When we showed up on the farm in August, it looked a lot different than when I had come up to check things out initially in early April. It was greener, flowers were blooming, and everything felt more alive in the dog days of summer. The land was also very overgrown, since the sellers had moved out and the place had sat vacant over a month. So I spent a lot of time mowing (with the deck set super high) and bush-hogging, but what really commanded my attention was the 20 acres behind the house that had 10′ tall weeds growing!
By no fault of the seller’s, we went under contract for this property just as a neighboring farmer had started preparing the land for corn. He had tilled, picked rocks, and applied fertilizer in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Then we signed the papers and shouted “STOP”, in order to prevent the herbicide and pesticide treatments that would surely come next. Nothing happened with the field all summer, and we couldn’t really do anything with it either since we were still going through the inspections, financing, etc, prior to closing. So basically, the existing seed bed got fluffed, fertilized, and allowed to grow without any other competition for resources… awesome.
The day after we arrived, my sister and brother-in-law came down to help out for the day, and he brought his Farmall 560 to compliment my little Massey Ferguson 50. So my entire first day on the farm was spent in that field, bush-hogging weeds down. Some of the stuff was super thick, and the tractors were struggling to keep up, but I finished up on my own the next day. Now that the weeds were chopped, and I could see what I was dealing with, I began to weigh my options for getting the land re-seeded to grass.
Ideally in this situation I would have tilled the earth, turning the stalk matter under and exposing a dirt layer to plant seeds into. Yes, that would have turned up a new set of weed seed, but the cool season grasses I was going to plant would compete, and win. Unfortunately, it hadn’t rained enough to keep the dirt “pliable”, and plowing was not an option. Nor were chemical means that didn’t fit our approach or values, which (not surprisingly) was everyone’s first reaction whenever I asked around for advice.
Burning was the second option I considered, but the idea of lighting fire to 20 acres right behind my house got scarier in person than as an abstract concept! I actually did try though, after disking a fire break around the field. Amazingly, despite our lack of rain, me bush-hogging the whole field again to chop everything fine, and allowing it several days to dry, it was very difficult to get anything to stay burning! I’ve never tried so hard to burn something, including using a 500,000 BTU propane-fueled weed burner. Some parts did light off initially, but the whole field fizzled out after about an hour. What a let down after all that mental angst and preparation!
I finally called in the expert, a local man named Robby Rolls. He is a 6’+ bear of a man, encased in a perennial set of overalls and a bright red International Harvester cap. We became good friends right off the bat, when he looked over my field and said, “Yep, you’ve got a real problem here”! Luckily for me, he had the solution… a huge tractor pulling a massive vertical tillage machine with a drag harrow behind it. Two passes with that monstrosity and I had a nice layer of dirt kicked up and smoothed out, perfect for planting seed into.
The day after Robby left, a guy named Marvin from the county Soil & Water Conservation District arrived with their no-till seed drill. The SWCD allows land owners to rent their equipment for relatively cheap, a huge benefit to me. Marvin showed me how to set it up and get the planting depth correct, then off to the races I went! In two days, I had my pasture mix of fescue, orchard grass and bluegrass planted in actual dirt, and all I had left to do was pray for rain. Finally, the saga of turning that unbelievable weed field back into productive pasture was over. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Robby and Marvin, along with several other local folks who shepherded me through this process with (mostly) gracious advice and expertise.
Now, on to fencing…