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Legumes and Grasses and Weeds, Oh My!

One of the fringe benefits of my new job is the ability to take courses at UNH.  At first, I considered working towards another Masters, or even a PhD.  I started looking through the catalog at the course titles, but “Fun with Complex and Imaginary Numbers,” “Astrophysics For English Majors,” and “Advanced Intermediate Navel-Gazing” just didn’t inspire me.

Then I happened upon the Thompson School of Agriculture courses.  Now we were talking.  I considered “AGRI101: Using Farm Machinery without Losing Appendages,” but I hadn’t taken the prerequisite, “MEDI401: Studies on Tourniquet Application.”  Instead, I settled on “Forage and Grassland Management,” which was a timely offering considering the work we have to do on our two pastures.

Actually, we only have one pasture.  It’s the one the horses graze and romp in for a good portion of every day.  The other bit of land that is fenced and looks like a pasture from afar is our “rough” pasture.  “Rough” in our context means that if I were trying to raise poisonous Pin Cherries, allergens like Milkweed and Goldenrod, and a rock garden, I’d be done.  Here’s a pic of me trying to balance the pH a bit with some wood ash, as well as clear out some of the slash from our cleanup after Irene.

Burning Brush in our Back Pasture

The front pasture is prettier, but it still needs help, as you can see in this pic from early Spring.

Zip and Jasper in the front Pasture

We tested the soil this Spring and the lab said the nutrients were “excessively low,” as in somewhere between sifted beach sand and playground dirt.  The pH level indicated it was somewhat acidic – I recall some warning about not allowing skin to come in contact with the soil for more than five seconds.  The extension office made these recommendations: “Apply lime and wood ash at the rate of two tons per acre” (no joke) and “fertilize… a lot.”

I’ve applied the lime, we’re working on the ash, and I’ve got a bit over two tons of well-composted manure just waiting to go on the field  at the end of the season.  Once I get the soil a bit closer to where it’s supposed to be, I need to decide what to try to grow and how to make that happen.  This course is just the ticket.

The course itself is pretty interesting.  The lectures cover grasslands, different forage species, and management considerations.  We spend the “labs” wandering fields, identifying different forages and weeds and talking about them.  It’s definitely a lot more enjoyable than sitting in front of a screen manipulating arrays to assess the effects of complex gravitational fields.

The final project for this course is due in November.  The basic requirement is to collect 15 forages and 15 weeds, and display them with a brief description.  I’ve decided to make it a bit more practical, gathering specimens that either are on the Flying T property or ones I would like to have.

The 15 weeds will be easy.  In addition to the milkweed and goldenrod, we’ve got a good crop of quackgrass, foxtail, crabgrass, thistles, chickweed, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t quite identify.  One thing we don’t have a lot of which is very common around here is poison ivy, so we’re thankful for that.

Forages are a bit more difficult, but I’m moving along on this also.  Our front pasture is primarily Kentucky bluegrass, Redtop (bentgrass), and white clover, with some smooth bromegrass, orchardgrass, and red clover as well.  Reeds canarygrass, vetch, purselane, and even a small amount of birdsfoot trefoil all grow in the periphery.  Of course we’ve got some cattail down at the beaver pond, and I’m actually thinking about harvesting a small batch of it and hanging it to dry along with some of the larger stands of canarygrass.  I think the goats might enjoy it as a midwinter treat.  If that goes well, we may make that a bigger activity next year.

My plan is to amplify the project a bit further, and over the course of the semester, I’ll start adding posts to the blog about what I’m learning about individual species of forages and weeds.  Hopefully some readers will find this informative and useful.

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