FIELD and PASTURE DEVELOPMENT & RESTORATION

There's a lot to discuss about Field and Pasture Development & Restoration. Everyone wants a beautiful field or pasture but they always want it...NOW. The beautiful tall grasses swaying in the breeze that many of us remember from "Little House on the Prairie" takes years to establish. This endeavor is nothing like establishing a lawn because most small land owners do not have the luxury of irrigation as we do with our lawns. Unless the property is sub-irrigated or already has a dedicated well for irrigation you will likely be at the mercy of mother nature just as the majority of landowners...me included.

For me, this business service is one of love and frustration. I absolutely love establishing the "dream" field but the fact is that I nor any other man have any control over the outcome. This one belongs to Mother Nature. Man can do everything by the book from preparing the soil and getting the seed in the ground but cannot control the inevitable heat, drought, freeze, flooding, etc. that will follow at some point in the future, therefore comes the frustration.

Most of the sought after fields and pastures are already established and have been around for many many years. Starting from scratch will take time, patience and money. It doesn't stop with simply putting the seed in the ground and walking away. There's constant follow-up from reseeding bare areas, fertilizing, weed control and more. And if you have or intend to graze livestock of any kind on it then you're in for a real surprise because all they do is eat which means you WILL have a challenge ahead of you. Fields and pastures that are grazed with little negative affects are very large acreages.  They aren't the typical 5-20 acres properties that you'll likely be homesteading on. Therefore my goal here is to present a picture of establishing new fields and pastures from start to.......never ending care and maintenance.
You must first ask yourself the following questions;


1. Will I have the means to care for the land?
    - Funds?
    - Equipment: Tractor, Mower, Fertilizer Applicator, Herbicide and Pesticide applicator?
    - Is there adequate irrigation?
    - Time?

2. What are my intentions for the land?
    - Raising Livestock?
        - Is there enough space for livestock and the ability to rotate them through multiple fields for grazing to prevent over-foraging??
        - Will there be enough forage for livestock?
        - Are there potentially poisonous plants that could harm the livestock?        
    - Weed Control?
    - Natural Beauty?

3. What crop or forage grasses is best suited for the existing soil type and conditions?
If you've considered the questions posed and are ready to take the journey then lets look at the timeline and steps to Developing or Restoring your Field or Pasture. The following are general steps and timelines that may vary from one property to another.



Step 1.  SOIL TESTING: 

Have the soil tested by a certified lab to determine the nutritional value of the soil. This will provide you with extremely valuable information so the soil can be amended as needed, otherwise you WILL be throwing away your hard earned money if you attempt to see in poor soil. 
NOTE: If I'm to be hired to establish your field or pasture I WILL NOT do so without soil testing. I send soil samples to Soiltest Farm Consultants, Inc. in Moses Lake, WA. They specialize in the testing of soil, plants, feed & forage, water, compost and animal waist. The soil test (S-2) I commonly have done provides the recommended fertilizer mixture and lbs. per acre and costs $36.00 per test (as of 2018). The ground should be thoroughly analyzed for variations in soil density, vegetation (weed or grass) and moisture. You may need to have multiple tests done since not all soil is created equal. What's good for one area isn't necessarily good for another.
Step 2.    WEED ERADICATION

This can be a sensitive issue for many people who do not want to introduce herbicides to their plants or soil but without weed eradication the new grass CANNOT compete against these established and invasive weeds.  These weeds have very deep root systems, sometimes reaching as deep as 6 feet which means they are always down into the moist soil and getting the needed water for survival. They also rob the soil of almost all of the nutrients needed by the grasses, choking out the grass over time. The best source of information regarding weeds in around Spokane County is the Spokane County Noxious Weed Control Board
WEED CONTROL STRATEGY & TIMING

When developing a weed control strategy for a property, an important detail to understand is that it's not possible to completely eliminate weeds with a single application or cultural practice. There is no silver bullet that kills all weeds and an effective program adjusts to the needs of the property on a seasonal or annual basis. Proper weed control strategy should target living weeds as well as dormant seeds in the soil. Therefore a pre-emergent herbicide must be used but it comes at a cost. It will delay the seeding process as the pre-emergent will attack the grass seeds as well.
All weeds have a survival strategy and cannot be completely eliminated because they have different life cycles and methods of reproduction. Seeds can lay dormant for years before they germinate, surviving drought, fire, and herbicide applications. Even if you were to completely clear a property of seeds, seed and vegetative propagules can easily be transported to the property by wind, water, animals or human activity.
To get a better idea of how pre-emergent works, let's look at 3 key principles of pre-emergent weed control.

Principle #1: Pre-emergent herbicides are designed to control germinating weed seeds.

As its name suggests, pre-emergent is targeted towards weeds that have not yet emerged from the soil. To get the best results and to avoid wasting time and labor cost down the road, the weeds shouldn't be visible above ground at the time of application.

Important: Pre-emergent is not designed to control existing weeds or weed seeds. Therefore the proper herbicide targeted to eradicate living weeds is used in addition to a pre-emergent.

