I've been making hay for years, and I'm located in a part
of the country where there simply aren't any farms left. Most
of my hay goes to contractors. The lack of farms means that
there aren't sources of manure. I'm loath to use chemical
fertilizers on my land, but I want to keep the soil as healthy
as possible (from a county soil test I've got to do some liming,
but we're in good shape otherwise). I'm concerned that if
I keep "withdrawing" hay without adding any other
nutrients, my fields will eventually run down. I want to add
humus and nitrogen to my soil. I know about crack seeding
of clover and alfalfa in the winter, but I'm wondering about
overseeding my hayfields with oats or winter rye as well in
early fall. In the case of oats, the oats grow some but then
die during the winter. Would that help to keep my fields healthy?
In the case of hay and no manure, can you make any suggestions
as to what I might try?
You bring up a challenging question. You are right on target
when you suggest that constant taking without replacing will
eventually lead to degenerating soil health and poor-quality
hay. All the hay we produce is grown as part of a diverse
rotation that includes row crops, small grains and forage.
Your idea of interseeding the hay fields is a good one. You
might try a no-till drill to re-seed the fields, but be aware
that if you have alfalfa already in the field you won't be
able to re-seed alfalfa into it. Alfalfa into alfalfa won't
work. You might be able to make compost from sources other
than animal manures, like leaves or grass clipping from local
municipalities, food waste from institutions or some other
compostable byproducts from your area. This would potentially
put humus and micro nutrients back into the soil. Oats will
winter kill, as you say; rye would grow well and make decent
hay in the spring.
Good Luck with your enterprise.