The ultimate goal for the Top Field system is to build a permanent pasture system for rotation-feeding Chickens in an avenue-cropping scheme, with fruit trees and edible/fruiting shrub, herb, subterranean and climbing layers on contour. The entire field area is about 90x30m (on average), and so far I have only been working on reviving the 20x20m block closest to the house, so it's going to take some time. Part of the reason for starting so "small and slow" is to gain practical experience with different cover-crop mixes and with planting timing and sequencing, but now it's time to start expanding our efforts a bit.
The basic sequence is to broadcast a mix of season-appropriate seeds -- the greater the variety, the better! -- directly into the tall (knee-high) standing grasses and "weeds", and then to follow up by slashing down all the tall growth to cover the seed and compost in place. This has been a bit hit-and-miss. Some plant varieties have performed quite well, while others clearly expect some gentler TLC and have failed to live up to our hopes.(Reminder to self: A good topic for another blog-post sometime...)
For each season, I want a mix of plants that includes at least:
- a legume or two for nitrogen-fixing
- a root crop capable of opening-up the upper layers of the soil and
- a deep-rooted variety that will create channels for water and nutrients all the way down to the underlying clay base, and will also dredge up nutrients from those deeper layers
- tall, leafy crops that will shade out the grass and eventually create a great bulk of organic mulch when I cut them down
If some of these are edibles, so much the better, but at this stage it's not a priority.
So, for the coming Winter, I have this list so far:
- White Mustard -- soil fumigant, good leaf bulk, bird forage and has done well in the field in the past.
- Oats -- a tall variety for shading and straw-bulk. Grains generally have done quite well, though by themselves they cannot produce enough shade.
- Sweet Lupin -- N-fixer, legume, strong taproot and well suited to our heavy soil.
- Rape or a large Kale -- leafy, quick to decompose and good through Winter around here.
- Fodder Radish/Turnip/Beet -- for those big roots to drill open the soil!
- Grazing Vetch/Purple Vetch -- Grazing Vetch is my first choice for its creeping growth habit which, I am hoping, will form a good live cover beneath the other crops, helping to smother grasses. Purple Vetch has a more upright growth habit, but is in there as a fallback option.
- Wheat/Rye/Barley/Barley-Wheat/Triticale -- any grain, really, mainly to feed the wildlife and Chickens if we get around to building the infrastructure we need in time.
- Cowpeas -- because legumes! Also, I have a bag handy that needs to be used before the seed gets too old.
The larger-seeded varieties will probably have to be drilled in after I have slashed down the Summer growth, so that's quite a lot of work, but the others should be quite quick and easy.