april 3rd, 2012


The Pigs nosing around.

The Earth is waking up. The snow has melted, and this morning a steady rain has settled over the hillside.

Spring is a time of a great burst of energy. Having been cooped up for the winter, I am happy to be outside, even if it means enduring mud and rain.

The soil is very workable right now, and we have many digging projects underway. One of the first things I worked during periods of fair weather in early March was seeding alfalfa in many newly delineated bed space in our primary perennial growing space and orchard we call the “courtyard”.

As we build more and more rich soil in the courtyard, we have been encountering major problems with invasive annual agricultural weeds. Cheat grass', common mallow, and wild lettuce are highly prevalent. Over the last year I continuously took the scyth to these weeds to try and slow them down, and to provide mid-summer forage for the sheep when the summer-slump of dry grass is settling in.

Where the pigs lived for a few weeks

My efforts were not all too successful, and the weeds are coming back again. This year our tactics are changing.

Throughout the fall and winter, we have been setting up mobile housing for the Pigs in various areas of he courtyard. Their tenacious drive to turn over soil has been wonderful. They have eaten a lot of the grass and broken up the sod, while aerating and manuring the soil. Basically, they prepared the soil to receive seeds.

To help rid the area of weeds we are seeding perennial alfalfa and native wheat and fescue grass. Perennial plants put down roots and invest in the long haul. We hope that the alfalfa and grasses will eventually choke out the weeds, while helping to stabilize soil and build more biomass overtime.

If these stands become well established, we will also be able to harvest and store hay in the late spring for the summer time forage slumps.

Seeding methods.

I have tried out a couple of seeding methods for the alfalfa this spring. Some of which utilized the soil the pigs turned over, and other methods I turned over the soil by hand.

A close up of the the same area.
A large area after mattocking.

In the areas where the pig where, I used the opportunity of massive soil disturbance to level out the growing space, this should allow more water to rest in the soil as opposed to running down hill. Once the soil was levelled out I took a pick-mattock (my preferred digging tool) and chopped up the top-soil so as to create a bunch of small furrows in the fluffy soil about 1 inch deep.

I then hand-broadcasted the inoculated alfalfa seed across the area at a seeding rate of ~20lb per acre. What that equates too in terms of hand broadcasting is about 1 handful of seed for a 3ft x 4ft area. I then knocked over the furrows with a rake.

Apprentice Ben with the sod cutting.

I worked on two areas without any prior pig disturbance. Because the sod was still present, it took a of of energy to break it open, turn over the sod and break it up into small pieces. Once the soil was relatively broken up I again made small furrows, seeded them and knocked the ridges over the seeds to cover them with about ½ inch of soil.

I also tried a slightly different method in one area. I took the pick mattock and cut our the sod in long rows running the along the contour of the slope. The sod was place just uphill of the row on top of the existing sod. I then moved to the uphill side of the mounded sod and cut another row, and repeated the process until I had a bunch of parallel furrows. I raked alfalfa seed into the areas without sod, and left the sod to compete with one another.

All of this seeding was a lot of work, but luckily the pigs were able to do most of the major earth moving.

Spring is definitely the time for large earth moving projects around here. The soil is at it's most workable, and after a long winter it is pleasant and seemingly appropriate to get out and play in the mud and spend some quality time with the soil that brings forth the plants we all depend on.