The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Grasses begin to grow again

Regrowing bunchgrassEven though chickens get most of their nutrition from insects and seeds, tender young plants provide lots of vitamins and minerals (and a surprising amount of protein).  That's why I was thrilled to notice grasses beginning to grow in several spots around the farm in the last week.

One of our newest pastures is under the trees where "normal" grasses seldom grow.  However, a few clumps of bunchgrasses are evident.  The chickens ate them down to nubbins, but this clump has already started to regrow in the last week since the chickens were turned out of the pasture.  Does anyone have a clue what kind of grass this might be?

I'm relatively sure that the tender-leaved grasses that pop up in closely mown parts of our yard and in the treeless pastures are bluegrass.  Bluegrass feels delightful to bare feet, and Bluegrass sproutsalso stays tender enough for chickens to enjoy even in the summer, so I'm pleased it sprouts anywhere we open up the canopy and mow regularly.

New bluegrass leaves started to push up through the dead brown litter in the garden aisles a week or so ago, but regrowth started sooner in more protected areas.  For example, this patch of green is underneath where we usually park the truck --- I assume that big old hunk of metal mitigated some of winter's cold and let the grass grow faster.

But the most vigorous early spring grasses aren't in our cultivated areas at all.  I looked out across the floodplain on Monday and noticed a huge patch of green in what we fondly term "the alligator swamp" --- a waterlogged oxbow off our creek. 

Grasses in damp area

Wet-loving grassI don't know if these water-loving grasses are a species that always gets a jumpstart on spring, or whether the thermal mass of the water is responsible for the vibrant greenery.  But maybe that explains why the chickens have been hanging out in the damp area on the far side of the barn rather than following the sun in the early morning the way they did a few months ago.

Learning the patterns of grass growth is essential to proper pasturing.  For example, I'm planning all of my broilers to hit the ground running just as the grass is reaching its peak.  However, I've still got a long way to go before I thoroughly understand our sod, and grass  species ID is clearly near the top of the to-learn list.  Has anyone tried out various grass field guides and settled on one that helps from a pasturing point of view?

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock well hydrated while they hunt down the first spring growth.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I was weeding in the garden and as I came along a worm I would toss it to the chickens. It was an internal struggle for me. Do I leave the worms to help my soil or do I give them to the chickens and have yummy eggs. What do you think? BY the way I don't have acres like you, only a back yard.
Comment by Kathleen Olsen Sat Mar 10 12:17:10 2012
Tough choices! I tend to be a plant girl first and foremost, so I leave worms for the garden's health (though I do pluck out those big, plump grubs that turn into June bugs and Japanese beetles --- the chickens adore them, and they're not so good for the garden.) Mark, on the other hand, tends to snag worms for the chickens. We never seem to have a worm shortage, so I doubt you're doing much harm by passing a few to the hard-working flock.
Comment by anna Sat Mar 10 15:29:55 2012

I have several books, but they are geared towards the native grasses of Texas, and also seem pretty academic rather than practical. What I have gleaned so far is that for most identification, you need to look at the flower / seed structures.

If you find a good general one, make sure and post!

Comment by James c Sun Mar 11 00:06:50 2012
James --- Yep, looking at those tiny flowers is why I've never gotten around to learning them. :-) But I figure if I muddle through IDing the most common ones when they're in bloom, I should be able to recognize them for the rest of the year. I'll definitely keep you posted if I find a good book.
Comment by anna Sun Mar 11 13:46:00 2012

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