ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’ s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

How do I thicken my new hay planting?

Posted July 12, 2007

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

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Dear Jeff,

Last September I sprayed a field to kill off the fescue, then planted brome, orchardgrass and bluegrass. It is coming up nicely, but I will not hay it this year. Now I wonder if I should cut it before the seeds develop to get a thicker root growth, or let it seed out to promote new plant growth? I would like it as thick as possible. What do you think?

Rich Robbins


Dear Rich,

There are several things to consider beyond the growth stage of the grasses you planted. First, if you cut the grass and don't bale it, be sure it isn't too thick, so it doesn’t smother itself and slow the regrowth. If you don't cut the grass, be sure perennial weed species are not creeping into the field to choke out the young grass. And finally, a cutting late in the season to prevent the grass from smothering itself through the winter may be a good idea. It sounds like you're off to a good start.

Most of the grasses you planted like to be cut, and mowing can actually thicken up the stand, assuming the grass isn't too young and that it’s well-enough established. If you planted it in September you could easily take one cutting this year as hay without damaging the field. This depends mostly on the weed pressure, and mowing will be the best defense you'll have against that.

Good luck, and keep us posted on how it comes along.