic matter, and have no shortage of land for the time I have after the day job. 

A portion of our pasture is under chicken tractor.  This year I am moving the tractor slow, and throwing in extra hay cut from the rest of the pasture, or a couple bales of straw when I'm too lazy to scythe.  This will give me 5-15 cm inches of mulch on scratched-up ground, with a N and P boost from the chicken feed.  The chickens love foraging through the fresh cuttings for tender bits and spiders.

I was planning on transplanting winter squash, beans, sunflower, corn, and clover for a summer crop, adding some grain for future chicken food.  But hopefully the area will end up mostly clover and volunteers by the end of the growing season.

In my head I have been calling this "cyclic carbon concentration"  Most of the pasture is the 'donor area' with a proportion of the site being the 'receiving' area each year.  I have been curious about the ratio of donor to receiving, and the effect of different levels of concentration.  This might be a way of describing the variation of this.  The chickens add complexity both because of their physical work, and the nutrient input through feed.

To create a planting site I increase the donor area to receiving area ratio... something like 20:1, throw in some chopped up brush, and create a little compost pile that will be come a planting site in a year.

One annoying thing is that the chickens create lumpiness which makes the scythe less efficient. 

I have also found that the temporary lack of competition seems to favors quack grass (rhizomatous Agropyron repens) which can rebound faster than seedlings which is a problem that it increases over time under the periodic mulch and reduces the productivity of any target crops.  Don't know what to make of that species.  Another difference is that I am seeking to maintain this system as a herbaceous system through moderate continuous disturbance, and not end up with forest.


Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute
Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
Paul Cereghino wrote:
I don't like buying in or hauling in organic matter...

Same here. Use what you got...

Chickens make everything different. I am alone without help of any animals. Though, i have to say i like it this way.

Transplanting winter squash, beans, sunflower, corn, and clover for a summer crop? Probably you've typed it wrong... you don't want to transplant this, just direct sow.

I see what you are doing, very nice preparation, lots of good stuff and lots of new top soil.

About quackgrass. Looks like you are have a down side of using this system for preparing new site. As you've said it, lack of competition.

Not sure what your plans are for future, lots of target plants on a site with living mulch (clover)?

What about diverse meadow with added plants? I have found that a diverse meadow is really nice for planting all kinds of herbs and similar plants into it. It's easy to add them to the system - sow or plant and use nearby plants as mulch and do it couple of times so they get established. You don't even have to cut the system, jsut pull out unwanted plants, that's how you will never get a forest. and it's lees work, believe me. Also, by adding plants, you will end up with mostly target crops. And as a reminder, there are a lot of herbs and medicinal plants in a diverse meadow. Anyway...

... here is what you could do, if you only want target crops with few volunteers and living mulch. Just cut the grass, dry it into hay and layer it about 50 cm deep. Wait till spring or whatever. Remove the top layer of hay, sow white clover and others into the partly decayed hay and add other plants and cover hay back. Really small amount of plants will grow back, those that do can be a part of the system. Good enough layer of hay is like the universal tool to make a system clear, just like cardboard. Hay is even better, it creates a better top soil and also provide nutrients etc.

As i mentioned above, i used a nice layer and few plants grew back, mostly those strong plants like comfrey, wild carrots.
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
Here's Helen Atthowe talking about Malva neglecta out-competing quack grass on frequently-mown clover paths:

Video

(Yes, I've posted the above elsewhere...but it fit so nice, I decided to keep it.)

The mallow has more protein than the clover, so it can be looked at as an intermediate link in the food chain. I think I recall reading that chickens enjoy eating it. Maybe you want mallow & clover growing on the newly-prepared planting site, as part of the donor area; regularly scything them & the quack grass might help keep niches open for the food plants you intend to add the following year. Then dead mulch can go on shortly before the growing season.

Ms. Atthowe's donor areas are only about 2x the receiving areas, but the system is many years old, and used to rely on hauled-in organic matter before it was this mature. Another difference is that she shuffles the soil back and forth almost as much as she moves the organic matter, which would solve your lumpiness but might mean more fossil fuel use than you'd prefer.

Speaking of intermediate links in the chain: more of your hay can go to feeding the chickens, even if it is from species they don't find tasty.  You could put a few invertebrate shelters in the chicken area, like Marty talks about here. This would be anything the chickens can't flip over, but you easily can, and do on a regular schedule, timed so compost macrobe populations are always booming.


