Saturday, April 5, 2014

From Pasture to Garden

I'm in the process of converting some well used pasture to a veggie garden. So I'm going to report as the project progresses. And while I am close to being "organic" on this homestead, I'm not 100% chemical free. This project will be using one treatment of herbicide. If I had 10-12 months available to kill off the grass without herbicides then I could do it. Yes, it takes about a year to finally kill off the underground grass system when using black plastic, tarps, plywood, or cardboard. Some of the tropical grasses brought to Hawaii are amazing survivors and incredibly invasive. Alas for anti-herbicide folks, I don't have 12 months to delay on this project. 

First I allowed the livestock to mob-graze the area. (Actually they mob grazed the area prior to me erecting the pallet fence.) That means confine them to a small section where they are forced to eat all the edible greenery right down to the dirt. Another option could have been to use the lawn tractor and mow the grass super short. But I was concerned about the rocks that sometimes poke up. Hitting one could break the mower. So using the livestock was a far safer, cheaper option.

After moving the livestock out I found only a few weeds they did not touch. Those I either pulled out or cut off at soil level. Just about everything green was gone, eaten down to the brownish thatch. I harvested as much of the manure as I could for use in the current gardens. If this land was not lava land, I could run a reverse tine rototiller over it or custom hire a plow to turn the land. But neither are feasible here. Rocks, rocks, rocks everywhere! That might look like nice ground but I challenge you to dig a shovel into it. Initially breaking this ground will require me to use an o-o bar or a pick. 
(Scalped pasture right down to the thatch level.)

Next I applied some nitrogen. This could have been in the form of composted manure, diluted urine, manure tea, or commercial lawn fertilizer. I opted to use chelated (I used old rusty nails) urine since I had several gallons on hand. Chelated urine contains nitrogen in a form more readily available to the plants. For this project I diluted the urine by adding two cups to a gallon of water. I sprayed the fertilizer so that the surface of the soil was just wet all over. Happily I got a light rain the evening after spraying, washing the solution into the plant root zone. Now I will wait for the grass to start regrowing.

About a 7-10 days from now the pasture should be green all over with a sudden flush of new growth. Once the growth is about an inch high I will spray a light coating of herbicide. With the grasses being so short very little herbicide will be needed. Saves money plus adds less chemical to the environment. 


  1. Very interesting post. I'm always interested in pasture establishment / maintenance information because we're working on the same thing. It's so true that it takes a long time to smother grass & weeds.

    I hadn't heard of chelated urine. Interesting! Do you have a specific DIY post somewhere?

  2. You are going to open that large area up with an o'o?!? I'm staying tuned ; )

  3. Su Ba, I see Julie beat me to it - That looks lolo to put an o`o bar to break it. Maybe try exactly what you are doing, and get that flash of re-growth of grass before herbicide. As for chelate urine, that's new to me. I can see how the ammonium that develops in the urine would react with the iron oxide, but plain old ammonia bought at the store is safe to dilute (a lot) for a fast-acting source of nitrogen for a growth spurt. Yeah, I know, saving pee is more recycly (just made that one up). Some old guy used to peddle his secrets to super garden results by mail, one of which was to make a brew of first-in-the-morn shishi after a night of imbibing, for stronger concentration of pee.
    If you pile lots of manure, green waste, cardboard, leaves, and so on, you'll sheet-compost the ground, which then might have weakened the hardpan beneath enough to run a (rented!) rear-tine tiller . Maybe make edging for your driveway with all the rocks you'll liberate. Some folks advocate growing a ton of daikon radishes, so their deep root tendencies will exploit the subterranean crevices, too. But - take pictures, we love to see the results!