NZ Lifestyle Block - - Village Green -

RYE­GRASS AND CLOVER tend to grow like weeds. They are a won­der­ful suc­cess story in NZ, help­ing to cre­ate this na­tion’s im­mense farm­ing wealth.

A mix of rye and clover is still the ba­sis of most pas­ture on farms of ev­ery size, ef­fi­ciently grow­ing beau­ti­ful milk and meat. But what if that is not your only goal? Or your soil or cli­mate don’t pro­vide the op­ti­mum grow­ing con­di­tions all year-round?

Those are both is­sues on my north-east Waikato block. Over sum­mer, it’s very dry and the rye­grass and clover col­lapse in the heat, leav­ing a dust­bowl.

Then there is my live­stock of choice: goats and horses. Th­ese are a match made in heaven as they don’t share par­a­sites, so while the horses graze, the goat worms die off. While the goats graze, the horse worms die off.

When it comes to weed con­trol, they work well to­gether, the picky horse com­ple­mented by the rel­a­tively flex­i­ble graz­ing pref­er­ences of the goat. Where goats are picky, it’s in a good way; they’re not that fussed on clover, which means you get great swathes of free ni­tro­gen­fix­ing go­ing on.

Rye and clover for horses and goats is about the same as some­one eat­ing sugar and cheese all day: you tend to turn to fat and go on a crazed sugar high, es­pe­cially in spring, so I was look­ing for al­ter­na­tives when it came time to re­sow my big­gest pad­dock. It was just over 1ha (2.5 acres) and com­ing out of maize crop­ping. The soil was in an ap­palling state, so light and fluffy you could sink up to your knees in it, only stop­ping when you hit a hard ‘pan’ of soil which was so com­pacted, my quite ro­bust weight on a newly-sharp­ened spade didn’t make a dent in it. There were no worms to be seen in hun­dreds of holes I dug all over it. What I did find over the next two years or so was maize roots and leaves (pre­vi­ously ploughed in by the con­trac­tor) look­ing ex­actly the same as the day they’d gone un­der­ground. There was just no soil bac­te­ria or bi­ol­ogy of any kind to break it down.

The an­swer to th­ese prob­lems turned out to be an­other plant. I first read about chicory and her­bal leys in an oldie (but a goodie), Fer­til­ity Farm­ing by New­man Turner.

A con­trac­tor sowed 40kg of rye and white clover into that soil, along with 2kg of chicory and a smat­ter­ing of plan­tain and red clover. The rye and white clover never ap­peared, but the chicory went crazy and I was con­verted.

Sadly, it doesn’t last long, dis­ap­pear­ing out of the pas­ture af­ter 4-5 years, but it did its job. The hard pan slowly dis­in­te­grated un­der pres­sure from thou­sands of deeply-pen­e­trat­ing roots, and worms be­gan to ap­pear in test holes. Slowly and then with grow­ing pace, rye and clover started to emerge as the chicory nat­u­rally faded away.

I’ve planted more than a thou­sand trees, veg­etable gar­dens, wild­flow­ers, an orchard, but the best plant of all is chicory.

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