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Hi guys. I have an old piece of pasture that was used by the previous owner for keeping his beef cattle in. It's something like 12 acres. Soil is described on survey as a 'light clay'. Well it looks like he really over stocked it and never attempted to amend or repair that patch. There are huge ruts and mounds from when it was wet and those cattle stomped all-round in it. Ther doesn't appear to be any top soil just some sparse weedy growth and lots of bald clay.

I was thinking maybe I could manure, disk, then plant some buckwheat or something that might help. I feel that if i could get almost anything to grow there it would be on the road to recovery. Any ideas/advice/suggestions?
 

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Cover crop, cover crop and more cover crops.
Which ones? I've heard something called 'forage radish' has a deep tap root and is good for breaking up compaction. But they also say buckwheat is a your 'grow anywhere fast' cover crop.

I only have experience with winter rye, but might not be the best choice in this case.
 

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Cover crops, cover crops cover crops is good advice. But to speed up the process, Rustoholic has it right. I'm working on getting grasses to grow in a sandy, infertile area. Nothing green has taken hold in this area for 6 years of it being ignored. A couple of months ago, I spread a load of wood chips I brought home from the local dump over half that area and there is already a remarkable improvement.

Where the chips are thick, I have mushrooms growing amongst the grasses. Where the chips are thin, the grass is doing great now. I think the chips hold water but also give the grass roots something to hold on to and the microbes that feed the grass a place to live.

An alternative to wood chips would be free or almost free waste hay for sale. I can buy large round bales for $10. They have sit out in the weather too long to be used as feed and the farmers are happy to be rid of them. But i find the chips easier to work with.
 

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Location always helps in threads like this, what I do in Minnesota might be down right foolish in South Carolina, and so on....

1. What is the soil ph? Mine is too high, 6-8ph, not much to do about it. Ph should be 6.5 or so. Under 6 and you have problems, near 5 and it doesn't matter what your soil fertility is, the acid in the soil will clamp on to the nutrients and not allow the roots to pry them loose.easy to fix with lime, but you need to know where you are at so you don't make a different problem? You -need- to know the soil ph.

2. An overworked pasture that is wet, often has oddball problems. The rest of the soil test will tell you how much salt, how much P, how much K are on the soil, as well as other things. CEC calculations will tell you how much nutrients your type of soil can hold, roughly.

So, what is the soil test?

From there you fix what is wrong. Through money at what needs fixing the worst:

1. Ph
2. Salt
3. N, P, K
4. Organic matter (slow process)
5. Actually this should be higher, forgot, drainage, would be part of the salt deal...

Cover crops are -great- if you have problems that cover crops can solve. I use thrm a lot on my farm. But you need to fix ph and other issues first.

Some areas you just know are low ph, or have salt issues, or too high a ph, and can start in. But, the soil test lets you know where you are starting at, what problem is the worst one, etc. cover crops are not magic and can't fix everything. They are just a part of it.

I me it if it needs it. Or learn to work with crops that like high ph soils if yours is high.

Add the P or K that is needed, manure, organic or commercial fertilizers, but get the types that supply what is lacking, don't over apply the others. Sometimes cattle raise P very high, and lower other nutrients, and add salt - fix what is wrong, don't add stuff in the wrong direction.

Tile it if its wet, or deep till it to break up any hard pan that has formed. Or plant crops that deal well with wet roots. (Tillage radishes hate wet soils, so might not work for you for example?)

For a cover crop, you like a mix of a grass (rye, oats, etc for erosion control and organic matter buildup), a legume for nitrogen (unless this was a cattle yard and the soil is overly high in N already - a clover, alfalfa, trefoil, bean, etc), and a special use - radish or turnip to go deep and store nutrients on top of the ground (not in wet soils, need nutrients deeper in the soil for the roots to pull up), buckwheat, something that does well in sand or wet ground or high salt.....

There just isn't one magic mixture.

The more you know about your ground, the more you can fix it in less time.

So, what do you have, what does your soil need most?

Your plan to manure, disk and plant an organic matter crop might be perfect, it is for some soils, but where are we starting from? :)

I make this sound complicated, it can be pretty easy, just a basic $25 soil sample, maybe even free through your local extension service, will let you know what direction to go and work from.

Paul
 

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Cover crops, cover crops cover crops is good advice. But to speed up the process, Rustoholic has it right. I'm working on getting grasses to grow in a sandy, infertile area. Nothing green has taken hold in this area for 6 years of it being ignored. A couple of months ago, I spread a load of wood chips I brought home from the local dump over half that area and there is already a remarkable improvement.

Where the chips are thick, I have mushrooms growing amongst the grasses. Where the chips are thin, the grass is doing great now. I think the chips hold water but also give the grass roots something to hold on to and the microbes that feed the grass a place to live.

An alternative to wood chips would be free or almost free waste hay for sale. I can buy large round bales for $10. They have sit out in the weather too long to be used as feed and the farmers are happy to be rid of them. But i find the chips easier to work with.
We seem to be thinking alike Deke01.
I was short on time when I wrote that above but as I was posting it I was thinking I really should have mentioned old hay. You should see the great soil under the twelve bales of hay I left outside for three years. As they were rotting down all that great stuff went into the soil. What is left of the bales is broken down into a wonderful mulch for around plants.
Leaves are good too.
Go to http://www.backtoedenfilm.com and see the film.

Deke01 those mushrooms are doing great things for the soil too.
 

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http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition

Here's free download on just about every cover crop known to man and what it will add for organic matter, N retention, what ph it thrives in etc.

You really have to look at what your long term goals are. If it's hilly land prone to erosion tilling or subsoiling might not be an option and ground hog radishes might be your only option to help bust up a hardpan if there is one.

I've been rotating cover crops in a few areas around my place and after about 3 years its starting to show. Fall I'll plant rye or winter wheat. Mow down with a flail mower in the spring and drill in oats or buckwheat in the summer with some clover than mow that down before fall and go back with rye.

I never have once tilled it other than initially. My soil is very sandy so if I roll the dirt all I bring up is sand so I let some vegetation build up on top and then just let it compost down. I have an old John deere grain drill that I picked up for 200 dollars and 1 1/2 times the recommended # per acre and have had really good success with germination without tilling.
 

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A lot of hay to cover 12 acres.... same w/ wood chips. 100 yards (a small semi load) will do around 1-1.5 acres....
A valid point. But it took centuries to build top soil on that land and that top soil is now worn out, eroded, nutrient deficient, over grazed, or whatever else. The OP can wait centuries or try to accelerate the process. Cover cropping may be the best way to fix large acreage, but it still takes years and money. Importing carbon will speed the process, even if it is not feasible to entirely cover that large of an area.
 
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