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Discussion Starter #1
We bought our place this past summer. 6 acres are in alfalfa/mixed grass hay. I had local ag service place come out and do soil samples and came back severely deficient in both P and K as I suspected, could also use a healthy dose of lime, again was suspect. I'm not against using fertilizer, I'm not organic or even thinking of converting to certified organic in the near future because I'm surrounded by conventional row crops and by the time I got a my buffer I'd have a strip of land 50' wide I could use. I do prefer not overusing fertilizer and not opposed to green manure crops for a season or two to help build back soil or a combination of the both. I don't yet have a tractor or tillage equipment but could borrow something and am in the beginning stages of buying a tractor.

Just how much can I build back P and K levels in the soil through intensive use of green manure crops. Is it something that can be done in a season or two or am I looking at a 5-10 year process? Are there any good online resources for green manure and what kind of results can be expected?
 

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Cover crops are good for nitrogen, organic matter, erosion and weed control. Some will scavenge a bit of P and K but really they don't do anything reliable to increase P or K levels. Even with 10 years of intensive cover crops you won't get where you need to be. You need manure and/or compost and/or fertilizer.
Which one(s) you use will depend what you want to grow.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
That's what I was thinking. You might be able to pull up P and K from deeper soil with something that has an extensive root system. I don't have a source of enough manure to make much difference. I'm probably going to break down and get some fertilizer applied. I have a waterway that bisects the property that drains a few hundred acres of row crops and all my land slopes down into the waterway, I'm sure a lot of my nutrients have been taken off in hay or washed down the waterway. I'm thinking about having them apply half the recommended amount this year and half next year but it may not be very cost effective to do it that way.
 

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That's what I was thinking. You might be able to pull up P and K from deeper soil with something that has an extensive root system. I don't have a source of enough manure to make much difference. I'm probably going to break down and get some fertilizer applied. I have a waterway that bisects the property that drains a few hundred acres of row crops and all my land slopes down into the waterway, I'm sure a lot of my nutrients have been taken off in hay or washed down the waterway. I'm thinking about having them apply half the recommended amount this year and half next year but it may not be very cost effective to do it that way.
Unless you have the means to break up the soil in fine partials you will lose at least half of the fertilizer no mater what you put on it. Run a disk then if possible a tiller and aferward a disk to get it under the soil. I would put the recommended amount out instead of tilling it up again next spring when you should apply fertilizer anyway. If you decide to do it in the fall most of it will benefit your row crop friends.
 

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P and K are not terribly mobile nor water soluble. Now if soil itself is washing away, then sure you are losing the fertility with it...

Nitrogen will wash away with heavy rain, it is mobile.

You can work with N and cover crops - legumes add N, and green plant material has a bit. And thick grassy plants slowly add organic matter which is good for everything. And deep rooted cover crops like turnip, or tillage radish can pull up nutrients that are deep and leave them near the surface - but if you are short on the surface now, I'd suspect you subsoil is mined out too....

But, P and K - if you need it, you gotta haul it in. Using manure is the best option, tho it rarely has exactly the ratios you need so it is not the 'single' solution, but stil the best. As you say, hard to get. You can use special organic approved items for P an K if you so prefer.

Commercial fertilizer works well, you can get custom blend for exactly what you need. Or get a different custom blend to put on with manure to end up where you want to be.

Best is to work the lime, P, and K into the soil a few inches.

I'm not sure I understand the half this year, half next year. Its only 6 acres, so cost isn't that big a deal. Get the fertility right as soon as you can so you get good crop as soon as you can. It's not like you apply this and you are done for the next 30 years - any crop you harvest, what you haul off you need to be replacing the P and K somehow. You will be applying something at least every other year......

So, what do you wish to grow?

N you can work with cover crops.

For P and K, get it to where you need it sooner than later with manure or fertilizer, and then you still need to maintain it by adding enough to replace what is removed by your crops. At least every other year.

For alfalfa, in good high CEC soils (clay, that holds nutrients better) it works well to put on 3 years worth of P and K, then plant. If you have sandy soil, need to be a lot more careful.

Jeez, I rambled on all over the place, sorry. Too late I hope you can make some sense of this....

This is my turnip, clover, alfalfa cover crop, mostly for the cattle to graze in fall, but it adds some N and organic matter too.

