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

Rye cover crop cutting

winter rye cover crop cutting with weed trimmer

Discovered today that really long rye wants to get tangled up and clogs the trimmer.

It's not too hard to dislodge, but usually can be avoided by running at full speed.

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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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Try a scythe - one swoop and I promise you'll be hooked. Then all of the rye falls in a pile (row as you walk) to your left and you can easily rake it up for composting or feed. Even if you leave it laying a good Austrian style sythe is lighter, more pleasant, silent, and just as quick as a weed eater.
Comment by Patrick Owen Mon May 27 18:38:29 2013
I totally agree. I use my mid-weight scythe to cut down thick little weeds to tall thin ones. Usually I like to cut the tall thin ones just after a rain as something about the moisture makes them easier to cut when wet. Weed wackers are a lot of maintenance so I save mine for edging and narrow arrows that a scythe can't work effectively in.
Comment by Mikey Sklar Wed May 29 06:43:21 2013

I'm curious what you'll do with the rye once it's cut. Do you try to bale it, mulch it, or leave it lying in the pasture?

We're starting our homesteading adventure in 2 days. I've been catching up on your posts for the past week, curious to see what you've gone through.

Keep it up.

Comment by Daniel Dessinger Mon Jun 3 10:46:16 2013

Daniel --- We're using the rye as a cover crop, so we let it lie after cutting to build the soil. This isn't a pasture, though --- it's a garden spot.

Good luck on your adventure!

Comment by anna Mon Jun 3 12:44:48 2013

Anna, thank you very much for so much informations. I have discovered your website yesterday. I am trying to read it all, but I still can't find the informations about basic logic.

What do you do with cut (mowed, weeded) cover crops? I am not sure if you leave them on the bed or if you move them to the compost heap (placed elsewhere)? Sometime you write about leaving the stubble only for a few weeks and directly planting into that. But what about the rest of the plants? Are they left on the bed also? If yes, I have read that these still green things are inhibiting grow of anything new, because they decompose on the bed - the bed with mowed cover crop left on it will behave like a compost heap and will decompose anything green, even new planted seeds.

So, what is the basic logic of enriching the soil with cover crops? Through placing them at compost for a year and then adding the compost to the bed? I could get the same (and much more) amount of compost from cutting the vast pasture fields around (anything green around the garden beds) and placing them at compost heap.

Thank you very much. Maybe you can simply direct me to an article about that or saying if that's described in the book? Thank you very much.

Comment by Neon Tue Jul 23 02:17:25 2013

Neon --- I have much more information about management of cover crops in my ebook Homegrown Humus. Here's a short answer to your questions, though.

Cover crops are, by definition, left on and in the soil rather than moved to the compost heap. With some (like rye), you do have to wait a couple of weeks before planting into them, but with others (like buckwheat) there's no need to wait. Sitting on the soil surface, only those with a very high C:N will steal nitrogen from the soil (as opposed to if you tilled them in, in which case all would steal nitrogen for at least a short time.) That's the problem you could see, not that they'd cause seeds to rot.

The basic idea of cover crops is that you grow humus during gaps in the garden year when the beds would otherwise be fallow, and in the meantime you keep weeds from taking over that garden bed. If done right, it's a win-win. Of course, you'll still want to add other compost to the bed, but the cover crops help.

Comment by anna Tue Jul 23 07:34:51 2013
Thank you Anna! It seems to me like the mowed cover crop (which will dry fast) will have the same function like a straw mulch for example. And I don't see any decomposition of straw mulch on my beds. It's there for a whole year and still the same dry straw. It works perfectly for keeping the soil humid and weed free, but not enriching the soil. I still don't get it how it can decompose. Maybe if cover crops are cut down and while green mulched heavily with the straw? Thank you once more.
Comment by Neon Tue Jul 23 08:14:38 2013
Neon --- Cut cover crops definitely work like straw, but our straw tends to melt into the soil completely in about six months. I'm guessing you either live in a really dry climate or your soil microorganisms are in bad shape (or perhaps both).
Comment by anna Tue Jul 23 09:48:11 2013

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