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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