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
I'm into preparing the beds and then go on without any outside sources, without any rotation or changing bed places or similar. Everything i need is on that bed. In form of cover crops, weeds, good plants, veggies. That's what simple use of hay gives me. I get totally clear site so i can grow whatever i want. In the end it's really not important how the bed is made. All i need to do is new layer, which will decay native plants. Only the first time, then it's all up to how i plant. And sure, for stable habitat that will take care of it's own, i need to plant a diverse habitat - which can grow only veggies if i want. The beauty is that i don't need to haul in new organic matter, i don't need to use foil, i don't need to compost, i don't need to have donor areas. Outside sources of compost and other available things are just a bonus, but they are not needed.
David Castillo


Joined: Feb 04, 2010
Posts: 25
Location: IL/WI Border
Let me see if I understand this. If i put down a deep enough layer of mulch (straw/hay) it will suppress the weeds and grass without the need of cardboard/newspaper?

I ask b/c I built raised beds last year using cardboard but after reading Paul's info about the glue in cardboard, I think I'd rather not use it.

My plan is to create a guild around some well established trees and I had planned to use a similar method to the one used to create the beds, but now I'm thinking I'll do it, just without the cardboard.

If it helps this is the method I used. Click me
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
irollaround wrote:
Let me see if I understand this. If i put down a deep enough layer of mulch (straw/hay) it will suppress the weeds and grass without the need of cardboard/newspaper?

Yes.

irollaround wrote:I ask b/c I built raised beds last year using cardboard but after reading Paul's info about the glue in cardboard, I think I'd rather not use it.

I'm not a fan of using newspaper or cardboard either.

Just start with dried or fresh lucerne hay and you will be fine.
Pat Maas


Joined: May 08, 2008
Posts: 194
Location: McIntosh, NM
Here hay mulch rules,
    It gets used for mulching trees, sheet mulching and does get mixed with bedding shavings, leaves and manure and applied to the corn/ squash patch and other like areas.
    Am in the process of enlarging and remulching the corn patch as the soil literally eats the mulch after a couple of years.     
  The hay is either oat hay or alfalfa and is what the ladies don't eat. I also source rotten hay locally and bring it in for adding in.


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Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
What about leaving corn stalks, other plant leftovers... on site? Are they waste for you or you use them in another way? Remulching could be done with what grew on soil...

Thanks for sharing! How is the corn growing this way? Hope all is well...
Pat Maas


Joined: May 08, 2008
Posts: 194
Location: McIntosh, NM
The corn stalk stubs are left in ground. The goats get the upper stalks as they fall. Everything else gets left. At the rate this soil absorbs mulch, what is left does not last the winter.

I'll take some more pictures of sheet mulches that are one and two years old. They were laid in at 1.5 - 2 feet thick. (Corn patch gets 1 foot) On the two year mulches that haven't been planted in, they are almost at ground level now. Those will be planted into this year.

The corn is getting better acclimated to the conditions here. This was the first year for this dent/grinding corn and kept the corn from the biggest and healthiest plants. Upto 7' tall) There is enough 2009 seed corn to replant the old  section and will use original seed in the new 60' x 60' add on.

Do plan on grazing stock in this area after fall harvest this year. The mulch will be about gone and they can make use of the stalks without me cutting them. That and the grass is being encouraged to create a symbiotic relationship with the crops grown there needs trimming/eating to encourage its spread.
David Castillo


Joined: Feb 04, 2010
Posts: 25
Location: IL/WI Border
Plankl wrote:
Yes.
I'm not a fan of using newspaper or cardboard either.

Just start with dried or fresh lucerne hay and you will be fine.


Thanks. 

My plan is to use a mixture of hay, straw, compost, each one being layer in and of itself, eventually covered by a mixture of sand, compost and dirt. Let it sit for 2 wks or so, and then plant.

Will try and post the results during the summer.
Pat Maas


Joined: May 08, 2008
Posts: 194
Location: McIntosh, NM
Here are examples of some of my hay mulching. All but the new one shown will be planted this year.  Am working on creating perennial crops in the alleys of the orchard, but for now, this gets humus into the deficient soils here. All the trees are mulched with hay also.

The last picture with the garbage bags full of leaves has an asparagus bed protected(wind) by those bags and year old hay beds around it. The asparagus bed started as a mulched hay area four years ago. The asparagus is now in its third year in the ground.

The last picture's beds will be planted with  Paduccah sweet corn and More Gold squash.

The corn patch will be planted with Wasapi Valley dent corn and Lakota squash.


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jeremiah bailey


Joined: May 05, 2009
Posts: 343
Plankl wrote:
How deep was your layer and what was it exactly? Straw or hay?

More mature the meadow is, longer the hay is. That's what you want with this method.

I was also thinking of using leaves the same way as i did it with hay. At least 20+ cm deep layer of leaves. A nice layer of soil and leaf mold in a year time + leaf mulch.

Also, if you bring leaves or hay on a place full of living plants you win. More soil in less time. Of course you could also add fresh om.

I heard buckwheat grows better in poor soil. Cowpeas being to good to his neighbor?

