Both the perennial rye and perennial wheat formed very dense growth. No weeds at all appeared. They had no competition. But they were growing in a raised bed because it’s the ideal place to start seedlings. The soil is rich and there are few weeds. Any that appear can be immediately pinched out. But that’s not how we want to grow perennial grains. Essentially, we want to completely replace the wild vegetation with these grains.
How to do that is the question. In the spring, do we transplant these seedlings into the field after we have closely cropped it and hope that they grow fast enough to overcome what is there? Our experience with these old pastures is that what is there grows quickly and overcomes young plants including trees. I’d like to see how the wheat and rye fair against the wild vegetation but I don’t have enough seedlings to experiment that way.
Using Roundup is not an option. Nor is solarizing the soil, at least, not this time. We have a bit of experience to draw on. When we started our willow bed in the fall, we first cut the grass very short, then added about six inches of fresh cut grass and then a thin skin of soil. This we covered with cardboard and another thin skin of soil into which we planted fescue grass. We immediately dug holes and planted the willows. This worked well. None of the surrounding vegetation found its way back into the willow bed and the willows have done well in the uncut fescue which only gets about 8″ tall. We had another instance of vegetation suppression when we mulched 6-8 inch deep 5 foot circles of grass clippings around our young trees. Nothing grew through the mulch all summer long. Pulling back the mulch this fall showed that not only was the vegetation dead but it had rotted because of the moisture and lack of light and air provided by the mulch.
I don’t think that we can use the willow option exactly the same way since the fescue will provide competition and might provide a host for ergot. And we can’t plant into a layer of soil since Nature will be quick to fill in the empty space around the plants. A combination of the willow approach and the tree mulching might work. But instead of grass for mulching since it could be a host for ergot, we’ll use leaves from our fall compost pile and run them through the mulching mower to chew them into a fine, dense material.
In preparation, I’ve run the riding mower into the area that we want to transplant the wheat and rye plants into. It’s been covered with a very thick layer of grass clippings. In the spring, I’ll skin a layer of compost soil on the top, transplant the rye and wheat plants and surround which a heavy layer of mulched leaves. I suspect that we’ll have to do some weeding until the plants get going.
While this may work, it takes grass mulch, compost soil, and leaf mulch. While we are producing more than we used to, we still seem to never have enough. And these fields are mostly sub-soil because the top-soil was scraped off and moved in around the house. So there is a fertility problem as well. I’d heard of cover crops and a bit of reading led me to smother crops – https://web.archive.org/web/20140620171732/http://www.extension.org/pages/18524/how-cover-crops-suppress-weeds. But they have to be no till since we don’t use a rototiller. I like the idea of using soy and buckwheat or even bush peas. Soy and peas are multipurpose plants. They fix nitrogen and can be used for food. And I can produce my own cover crop seed without having to buy it. And peas can be planted really early which would give them a good leg up on the wild vegetation. Buckwheat is a bit more problematic. I would like to grow it for our bees but that means letting it go to flower and then seed if I’m going to produce my own seed. Since buckwheat requires cross pollination to produce seed, there is the risk that it will cross with the perennial variety. I will experiment with some of our Laura soybeans, some bush peas and try some annual buckwheat as well. In future, if the perennial buckwheat turns out to be a vigorous perennial, I could use it as a source of seed for a smother crop. Of course, scything it early would have to kill it or we’d have another unwanted plant.
It will be important to keep the soil continuously covered so that weeds cannot get a start. Planting a succession of cover crops that fit each part of the growing year will deal with that problem. So we’ll start out with an early seeding of peas which we’ll chop-and-drop before they start to flower. Into that, we’ll seed buckwheat which we will chop-and-drop before it goes to flower. Into that we’ll seed fodder and Diakon radish which will winter kill. Whether we do this again next year will be based on the results we see this year. As a final seed suppressant, fertility building crop, I’ll seed with Dutch clover which will provide a low, perennial nitrogen fixing living mulch into which transplants can be made. Seeding would be a more difficult because of the competition from the clover. It would have to be cut back until the seeds had sprouted and established themselves.