Thursday, May 07, 2009

Can You Hear the Grass Grow?

Lately when my wife has been out checking on the Dexters and making sure our new fence is working she claims that she can hear the grass growing when the sun is shining down (I've heard it popping as well). Hearing and seeing the grass growing this spring has made me do a lot of thinking about our forages and our soils. That is why I automatically jumped to the back page of this months issue of "Graze" when I saw the article titled, "Matching plants to soil type is no easy task". That was an article that I had to check out because our soils and our forages have been on my mind lately.

When I make the drive into town I drive past quite a few pastures and hay fields that are really starting to look pretty good with all of the sun and rain. When I get to our place I see green grass (and it is growing), but it isn't as thick and tall as many of the pastures I drive by. This is probably because of a combination of a couple things. First of all, I'm sure that many of those places (especially the hay fields) have some sort of soil amendment added for time to time and our pastures have been sitting idle for about 14 years. But secondly, I know that there are different grass types in all of those other fields. Our pastures have a good amount of warm season grasses instead of an even mix.

Anyways, this article really got me thinking about our soil ... the type ... the nutrients it has ... and the stuff that it is missing. Figuring out our ground will probably be one of the more difficult things for me to do because I don't have any background in that sort of thing, but it is something I'm looking forward to.

Have any thoughts or help?


John said...

Read the rotational grazing thread on the Cattle portion of Homesteading today, all 18 pages! It is so good, it now has a sticky.

Tons of ideas on how to develop the soil without lots of amendments.

Anonymous said...

Take a few soil samples in various parts of your pasture/s, and have them tested by your local extension office.

They should do this for a small, nominal fee.

It will give you the idea of mineral/ph content and soil types of the various areas of your pastures.

Where to go with that information from there, is up to you, but it will give you a place to start.

Anonymous said...

Another good resource is your local soil survey- available at the NRCS office. they will need to give you a lesson on how to use it, all it's tables, and info. It is amazing how helpful they are.

Your soil pH can make a huge difference. You need to get soil PH in the appropriate ranges for the kinds of forages that are suitable & desirable for your soil and production scheme. In general 6-7 is the ideal range for most grasses & legumes.

You need to do this before you think about seeding & fertilizing.


Grumpy Misanthrope said...

Yes, contact a soil testing firm and get your pasture tested. This will not only let you know what will grow best now, but what amending you might wish to look at to widen your possibilities.

Mike W. said...

The first year after CRP is the worst. Nothing harms a pasture like 14 years in CRP. We are starting our third year of grazing one pasture that was not mowed or grazed for about 10 years. The pasture is starting to get good after two years of grazing. I recommend you read Newman Turner's book, Fertility Pastures.

Rich said...

You might try to identify some of the grasses in your pasture. There is an index of grasses (both native and introduced) present in the southern plains (not sure how many are also present in Iowa) at:

And, there is a search based on grass characteristics at:

After you start to get an idea of what kinds of grasses you have, then you will have a 'baseline' to measure any improvements or setbacks in the years to come. You will also get an idea of what kind of forage gaps you might encounter and can work towards planting the types of grasses that are needed to fill those gaps.

Anonymous said...

Find out what grasses work best in your area by talking to those farmers you see when you are driving, find out what exactly they've got in their pastures and why. Then, decide on what philosophy of soil fertility you feel most comfortable with (perhaps a combo of a couple) and find an independent lab that will test according to those principles and go from there.

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