Sorry it took awhile to get back. The layer left over from the cowpeas and buckwheat was only about an inch/2-3 cm. Roughly chopped by the mower. I estimate it would have been about 4 inches or so if I had a scythe. I spread the leaves on top of that. Then the straw that I bought. I don't know of a good source of hay around here and the straw is good, not chemically killed. I live on a small plot, so I have to do some outsourcing of amendments. At least for the meantime until I get a better system set up. I plan on planting some grains and such. The spent plants in my veggie garden get cut down and left to lie where they fall. Much of what I do is limited due to neighborhood codes, and only 1/4 acre with a house on it.. 

The soil was poor to begin with, so the buckwheat did fine. I just didn't get to harvest as much as I wanted to because it was rather tedious due to the interplanting. I plan on doing separate plantings in the future.
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
Buckwheat is sown in summer here, so it can starts to flower as soon as possible. Much less vegetation, bigger crop.
Have a good time tending the soil you got there, bye.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15607
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
Here's Helen Atthowe talking about Malva neglecta out-competing quack grass on frequently-mown clover paths:

Video



Joel,

Helen Atthowe is brilliant.  If you were to start a new thread dedicated to her excellent stuff, I would like to make a few contributions.


sign up for my daily-ish email / rocket mass heater 4-DVD set / permaculture playing cards
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15607
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
The one thing I see in one of the pics that makes me nervous is the hay touching a plant.  I usually keep the hay six to twelve inches away from the plant so that it doesn't cause any sort of rot right on the plant.

Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
I'm not saying that rot can't happen because of hay touching plants but in my experience with mulching vegetables with hay, I've never seen it cause rot. Been doing it for several years without problems. I do tend to mulch more lightly around stems though.


http://www.greenshireecofarms.com
Zone 5a in Central Ontario, Canada
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
I don't mulch with fresh hay around woody plants. With dried hay i have no limits...
Pat Maas


Joined: May 08, 2008
Posts: 194
Location: McIntosh, NM
Most of my trees have protection around their trunks and that keeps the deep mulch away. On my summer plantings, it's just a matter of pulling the mulch away to the front of a planting row a few inches giving the soon to be emerging plants room to grow. I also don't plant in last year's rows-another reason stalks are left in place as markers.

Rot has hasn't been a problem in any of my plantings.
Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 849
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  15
Never had rot, and I'm pretty sloppy on my mulching.  The problem we have around here sometimes is with voles which can enjoy mulch, so indirect damage.
Pat Maas


Joined: May 08, 2008
Posts: 194
Location: McIntosh, NM
Was just looking at the orchard yesterday as need to cut some scions and saw my vole population had headed into one of the two year beds of mulch. Monday will be spreading my monthly dog poo pile and will direct it to the heaviest concentration of burrows in the tree aisle close by.
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
hay = cut and dried meadow
                        


Joined: Dec 30, 2009
Posts: 122
Location: sub-tropics downunder
g'day plankl,

yep comes under the sheet mulching process, raised beds just adding more material to create a growing medium quicker. we created whole food tree garden in our yard by laying mulch (sugar cane mulch easiest for us to get) building nicely afte about 4 years we have created around 4"s of humus over the years we add all sorts of stuff then cover it with more mulch stuff = some grass clippings, scraps of paper and cardboard letter box dropper etc, large stuff like cut down banana plant all pruning of the food trees gets dropped and mulched on the ground where it falls.

you have done well too easy hey?

len


--

len

With peace and brightest of blessings,

"Be Content With What You Have And
May You Find Serenity and Tranquillity In
A World That You May Not Understand."

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Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
I've been doing a lot of bed making and transplanting/seeding on the same day by:

- laying out about 12 inches of loose hay

-making holes in the hay a little wider than a coffee mug diameter, right down to the soil surface

-filling the holes with a soil, wood ash, and manure mix

-packing it down, and planting or seeding as you normally would

I'll post pictures if I can get around to it. Its too soon to tell if the plants will yield well but things look promising so far.
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
Yea Travis, that's a great way to grow what you want in hay. Great you mentioned.

len, 4 inches is a lot of humus. I'm far from there!
I put down 10 inches of hay and i'm still not at 1 inch of humus in the moment. There were more in spring, but now it's long gone.
With time hay really breaks down and there is little left.
But i will use for mulch what grows on these beds so i don't need additional mulch anymore.

Soon i will have straw from rye, spelt and wheat. There is a big patch of comfrey and lots of others plants. This will be the garden bed for next season. Which will start already this year, can't wait to plant some winter veggies.
                        