Paul
 

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The previous owner has mined out all the nutrients possible without putting any back. If the field is more than five years old, the alfalfa is past its useful and productive life, so if it were mine, I wouldn't do anything until I was ready to start a different crop there. Even then I would apply only as much N,P,K as recommended for the specific crop. BUT, I would then begin incorporation of both mild applications of fertilizer and heavy use of covercrops, and legumes on a rotational basis. I wouldn't do anything to the field except clip it twice a year to hold down weed growth and keep it in a steady state until I had the equipment for the chosen crop. This opinion is based on the premise that the alfalfa field has "run out" and needs to be changed over to a different crop for a while. The fertilizers you would apply are highly water soluble and would most likely run downhill with snow melt or heavy rain unless you incorporated them into the root zone and used them in the present crop.

geo
 

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Discussion Starter #7
The alfalfa is probably 7 years old and getting pretty thin, it needs to be plowed under and a new crop rotated in. I highly doubt the previous owners applied anything, just took the hay off. I don't have any ruminants nor do I plan on having any in the near future, so the hay is of little value to me other than the couple hundred bucks I get from having someone come in and cut/bale hay. I can't keep doing that, it's totally unsustainable and need to get nutrients back into the soil.

I don't have a tractor or any tillage equipment yet but it's being worked on as I find good deals at auctions, craigslist, and such.

I'm going to wait until spring to do anything. It's too late to get anything planted with a significant enough root system to hold the soil over winter, even cereal rye.

Would putting cattle on the ground to graze for a season help with P and K numbers?
 

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I'm in a similar situation as you in that I need to rennovate my pastures.

The best way to start (according to my local ag agent) is to get your soil samples, which apparently you have done. Then apply the agricultural lime this fall so it will have some time to seep into the soil. (When I do, I will have it disked into the soil; and by doing this disking now instead in the spring, my terrain will be much less clumpy/uneven.) Then come spring put in the P & K according to whatever crop you will be growing. (I'm planning on the New Zeland endophyte-free grass I had a few years back before local seeds took over.)

After that you will need to redo the fertilizing every few years, as well as the liming.

This fall is a great opportunity to put in some cool-seasoned crops! Also a nice annual cover crop would be of benefit to your soil.
 

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The thing about adding fertilizer to levels that promotes healthy plant growth, is that this alone helps rebuild soil, through higher root mass production, more top growth. These add organic matter to the soil, and over time, the soil gets rebuilt.

I recently bought land that had a small 15 acre area that has been hayland for my entire memory, ( I am 38). I fertilized it, according to production potential and tonnes of hay yield required, and it responded very well.

It is an old fallacy that hayland "wears out", or needs to be "rejuvenated". IE. "plowed in" and started fresh. What really happens is the soil fertility is robbed over the years. I have this hay land that is at least 30 years old, that is healthy and produces well, because it has been brought up to speed in the fertilizer department.

Topdressing P and K is not as efficient as banding it into the soil, or incorporating it in, but if you adjust your rates upwards to take this into account, results are impressive and ongoing.

The best thing, is of course that as you get your land back into shape and it is more productive from adding fertilizer, your soil also gets more healthy because of the healthy plant growth.

We often hear that you have to continually add more fertilizer once you start. This is also a fallacy: Indeed, once the soil rebuilds over time, through greater root mass and organic matter production, fertilizer needs often become less, because the organic matter is contributing now to the soil available nutrients.

Remember, often half of dry matter production happens underground. Once you get this principle working for you, and your soil life improves through proper fertilizer application, you will see great results...
 

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If you need lime, it takes a couple months of time for the lime to break down and neutralize the acid of the soil, so applying that 6 months before you plant a crop is good. Lime typically breaks down for 5 years so you will need to think about reapplying some in about 5 years. However, its best to work the lime in 3 inches; so in your case you can apply now or wait until spring, either way has pluses and minuses. Just trying to show the options. You could spread the lime now, work it in next spring, that would start the process and continue it after worked in, or do it in spring it won't take effect until Junr maybe but less chance of any washing away on the surface.....

In your situation I would wait until before a tillage operation to apply the p and k. It acts quickly when tilled in a bit, and so be better to be worked in than to be applied early on the surface for what you are doing. It won't do much for you over winter now sitting on th surface, while it doesn't volitize on its own a heavy rain or spring melt could move some away on you.

Here it is common to work an old alfalfa field and plant corn, it will use stored n that the old - even thin - alfalfa has put in your soil profile.

As well you are aware alfalfa is auto toxic to its own seedlings, so you can't work up an alfalfa field and plant alfalfa right back into it. Occasionally that works, but most often the alfalfa seedlings will die as sprouts. You need a three month period of good growing conditions without any live alfalfa plants to get the toxins out of the soil most of the time.

