ONE GREAT TIP FOR LIFE ON A BLOCK
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.