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Happy homestead happenstances

How many slick tricks have you learned about farming and gardening more or less by accident? My favorite example happened because of laziness. I didn’t clean out the roof gutter on the barn for over a year. I have a longstanding prejudice against roof gutters anyway. Why not just let the water run off the roof onto a layer of gravel or stone along the wall? The gutters plug regularly and the water overflows anyway. This is especially true of my barn which sits in the woods. All sorts of tree leaves, twigs, and seeds end up in the gutter. Five tree leaves can plug a downspout no matter what kind of contraption you install to prevent it. And those screens that are supposed to keep debris out of the gutters become clogged and the water cascades right on over and down to the ground. That is, in any event, how I justify my laziness. Water running off the barn roof (as opposed to running off the house roof) is certainly not of any consequence as far as looks are concerned. In fact that water off the roof keeps the whole barnyard lawn nice and green all summer.

Now the plot thickens. Last year I decided to turn one of my pasture plots into woodland as you know if you have been reading this website. I figured I would just scatter all kinds of tree seeds over the plot and by and by some of them would sprout and grow. That does work, but I could see right away that nature’s way was going to be too slow for this old man. So I started transplanting seedlings. That too has proven not to be as easy or automatic as it sounds. Digging up seedlings is hard work and some of them die no matter how careful I try not to disturb the roots.

I was thinking about this situation one day in June when I happened to be walking past the barn. I looked up at the gutter and was startled to see that it looked like one very elongated pot of plants. All sorts of things were growing ludicrously out of it. But of course: maple, oak, ash, elm and wild cherry seeds had been washing into it for over a year. Some of them had sprouted and were growing with the abundance of rain that had fallen. I could lift them out with all their roots intact without straining one muscle, carry several dozen in a bucket at once, and plant them with only minimal effort.

Sometimes laziness pays. Happy happenstance farming!

Another example of learning by accident is something my sheep taught me earlier but never more graphically than this summer. On the strips where I grew corn last year, I disked and broadcast red clover this spring. It came up fine but then in our very wet May and June it faltered in the water-logged soil. I grazed it anyway, thinking it would come back with drier weather. But by mid-June, and after I shifted the sheep on to other plots, the clover was completely blotted out by crabgrass and quack grass. I moaned and groaned. By mid July, time for that plot to be grazed again, the strips that had been clover were bright green with these two grasses. But the sheep went after them like a child after chocolate.

So now I can tell you how to have good lush pasture in the hot dry days of summer. Pretend that you are going to grow corn. That’s really all you have to do. Plow and/or disk some land, then go away. It might even help to plant some corn if you have some cheap seed since I am convinced that quack grass and crabgrass will grow even faster and denser if they think they are competing with corn. Or broadcast clover like I did which also seems to bring out the villainy of these two weed grasses. Then pray for bad weather. Crabgrass and quack grass love it wet and love it dry. They are genetically engineered by nature to cover bare land to protect it against erosion and by hickory they will cover it come hell or high water. Where all those grass seeds came from to make such a magnificent stand, I do not know. Life is full of mysteries.

This method of growing lush pasture in summer is not necessarily a good thing. It requires cultivating the soil, which is what I am trying to get away from in pasture farming. But if you are going to cultivate some of your land every year anyway, a rotation of corn, quack grass and crabgrass is something to consider. Another happy happenstance might follow. It did for me. After the sheep grazed the grasses down to the ground, (they did a fairly good job on some ragweed that dared to dispute the territory with the grasses) I mowed the strips and guess what. Here comes the red clover back again!

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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