If it were me, I would do a shock treatment (this spring it would seem) of lime and p and k to get things built up to where they should be quickly, work those things into the ground.

Then in the future you can do much lighter applications to maintain what you have, trying to match what is removed. These lighter applications can be surface applied, and will slowly work themselves into the soil profile. You might likely be using fertilizer one year that was actually applied 3 years previous, but since you own it its like a bank, you sometimes use fertilizer, you sometimes add fertilizer, but the soil is in a good balance and working well and moving along nicely. Like a healthy bank account where you sometimes spend, sometime save, but it's always a nice positive number.

I'm just not comfortable with starting out slow, keeping your soil starving for nutrients, and taking 5 years or more to get built up... It is hard enough to get a depleted soil built back up, many fertilizers such as p and k end up storing themselves in the soil and then releasing several years later. You want good mid level fertility in your ground. I do understand not overdoing it, not creating runoff problems for sure..... But get a nice mid level ad fast as you can, and then use light maintenance levels to keep it healthy.

Your soil bank account is in negative numbers, you want to get it positive quickly so you don't suffer more penalties. Then after that, you can explore different investment opportunities and work out different options to keep it in a healthy positive situation.

And again, for this diverse crowd, the fertility can be added with manure, organic compounds, or commercial fertilizers - whatever you want/ prefer for your source, the underlying principle is to get a healthy soil sooner than later. The old alfalfa should have your organic matter pretty good shape and some good build up of N in there for a possible grass crop, so you just need the p and k built up again.

Once you have healthy soil, then cover crops and such are really good plans to keep things in balance, organic matter up, soil erosion down. (Tho a hay crop, grass or legume, often is pretty much a good cover crop as it, hold soil in place, sets in deep roots, etc.)

As to grazing cattle, that returns the poo and is nice, but the cattle are still leaving with extra meat, so you are still losing P and K..... Less than if the hay is hauled away, but still losing.... It works if the cattle are being fed grain or something that is hauled in, and leaving you more manure than what they are grazing off your 6 acres. This would make your land more of a cattle feed lot than a pasture tho.

Paul
 

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Regarding lime, I have no experience with it. Our soils are neutral to slightly alkaline. pH of 6.8 to 7.6 kind of thing. Lime adds a new dimension for me. Sorry I missed that part...
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I don't have a way to harvest corn. I'm picking up and old Allis All Crop in a few weeks so I can do spring wheat and follow harvest with a plow-down buckwheat seeding after the bloom is mostly over. I have bees so even a buckwheat plow-down I still get a crop (honey) and the benefits of plowing down the green matter.
 

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Personally, I disagree with those who blankly say you will lose half your fertilizer, etc.

But, it would depend on your CEC levels (a rough measure of how much fertility your soil can hold at one time without leaking excess away....) and how you apply what product you apply, and the waterway deal is a concern simply because moving water will take anything on the surface along with it....

I would treat the actual waterway carefully, likely not fertilize that skinny bit nor work it up (or do so carefully and with thought to the season, needs, topography etc very carefully and lightly), the rest I would add nutrients just before working up the ground so those nutrients can melt with some soil moisture and attach to the clay bits in your soil easily, and be in the root zone area where your crops will soon be able to find them.

You will lose very little p or k this way on a deficient but otherwise healthy soil with alfalfa roots in it, even with a heavy (to recommendations) application.

Back in the 60s farmers would slop on fertilizer because it was cheap, more is better, and would spread manure too thick near the barn, none far from the barn, because it was a waste product to get rid of.

Very little of that thinking is left, fertilizer is expensive these days, manure is something you have to buy now not get free because you are close to the barn. And we have seen the poor results of letting too much of our nutrients be applied poorly or washed away. I've been trying to buy hog manure from barns less than 2 miles from me for 5 years now and can't get it, soil tests of neighbors closer show its a good value to them and they are buying it first....

Get the soil healthy, and apply small doses of what your crop/ soil need at proper times near when the crop will need it, and we all have better lives.

I am glad you are concerned about these issues. Perhaps some of us are 'assuming' and not explaining how the process works, the details.

There is a lot of commingled art and science in farming, and lots we have to learn yet. The neat thing is we can do so large or small scale, organic, conventional, or whatever - there are ways to improve, learn, and get better.

