I don’t own a tractor.
There may come a time when I change my mind, but I actually hope to never own one if I can help it.
But I still could use some earth turned from time to time.
Fortunately I have pigs.
And they can beautifully plow up a field. I have struggled to bury a shovel blade in the same soil that my pigs move through with seemingly no effort.
And they only use their nose!
Pigs are amazing animals.
This same plowing efficiency is why some people do not want pigs in their pastures. That’s understandable. Especially if it is a good pasture. The pigs will tear it up.
The key to grazing pigs on pasture… and yes, I do mean grazing… my pigs love fresh grass! …but the key to grazing pigs on pasture is to make sure the soil and pasture are not destroyed by the pigs in their process of tearing it up.
And that’s not a contradiction.
A pasture that is torn up and left with patches of bare soil has the real possibility of being destroyed. A pasture that is torn up and then quickly covered again with grasses and other pasture plants is not destroyed, but is stable or even improved.
And this is the process we are implementing on our farm.
Our farm has some areas of pretty good pasture and really bad pasture. Not surprisingly, the worst areas are on the ridges of our many hills. The topsoil is very shallow or even non-existent and has almost no organic matter.
These infertile, poor-soil ridges are the perfect place for our pigs.
Here’s our plan:
We set up a paddock on the ridges. We use poly braid electric fencing with a portable electric solar charger. The paddock will not extend too far on either side of the ridge where the pigs can cause significant erosion. We just want the soil turned over. We add hay to the paddock. The pigs eat some of this, but mainly they nest in it at night. After a few days, and this all depends on the size of the paddock and how much rain we get, the paddock will be sufficiently pig-plowed, and the pigs will be ready to be moved to the next paddock. The day before we move the pigs, we will broadcast seed in the pigs’ paddock. The pigs will trample the seeds into the soft earth. The manure and hay will add a good amount of organic matter to start the soil rebuilding process. The seeds will bring even more biomass and biodiversity to rebuild the soil and pastures.
This brings us to the seed.
I have many requirements and desires on pasture species. Therefore my seed list is very diverse.
Here’s the basis of our seed selection:
We desire pasture plants that can feed our animals. We desire plants that produce a lot of biomass (leaves, blades, stems, roots, etc.) to build the soil. We desire plants that can pull nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it into the soil. We desire plants that can break up our clay soil and subsoil compaction. We desire plants that have deep roots that can withstand drought and pull nutrients from deep in the subsoil. We desire plants that increase soil microorganisms and life in general. We desire plants that yield a steady progression of flowers through the season to provide pollen and nectar for pollinators. We desire plants that provide habitat and food sources for beneficial insects.
That is a lot of desires for a seed. No one plant can do all that. There are some species that fulfill many of these requirements, but we also desire to increase the biodiversity of our pastures.
The bulk of our seeding will be using the Walnut Creek Seed Super Soil Builder Mix. This is a mix of species that will meet the majority of our desires in pasture plants. The seed mix includes:
- Field Pea
- Cow Pea
- Sunn Hemp
- Pearl Millet
- Ethiopian Cabbage
We will also be sprinkling in a small amount of seed from Prairie Moon Nursery every time we seed with the Super Soil Builder. These are seeds from prairie plants native to North America. The majority of these species had original distribution over much of the east, including my home in Tennessee. These plants will fulfill our desire for pollen, nectar, and habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. They will also greatly increase the biodiversity in our pastures as there are over 100 species in our mix!
