Soil health, or will anything grow here?

I read a lot. I majored in Russian literature in college, a fact that has had zero to do with the various occupations that I’ve had as an adult, but it did prepare me to read and retain lots of details. Though I still occasionally read fiction, most of my spare time is used reading technical manuals and farming related texts. Since moving to the farm, I’ve spent a lot of time reading various agronomy texts (soil science for the uninitiated). You would be surprised how much animal (and people) health is related to soil  health.

Back in November, I took a dozen or so soil samples to our local Soil and Conservation office to be analyzed by a local agronomy lab. The results give a pretty good indication of soil health– levels for organic matter, ph, and micronutrients are contained on the report, along with recommended levels for each.

Now that you have the information about your pasture or field, what do you do with it?!! According to most old timers and farming professionals that I’ve spoken to, most fields can use more lime. What does lime do– well, lots of things, most of which are complicated and beyond the scope of a blog post. Suffice to say, lime changes the ph of the soil and can make certain nutrients more bioavailable for plants to grow. In our case, the soils here in Southern Ohio are mostly clay, which tends to be more alkaline.

What to plant? Well, that depends. I have small ruminants, goats and sheep. Sheep thrive on pastures with legumes and clover. Some species of clover dies out and must be reseeded, either manually or just through pasture management. In Joel Salatin’s “Salad Bar Beef,” he offered that he has been able to rejuvenate pastures solely through intensive grazing, saying that seed remains viable and dormant for many years and proliferate when soil conditions are right. I do not doubt such claims, but I don’t own cattle, so I’ll have to bite the bullet and purchase seed to get started. Besides, there are a few species that I would like to have in the pasture for bees/pollination in addition to feed for the sheep.

I am not ignoring the goats, but they are browsers and not grazers. Though we purchase hay for them and purchase feed, I plan to seed lespedeza as a natural parasite inhibitor. We’ll have to see whether it works.


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