Nothing makes a farmer sad faster than a drought.

Grass doesn’t grow. Soil dries up.

And that’s under normal conditions.

We are in year 2 of regenerating a property that was previously cropped. So our ground cover and soil health are nowhere near where we need them for withstanding a dry, hot summer.  

We’ve got some scorched earth and a lot of annual weeds outcompeting the yound perennial grasses we’ve planted. It would be easy to start freaking out.

Luckily, we have two strategies to make it through:

1.      Feeding hay that we’ve purchased (ideally for the winter)

2.     Planting annual forages with a no-till seeder

Both options are expensive, and not ideal. But they aren’t just ways to get by. They are long term investments in the health of our land.

  • Purchased hay is just a 1,000-pound bale of fertility and pasture seed. So instead of leaving the animals in one area, we are continuing to rotate them (slowly) around the property, and unrolling the hay in the fields to spread that goodness around.

  • Annual grasses and legumes will grow under pretty dire conditions. Their survival depends on aggressive growth and reproduction, not sticking around for the long haul. (The main image here is our 8 species cover crop, growing despite the weather)

  • The hay and annuals provide food for the cows, but they also ‘waste’ a lot by walking on it. The trampled hay and grasses cover the soil, allowing it to stay moist and fertile during dry spells, and finally decomposing and incorporating into the soil as organic matter.

  • In the fall when it gets too cold for our summer annuals, they will die off, leaving root systems several feet deep. Those deep roots can help break through compaction in the soil, but they also decompose, leaving behind an organic matter bank stretching across soil layers

  • All that organic matter is made of carbon, which can hold about 8x its weight in water, so instead of running off or puddling up, the rain we do get will be held in the soil. (For context, just a 1% increase in soil organic matter can hold an additional Olympic swimming pool worth of water across just a few acres…)

A few seasons from now, our fields might not even notice a dry summer like this. The farms we learned our methods from can grow lush forage under harsh conditions, thanks to fertile soil storing plenty of water. We can’t wait until our land can do the same!

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