Joined: Dec 30, 2009
Posts: 122
Location: sub-tropics downunder
we lay our mulch up to 12"s thick and also we add all that scrappy paper along with cardboard not needed for other uses, so 4" has come from more than just mulch. telephone books, magazines.

all you can do is keep going it is working that is what matters. if it rots we mulch it in the garden.

len
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
...
Peter Ingot


Joined: Sep 06, 2011
Posts: 70
I've used this method in the past, it worked very well, but my situation changed. I had lived with vegetarians surrounded by neglected overgrown meadows. Then I moved and grew vegetables surrounded by people with animals who dumped their surplus/spoiled hay in late spring. Then I moved again, got animals and started cutting hay for them with a scythe. The case for using machinery is pretty strong.....if you have a few thousand bucks to buy a cutter or can hire someone to do it, but I'm a stubborn, tightwad who doesn't want to use more fossil fuels than necessary. Also my land was littered  with rocks (more fall every year) and no one was going to risk their $5000 cutting machine  until I had risked my $15 scythe and found all the rocks (swish, swish CLUNK).


Haymaking is beautiful,satisfying, hard work in the hot sun.It is a skilled art which looks easy when experienced haymakers do it.  I supplement the hay with oak branches, beanstalks, corn stalks  and other assorted fodder. I watch the sky nervously for signs of rain and run around like crazy with tarps if it does.

However much I cut it always runs low by late winter. My hay yields have gone up every year but so have the numbers of hungry mouths. A long winter  or a sick animal increases the need for hay. I could buy hay, it's cheap, but delivery to this remote spot is not easy or cheap. The road is bad in winter. The people with the trucks are  busy and do not always manage to keep appointments.

Point is I now value my hay very highly.It is good nutrient rich mulch, but it rots fast (unlike straw), which means that after a year or two weeds will start to grow up through your hay mulch unless you constantly maintain it with more hay. Has anyone calculated how much land it takes to hay mulch an acre? Around here where most meadows are full of wild flowers but not very productive, I suspect a lot.

Last year a highly respected permaculturist told my neighbour that the best use for our hay was as mulch for paths and courtyards. This would he said increase the waterholding capacity of the soil. True, it probably would, But is it really the best use? He had been living many years in the tropics. This is a continental climate. Winters are very cold and long here. My neighbour followed his advice. I bit my tongue. What I wanted to say was  "here's the f£$king scythe, go and cut me an acre or two." My neighbour is now complaining of a hay shortage.

Hay is wonderful soil food and if your hay meadow is below your house, garden and animals it will recycle nutrients which would otherwise go to waste  (and it is a good illustration of just how much nutrient leaching a garden -even a zero till one - causes). But wouldn't it be  more efficient to feed the hay to animals, turn it into meat, milk, eggs, wool, leather AND manure to go back to the garden instead of feeding the hay straight to the soil? A thick layer of well rotted manure can suppress weeds too, although it is considerably less bulky than the hay the animals ate to make it.

For these reasons I don't hay mulch as much as I used to, I still mulch spoiled hay. When weeds need to be cut back in wet weather, I mulch them but I try to coincide weed cutting with dry weather to make high quality goat hay. If I have surplus hay in the spring it sometimes goes for mulch but at the bottom of the pile are a lot of seeds. If I have to cut back plants the goats and donkey won't eat (not many of them!) I mulch them. This surplus hay is not sufficient to mulch my whole garden adequately, but a few beds can be thickly covered this way. Other areas I mulch with wood chippings, leaves, cardboard etc.

If you can get cheap, abundant hay and have  no other use for it, hay mulching is wonderful, but I am no longer in that situation
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
It is good nutrient rich mulch, but it rots fast (unlike straw), which means that after a year or two weeds will start to grow up through your hay mulch unless you constantly maintain it with more hay.

if you don't put enough hay, weeds will start to grow in weeks. yes, it really rots fast.
also, i didn't add more hay after the first application mentioned in first post and i have a wonderfull garden on that spot this year. i don't use hay anymore, just fresh plant material and other mulch and also veggies do the weeding job.

But wouldn't it be  more efficient to feed the hay to animals, turn it into meat, milk, eggs, wool, leather AND manure to go back to the garden instead of feeding the hay straight to the soil?

no, not for me... to much work. direct feeding suits me best. anyway i don't have animals. and beside, i don't even use hay anymore, it was just for the first time. if i need mulch now i just sycthe and use the stuff fresh, much more beneficial in many ways.
            


Joined: Dec 03, 2010
Posts: 58
Are you harvesting the wheat, spelt, and rye or cutting down the whole plant to feed?
Aljaz Plankl


Joined: Feb 18, 2010
Posts: 346
    
    8
i harvested the grains cutting the top few inches. standing straw was used as mulch, with no cutting, just pressed down to the ground.
at the same time, part of grain harvest was broadcasted on the same spot to keep weeds down. this was in end of july 2010.
winter grains need to be sown in october here. so they were too big and later they died in the winter and left me weed free spot in spring.
 
 
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