The weed will only be killed when it begins to sprout from the seed and hits the herbicide barrier. It is possible for seeds to remain dormant and not be harmed by the pre-emergent herbicide application. This is why weed control is a constant process. There will always be seeds under the surface and a portion will germinate each season. Annual applications may have to be made to significantly reduce large infestations.

Remember, pre-emergent herbicide can affect desirable plants. That includes grasses. Caution must be taken if you're applying pre-emergent and seeding in the same season. Seed first, then apply pre-emergent at least 6 weeks later to allow for field and pasture establishment. Or seed at least 3 months after the pre-emergent has been applied. Some chemicals may require up to 12 months before seeding. This will be determined by the season (Spring or Fall) that you plan to seed.

Principle #2: Pre-emergent must be mixed correctly and applied evenly over the target area for best results.

Pre-emergent herbicides need to be mixed correctly for the spray solution to be at the appropriate strength. Take the time to read the manufacturer's recommendations and don't forget to calibrate your sprayer!

Thorough coverage is key. Think of pre-emergents like a blanket – you need to cover an entire area through which the weed seeds cannot germinate. Spot spraying achieves nothing, as there is plenty of open space for weeds to come through. Manufacturer instructions will indicate how much product to use “per 1000 square feet” or “per acre”, which determines how much herbicide to use for each gallon of water. Note that it usually takes 1 to 2 gallons of spray solution to cover 1000 square feet.

Principle #3: Pre-emergent herbicide must be watered in.

Watering in activates the herbicide, creating a barrier just below the surface. Most products call for 0.5 inches of irrigation or rain within 21 days after application.

If you're working with a non-irrigated area, apply the pre-emergent just before rain is anticipated.
INVASIVE GRASS ERADICATION

Most people have never heard of invasive grasses but they can be more difficult to eradicate than weeds. This is due to the fact that common herbicides used to eradicate weeds do not work on most grasses. To eradicate the grass means you must kill the wanted native grasses along with the invasive ones. Basically this means to "Round-up" everything. Round-up will eradicate "all" living (green) vegetation but does nothing to affect dormant seeds in the soil. 

These grasses grow in very dense patches, overtaking a field or pasture in no time. Unlike weeds with deep root systems these grasses have shallow root systems and are adaptive to dry conditions needing minimal moisture. This means these grasses will survive where the wanted forage grasses will die off from the lack of moisture and nutrients consumed by these invasive grasses.

Grazing can help keep these grasses under control but will not eradicate them. They also have no nutritional value for livestock. They simply eat it because it's there. The fine seed heads can cause serious problems for horses grazing on them as they can bury into the mouth and require veterinary assistance which comes with a nice veterinary bill. They're also a problem and concern for dogs, getting stuck and buried into their ears. 

Cheatgrass
Bulbous Bluegrass
Unidentified
Cheatgrass can be identified by it's large and slender seed heads that have a red to purple hue in the spring and early summer which turn brown after dormancy in the heat of summer. The seed heads also tend to "droop" over as seen in the upper left picture. It's considered as a common weed of heavily grazed range lands, pastures and disturbed sites. The inflorescence is loosely flowered and the lemmas have awns 12-18 mm long. The herbage is usually softly pubescent. It provides forage in the early spring for some species of wildlife and is palatable to cattle in winter and early spring but lacks quantity.

In the Palouse winter wheat country of the Pacific Northwest, at high density, it reduces wheat yields by an average of 27%. It can reduce seed yield of winter rye as much as 33%. In winter wheat and alfalfa fields, it is especially troublesome, because of its ability to reproduce prior to crop and hay harvesting. It is an aggressive invader of sagebrush, pinyon-juniper, mountain brush and other shrub communities, where it often completely out-competes native grasses and forbs. Approximately 12.5 million acre of overgrazed range land in Idaho and Utah are covered by almost pure stands of cheatgrass 
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Bulbous Bluegrass is currently considered to be a weedy species, but was used in the mid 1900's as a grass for turf, pasture and erosion control. Grazing: In early spring, when lush and green it is thought to be a desirable forage species. However, it
matures quickly and does not provide a significant amount of forage for livestock. Wildlife: The bulb-lets of bulbous bluegrass contain high levels of starch and fat, and therefore are attractive to rodents and birds.

It is often the first invading species on disturbed shallow soils that are moist during the winter and early spring. The grass is known to move from marginal sites to nearby fields of crop and hay. It is easily controlled with early season cultivation using implements such as a spiketooth harrow or viber shanks and herbicides for grass control. 

Bulbous bluegrass is an introduced, short-lived perennial cool-season grass. It is the only grass known to have true bulbs. The bulbs are normally dormant from mid-May through early October. When the weather begins to cool, leaves emerge from the bulbs. Growth is slow during the winter months, and by early March the plant is typically around 3 inches tall. As weather becomes warmer, it grows to a height of 6 to 24 inches. Leaf blades are narrow, flat or loosely rolled, with membranous ligules about 1/8 inch
long. Few culms are produced per plant. Flowers are usually modified to bulb-lets with a dark purple base. The panicle has a plume-like appearance from the long, slender lemma (some refer to them as bracts) attached to each bulb-let. The bulb-lets typically mature around early May, and soon after the grass senesces. The bulb-lets produced within the inflorescences germinate after a period of dormancy lasting a few months up to 2 years.