Paul
 

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I don't have a way to harvest corn. I'm picking up and old Allis All Crop in a few weeks so I can do spring wheat and follow harvest with a plow-down buckwheat seeding after the bloom is mostly over. I have bees so even a buckwheat plow-down I still get a crop (honey) and the benefits of plowing down the green matter.
I was going to 'like' this message, but the like button is gone?

Anyhow, sounds like a plan, wheat is a grass crop that will use the left over n from the alfalfa.

In my climate, plant spring wheat early early early, it suffers greatly on yield and quality if you delay. I've planted with the drill going over a bit of a left over snow drift, and planted in too muddy spring conditions, and the wheat did better than waiting for 'good' soil conditions.

That is here, your climate is different.

But anyhow, you will be pressed for time to get it all done in spring to get a good wheat crop in on time.....

(I realize this is a small field, not your livelihood, and for fun as much as anything, so you don't need it to be perfect! Just trying to say what works best, so as you work with your land and crops, you can choose things that offer the best chance at the best crops, vs what you have for time, equipment, etc....)

Paul
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I am glad you are concerned about these issues. Perhaps some of us are 'assuming' and not explaining how the process works, the details.

There is a lot of commingled art and science in farming, and lots we have to learn yet. The neat thing is we can do so large or small scale, organic, conventional, or whatever - there are ways to improve, learn, and get better.

Paul
I personally feel that sustainable farming does not necessarily have to be "organic" or any other buzzword. You do need to give back what you take out, we're just borrowing the land from the next guy or next generation. I'm not necessarily opposed to chemical fertilizer, just want to be judicious in it's use and not have it wash into the creeks, rivers, and oceans.

I don't have a clearly laid out plan for the farm. I want to be able to sell produce from the roadside (lots of traffic). I plan on raising vegetables and fruit with the possibility of pick-your-own berries and an orchard for antique apples and stone fruits. I would like to raise poultry for eggs and meat and a handful of pastured hogs. I want to utilize my tillable acreage to raise grain crops for feed rations for livestock. I don't have a clear plan on how to get there yet but it's also not a primary source of income. Hoping that we can be profitable and use the money from the farm to pay for the kids college. And it gives me a reason to buy a tractor......
 

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Cover crops are good for nitrogen, organic matter, erosion and weed control. Some will scavenge a bit of P and K but really they don't do anything reliable to increase P or K levels. Even with 10 years of intensive cover crops you won't get where you need to be. You need manure and/or compost and/or fertilizer.
Which one(s) you use will depend what you want to grow.
My favorite is compost and more compost. Chemicals will add no black to your soil unless it is black dye. What you want is created by organic material.
 

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I personally feel that sustainable farming does not necessarily have to be "organic" or any other buzzword. You do need to give back what you take out, we're just borrowing the land from the next guy or next generation. I'm not necessarily opposed to chemical fertilizer, just want to be judicious in it's use and not have it wash into the creeks, rivers, and oceans.

I don't have a clearly laid out plan for the farm. I want to be able to sell produce from the roadside (lots of traffic). I plan on raising vegetables and fruit with the possibility of pick-your-own berries and an orchard for antique apples and stone fruits. I would like to raise poultry for eggs and meat and a handful of pastured hogs. I want to utilize my tillable acreage to raise grain crops for feed rations for livestock. I don't have a clear plan on how to get there yet but it's also not a primary source of income. Hoping that we can be profitable and use the money from the farm to pay for the kids college. And it gives me a reason to buy a tractor......
Do an area at a time say maybe an acre. A garden and some chickens would be a great start. Doesn't take much for a garden and the chickens won't need much.
 

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The alfalfa is probably 7 years old and getting pretty thin, it needs to be plowed under and a new crop rotated in.
When you take a crop you take away nutrients. In the case of hay you take ALL of the nutrients that plant pulled from the soil. If the previous landowner applied no fertilizer then you have a lot of P and especially K to replace.

Planting a cover crop, green manure, or rotating to another crop won't magically replace the nutrients that were removed from the soil. You have to replace the minerals with either manure or a commercial fertilizer.

Since the local agronomy center collected the sample, let them mix a blend to meet your needs and have it applied. Then you can plant a cover crop and start the process of rebuilding the soil.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Here is the results from the soil sample, there was another page with recommendations, I'll post that a little later. I'm still trying to decide on what to do for spring. I think it's too late to plow and plant winter wheat. Spring wheat may not be an option either without having the ground worked up this fall and I'd much rather have something on it through the winter to prevent erosion. Maybe oats planted a little later in spring? Two buckwheat crops may be possible as well, one for seed and one as plow-down green manure.
 

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