I am taking over a 10-acre field that was planted in winter
wheat last year (harvested last summer). I would like to plant
a hay crop (orchard grass and clover for cow hay) and would
like to do it without spraying. Would you recommend a tillage,
say disking, and then drilling the orchard grass seed mix?
I’m going to assume here that the straw was raked and
baled off after harvest so that the field was left relatively
free from the previous crop’s residue. I’m also
going to assume that some weeds have germinated from the time
the wheat was removed until the present.
If all of this is true, then to try starting any hay crop
without chemicals, tillage or nurse crops will most likely
end in failure.
If you want to get any type of hay started in the spring
organically, it’s best to do it with a nurse crop. In
your case, that probably means a full regimen of tillage,
then planting oats with the hay crop. The oats will germinate
quickly and protect the young hay seedlings from weed pressure
early in the season. By July, you’ll have three options:
harvest the oats as grain, cut them when they begin to head
out as green chop, or simply mow them off periodically until
the hay is established.
If you don’t mind some grain stubble mixed in, you
might be able to get one cutting from this planting by late
August or early September.
The big problem we have with spring establishment of these
hay crops in clear seedings is weed pressure. In spring, every
weed in the book wants a shot at growing. Hay crops (either
grass, alfalfa, or clove) are perennial, so they tend to start
slow out of the gate, making them poor competitors.
I know it sounds like a lot of work, but I would favor tillage
and using a nurse crop. The other option would be to grow
some other crop (almost anything), then plant wheat again
in the fall; then late next winter or early in spring, frost
seed the hay crop into the already established wheat. The
freezing and thawing of the soil pulls the small-seeded hay
crop into the soil and the wheat acts as the nurse crop.
Hope this helps, and good luck,
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