Way back in early October Tuesday wrote (Making A Meadow) about the preparation of the south line for planting. Well, the workload has slackened and I thought sharing the specifics regarding the meadow making plans on the south line might interest some. By the way, the meadow was completed later that month (Halloween day). Yep, probably should get the October activities written up before Christmas.
The southern property line of our farm borders another ten acre block of property that is also mainly pine scrub dominated by sand pine. This property hasn’t been touched for many decades which has resulted in a buildup of woody material and pine needles. You know, the perfect stuff to fuel one heck of a brush fire.
The decision to open the south and west lines for fencing and create firebreaks was of primary importance. Well, if you’ve never cut a firebreak, no worries, just put your head down and get stuck into it. Yep, pretty much just hack and slash. Once done you should have a nice wide swath of destruction right down the property line. Although this new void is a bit unnerving at first it does present some opportunities when it comes to increasing the overall carrying capacity of the land.
It’s not until the initial shock from the land disturbance has passed that the opportunity the new space presents can be pondered. The firebreak along the south line is about eighteen feet wide with some sections as wide as twenty-five feet. Not big enough for a full pasture and too wide for a simple path. What to do? Embrace nature’s way and make a meadow.
Converting the space into a meadow is the easiest way to exploit the newly created edge effect along the firebreak. No extensive stump removal or leveling of land is necessary which is welcomed since all the work is by hand. With hoe and rakes we just cleared the debris and and prepared the best seedbed we could. If all goes well the selected seed mix should start to outcompete any of the pioneer species (woody vegetation) cast by the remaining woodlands.
No good discussion regarding planting would be legit without first discussing the soil a bit. Our farm is located in Central Florida which means one thing when it comes to soil--SAND. There you go, there’s your soil conversation in one simple word. No complex delving into soil testing necessary. Sand is sand. Low on organic material as well as the basic N,P,K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) levels is the nature of the medium. With the overall forest ecology being pine dominant, pH levels are on the acidic side. No rocket science or time wasting with soil tests necessary. One additional thing to add is the general nature of subtropical and tropical soil profiles. Generally, in these climate regions naturally occurring soil fertility tends to establish itself and stay within the zone of the first five inches of soil. So, seeding that builds the soil profile with both organic matter and nutrients is necessary.
In the final stages of clearing the firebreak, burning lots of excess brush was necessary. Not much can be done with crooked tree tops other than returning them to the land. Ideally, chipping would have been the preferred method, but getting a good chipper onto the lot was not feasible.
The great thing about burning after the clearing is the fact that wood ash has a high pH. Scattering the wood ashes and char provides a good natural and cheap buffer. No liming necessary. The added benefit the char provides is increasing the capacity of the soil. It’s been cited that a piece of char the size of a pencil eraser has the same surface area as that of an average house roof. So, what’s all this mean? Well, adding char increases the surface area for microbes to grow within and upon while increasing the moisture holding capacity of the soil. This is the primary premise behind biochar.
So after clearing and burning, the ashes and char were scattered across the surface. As livestock graze and browse the meadow their hoof disturbance should crush the char and help distribute it further. Their manuring will also increase the overall fertility of the soil as well as increase the soil’s microbial spectrum. At the end of the day soil is a living ecosystem unto itself.
Finally comes the fun part--seeding. When considering what to plant, concentrating on end goals and outcomes rather than getting tied up in minutiae is the way to go as far as I’m concerned. Select the best seed that will help achieve the goals of soil and nutrient building while meeting livestock forage needs as it addresses the seasonality of planting time. The seeding of the south line meadow was done going into winter which means cool season legumes should serve as the backbone of seed selection. Simply put; clover, clover, clover.
Since the soil is nutrient poor, clovers are the obvious choice due to their nitrogen fixing properties. The clover mix used on the south line meadow was Dixie Reseeding Crimson with a touch of Dutch White and yellow sweet clovers. The secondary consideration for using clover was providing good forage for honey bees and pollinators in general. Goats and honey bees are the farm’s primary livestock concerns at this time and all plantings are chosen with them in mind. Another nice thing about Dixie Reseeding Clover is that it will not cause livestock bloat.
The secondary seed selection in the mix was annual ryegrass. The obvious reason for ryegrass is that it will grow well throughout the winter and peak in spring which should provide good forage for the goats. Also, ryegrass is a good soil builder. Ryegrass roots can dig deep into the sandy soil and help hold the soil in place. The deep roots will later die back once the heat of Florida’s summer takes over. All those deep, fibrous roots will add precious organic material to the soil and help nourish microbial life and retain moisture.
For our area of Central Florida this seed mix should peak by mid April and die out by mid May. By that time the warm season seeds should already be sown awaiting the wet season’s rains. Maybe I’ll get the write-up about that seed mix done before Labor Day, LOL. //mr
In 2014 a couple of 40-somethings decided to make a change. The purchase of 10 raw, pine scrub acres along Florida's Nature Coast started it all. This is that story!