We just moved in last fall to our 12 acres in Western Maryland, and we are feeling our way through the beginnings. Any guidance you all could offer on the following questions will be much appreciated.
We have 16 hens out in electronet on a small (160 sf) paddock and a mobile coop. They have been parked there on that part of the pasture for the past couple of months so they will kill the grass to prepare the area for a garden.
Now, the grass seems to be about 75-80% killed, but there's parts that are really hanging on. Should I trust that they'll be gone by August? Maybe should I feed them less grain so they'll go for that grass that's left?
Also, when they move out of that paddock, leaving bare poopy dirt behind, that's hardly an ideal seed-ready garden patch, isn't it? It's too compacted. I know I should pull it up a bit and aerate it, and I plan to broadfork it in order to do this -- Getting a pig might be another option, but it requires more prep than ordering a broadfork from Johnny's and waiting for the UPS truck. I imagine amending the soil some more is a very good idea, too... I have on hand the following materials for free:
-Very old (2-3 years) hay -Newish hay just cut from our pastures
-Lots of wood chips
-Straw plus wood chips plus chicken poo from the indoor coop that they slept in before we put them in that paddock.
-All of the above spiked with dog poo and pee from the puppies' kennel (probably not a good idea, at least for a year or so).
I could also easily get some horse manure and probably some bags of leaves.
Whatever material I get, I reckon it'll either be folded in (quick incorporation, more work, what do I use to do it?) or sat on top and let rot (takes a long time, easier to do).
Do you all have any opinions or advice about this? I appreciate any guidance you are willing to give! Many thanks!
Scatter the grain in the stubborn grass areas. They will scratch that area more.
I am not sure how to convert the area to garden. My gut says to mulch it, but would like to hear from people who have done it. I might even do a one time till to get all the manure droppings in the soil.
I have done areas in a similar manner. I broadfork almost all my new areas, but I don't till them. After that I would pile all the material you have on in layers a couple inches deep, and repeat until you run out of material, in rows four feet or so wide by the length of the future garden area, with paths between. I wouldn't use dog poo. I have dogs, but I don't use that in garden areas. My last layer would be wood chips. If you keep it damp, by next spring it will be ready to plant in. It will shrink quite a bit and it won't be completely broken down, but wherever you want to plant, you can just open a hole, put in a handful of compost, and plant right in it. This is my favorite way to make a new garden area, and as long as any straw you use hasn't had preservatives added to it, it will make beautiful soil. As long as the material is clean, especially if it is from your own land, it will work great.
Thank you very much. Those are good pieces of advice. I wonder what to do about the paths. I don't want to waste good organic material piling up mulch on them, but I should try to keep the grass down I guess. Does anyone have any recommendations?
I have a suggestion for paths, but it's a bit ugly.
I mulch with cardboard boxes. As I work in an IT departments, there are times when big orders come in and there is a lot of cardboard to get rid of. I just lay it over the grass where I want to kill the grass, and hold it down with rocks or bits of wood. I also protects the soil from the hot sun in my semi-arid climate.
Since I'm not too fussed about looks, I just leave the cardboard bare, but if you like you can lay it and then put a thin layer of mulch over the top, and it will keep the area weed-free under the thin layer of mulch. That way you can spread the mulch further.
Also, I would put the hay and chips (except for dog poop ones) in with the chickens, letting them turn it over. It will all start to break down and add micro-organisms to the soil, ready for when you move the chickens away. Then your mulch is ready to just rake into whatever parts you need.
Sawdust works well for paths too, with or without cardboard. You can usually get sawdust for free. Most people don't have a use for it. If weeds come through, dump more on. If you use cardboard, it will work better. Either way, it will become good soil but will take a long time.
I've been experimenting with putting raw charcoal down to clear weeds. So far, it's working, but only if the ground is completely covered a couple inches deep. It was an interesting experiment, but I need a lot more charcoal than I produce so I probably won't use it that way. Your situation may be different. If I were going to try it for a path and had lots of charcoal, I would cover my paths a couple inches deep and cover that with sawdust. As i said, it probably isn't practical for most people.
I personally would use all of the above materials you mentioned, minus the dog poo. The dog poo could be buried in areas you plan on planting trees the following season, buy prepping the planting holes now, putting the poo at the bottom.
To use the materials you have, including some of the advice given. When you move your chickens out, do lasagna layering with the no till method. After you broad fork, first put down your manures, definitely take advantage of horese manure, if it has no herbicides in it. A 2 to 4 inch layer of horse manure will do well. Then over the manure layer, put down a layer of cardboard as weed barrier, if you have King Stropheria spawn, add that to the cardboard layer after wetting it down, it will help quickly break everything down into mushroomcompost, while providing a no hassle food crop. Then put down your layers of old hay or straw 2 to 4 inches, and top it off with woodchips at about 4 to 6 inches. Start by planting big things that will spread out and shade your mulch, like squashes, or sweet potatoes: you could also do other large plants like tomatoes. By doing large plants with further spacings, this makes it easier to plant in the newly created deep layers. The close shade from the vines will help keep the mulch moist, so the following season it will be much easier to plant in as everything but the chips will be breaking down into compost; then just shifting the chips to the side will make it easy to plant seeds or small starts into the humus rich organic layer thats been created below the chips. You can also winter your chickens there on the chips, then repeat the layering process as needed in spring, to grow your large warm weather crops; then in the end of summer, the bed should be ready for more easily planting the smaller cool weather crops. The lasagna layering method can go several years before re-layering, especially if you put your chickens on it during a rest cycle, where they add fresh manure to the chips.
Hope that helps!
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