Friday, September 8, 2017

Simple Soil Solutions: No It Is Not a Typo

I want to keep our hay bills down. I want healthy horses with strong backs and necks. I want our soil rich and vibrant. I want resilient, highly productive pastures.

Of course, that means that I will be soil testing, putting down appropriate levels of fertilizers and herbicides, and buying the best horse pasture seed on the market. I then will need to wait about a year before a hoof print appears on that soil.

Except that I will not be doing any of that. Instead I am going to achieve these goals by allowing (encouraging?) my horses to waste hay.

I know. I am still reeling from the concept.

Waste hay to save money and get a better pasture! I have the same feeling about this concept as I first did when I encountered natural horsemanship. It is contrary not only to the way everything has been done here for ages. On the surface it makes no sense.

But neither did natural horsemanship.

I am currently taking an online class, "Grazing Power Training" from Simple Soil Solutions. It is an extraordinary learning experience. I am learning the role that microbes play in building the soil and creating better forage. The picture above is of the 20 acres that my wife and I purchased for the use of our program. It was a pasture about 15 years ago. Since then it has over grown with trees, briars, weeds, and vines. Clearing the land is a slow task for us since we are all volunteers with no paid staff.

Last winter I cut down about 70% of the trees that need to come down. This winter I will take down more trees and remove stumps.

And I will waste a lot of hay. The pasture will be slightly over stocked with horses. The round bales will be rolled out and the horses will trample and manure it as the season moves on. Doing so will put a carbon sheet on the soil to cover it as it heals and all the while residual seeds from the hay will create forage for the future. We likely will use temporary electric fencing to concentrate the horses' activity.

This entire journey began for me when I spread a damp, moldy bag of feed up in a thin layer away from the horses so the birds could eat it. To my surprise, the grass under that layer grew tall, rich and dark of leaf. I could not understand why the waste feed produced better grass than did fertilizer.

Years later I became further confused when doing soil samples on portions of pastures that had been sacrifice areas for many seasons. The areas had been covered with scores of tonnes of horse manure. I expected the land to require a tremendous amount of lime, but the soil test showed these areas to need no lime.

The real spur to my curiosity happened a few years ago when Wendell suggested that I use organic fertilizer instead of regular 10-10-10. He told me that it cost more but I could use less and it would be worth it.

I assumed that this organic fertilizer must be very concentrated if I could use less of it and get better results. Instead it was much less concentrated than 10-10-10 yet I still got much better results with it.

The answer was microbes. The microbes put the nutrients that the plants needed in a chemical form that they cold utilize.

As I am learning from this class and a general study of permaculture, the microbes are the key and a sufficient ratio of carbon to nitrogen is necessary for those microbes to begin the process of healing the soil.

So, beginning today I am going to work diligently to waste hay.

(If you think saying that out loud hurts,imagine how it feels to type those words)

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