The species from Prairie Moon Nursery include:
- Wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia)
- Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
- Yellow Giant Hyssop (Agastache neptoides)
- Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
- Prairie Onion (Allium stellatum)
- Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis)
- Pasque Flower (Anemone patens var. wolfgangiana)
- Tall Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)
- Rose Milkweed (Asclepias incarnate)
- Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
- Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticallata)
- Heath Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum ericoides)
- Smooth Blue Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum laeve)
- Calico Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum lateriflorus)
- New England Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
- Sky Blue Aster (Aster or Symphyotrichum oolentangiensis)
- Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis)
- White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba)
- Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis)
- Decurrent False Aster (Boltonia decurrens)
- Pale Indian Plantain (Cacalia or Arnoglossum atriplicifolium)
- Great Indian Plantain (Arnoglossum reniforme)
- Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)
- Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)
- Pasture Thistle (Cirsium discolor)
- Lance-Leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
- White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)
- Leafy Prairie Clover (Dalea foliosa)
- Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
- Illinois Bundle Flower (Desmanthus illinoensis)
- Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense)
- Illinois Tick Trefoil (Desmodium illinoensis)
- Midland Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
- Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
- Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
- Bush’s Coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa)
- Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
- Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata)
- Biennial Gaura (Gaura biennis)
- Cream Gentian (Gentiana flavida)
- Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)
- Showy Sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus)
- Early/False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
- Rose Mallow (Hibiscus laevis)
- Great St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
- Kankakee Mallow (Iliamna remota)
- False Boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides)
- Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata)
- Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis)
- Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)
- Marsh Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
- Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata)
- Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
- Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
- Glade Mallow (Napaea dioica)
- Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
- Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis)
- Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
- Tube Beardtongue (Penstemon tubaeflorus)
- Narrow-Leaved Obedient Plant (Physostegia angustifolia)
- Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana)
- Prairie Cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta)
- Slender Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)
- Hairy Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var.pilosum)
- Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
- Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
- Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
- Sweet Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)
- Brown-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
- Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis)
- Late Figwort (Scrophularia marilandica)
- Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa)
- Maryland Senna (Senna marilandica)
- Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
- Rosin Weed (Silphium integrifolium)
- Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)
- Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
- Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum)
- Stout Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium)
- Grass-Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia)
- Early Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
- Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
- Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
- Purple Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum)
- Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
- Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
- Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta)
- Yellow Crownbeard (Verbesina helianthoides)
- Common Ironweed (Veronia fasciculate)
- Missouri Ironweed (Veronia missurica)
- Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
- Heart-Leaf Golden Alexanders (Zizia aptera)
- Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
- Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens)
- New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)
- Shrubby St. John’s Wort (Hypericum prolificum)
- Early Wild Rose (Rosa blanda)
- Big Bluestem PLS (Andropogon gerardii)
- Side-Oats Grama PLS (Bouteloua curtipendula)
- Bebb’s Oval Sedge (Carex bebbii)
- Plains Oval Sedge (Carex brevior)
- Brown Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)
- Canada Wild Rye PLS (Elymus canadensis)
- Virginia Wild Rye PLS (Elymus virginicus)
- Dudley’s Rush (Juncus dudleyi)
- June Grass PLS (Koeleria macrantha)
- Switch Grass PLS (Panicum virgatum)
- Little Bluestem PLS (Schyzachyrium scoparium)
- Indian Grass PLS (Sorghastrum nutans)
- Rough Dropseed (Sporobolus asper)
- Prairie Dropseed PLS (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Note: There are a few of the species listed here that may be toxic to livestock. Then why would I add them to our fields where our sheep and pigs and other animals may eat them? First, none of the species are extremely toxic. Second, toxicity is almost always dose dependent… meaning, a little bit will not cause trouble. If a whole paddock was filled with a mildly toxic plant, then yes, an animal could be harmed. But we are adding so few of each plant, that I am not concerned about this. Third, these are native prairie plants that have been grazed by herbivores on this continent for thousands and thousands of years before modern humans altered the ecosystem… meaning, grazing animals have and can live in harmony with these plants. Fourth, when animals have a choice, and that is key, they will choose the plants their bodies need. Many of these “toxic” plants are likely medicinal to the animals in small quantities. If herbivores have plenty of options for grazing, they will eat what is needed and desired, and not more. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but in light of the other reasons listed above, I believe the benefit from this huge increase in biodiversity is worth the very small risk.
As this system matures, I will add photos!
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