I live on five acres.  I don’t have soil.  I have sand.  Great for a beach party, not so good for growing plants.  I try hard to improve my land, even if, at times, it feels like I am putting in more effort that it is worth.  Overall I am convinced it is worth it. 

I’ve been to several property planning workshops and pasture management seminars and I find them very interesting and useful.

Our local Landcare Group offer some invaluable workshops, check out their Facebook page

I’ve worked for seven years trying to get the best out of my little piece of land.  Have I been successful? 

My sand is largely covered with kikuyu now.  Unfortunately, it needs a lot of water and isn’t the best feed for horses, but it grows and provides ground cover for my land.

However, I have been intrigued by growing native grasses.  They are a low sugar option for the horses and require less water than kikuyu.  In one of the workshops I went to we were given a small bucket of native seed mix from Native Seeds Gallop: WA Ready Horse Pasture Blend.

The mix contains windmill grass, wallaby grass, weeping grass and native wheat grass.  I scored a second bucket from a friend so I decided to sow it very generously in a small patch of about 50sqm to see how it went.  I planted at the start of summer (which is November where I live – an hour south of Perth).  This is what I did:

Water.   I had to choose a location I could easily get water to, as I would have to water generously in the first season.  I chose a corner of a “winter paddock” which was reasonably bare and I used Round Up kill the existing weeds (yes, I resorted to poison, I can only cope with so much hand weeding).  I then ran two hoses about 30m to my nearest tap and bought a couple of “snake” sprinklers.

Add organic matter.  The soil was compacted in this area and I didn’t have machinery to loosen it.  Besides, I didn’t want to go deep and bring up buried weed seeds.  I used compost from the horse manure pile and spread a layer over the trial patch. Thank goodness I had a tractor and bucket for moving the compost or I would have given up.  In the previous months the paddock also received lime, Nutrisoil and humus.

Photo: mounds of horse manure compost ready to spread.

3.  Make a barrier.  No point in planting seed if the chooks were going to come and eat it all, or the horses get in and eat all the new shoots.  I found a scrap role of chicken wire and set it up all around, plus electric tape for the horses.  This took way too much time but there was no point starting without being able to keep the chooks out. (I learnt this the hard way on a previous attempt to plant seed.) 

4.   Plant.  Time for the easy part.  Throwing seed all around, raking it over and stomping all over it to lightly compact it.  The jumping up and down like a bunny for 20 minutes would have been amusing to any neighbours who noticed, but I didn’t have a roller and the seed needs to have good contact with the soil.

Photo: added soil spread and raked, weed free for the time being.

5.  Water.  Turned out I didn’t have enough water pressure to get the whole patch done at once.  This was a pain as it involved trying to remember to switch sprinklers regularly.  The patch ended up getting way more than it needed because it was hooked up to my bore and when other stations came on I often forgot to turn it off. It didn’t seem to mind; it liked water. 

           Photos: something is growing!        

6.  Watch and wait.  It took about three weeks to get some growth.  Yes, there were plenty of weeds.  This was a winter pasture getting an unusual amount of water for this time of year.  I hand pulled the weeds and had to wait quite a while before I could really tell what was growing.

      Photo: some growth, and plenty of weeds.

7.  Mow.  I decided to give it a mow once it started getting tall.  Then let it grow again and let it go to seed.  My horse did break in at one stage but wasn’t in there long enough to do too much damage.   He should have been called Houdini.

                      

                  Photos: Cruiser Houdini caught in the act. Through electric tape, chicken wire and 4 strand fencing. He got into a                   tangle with the green sprinkler but he certainly didn’t mind, he was quite happy to drag it around!

8.  Results.  Well I certainly had things growing.  At a glance it was all windmill grass with some weeping grass but I’m not sure there is much of the other two varieties.  I certainly got a lot of clover and ryegrass, leftovers from the winter seed that grows there.  Oh and plenty of weeds.

Photo:  lots of Windmill grass, about knee high.

Was it a success?  I would like to think so. It is a nice patch of grass in an otherwise barren winter paddock.  Will the old winter seed take over in the winter?  Perhaps, but it will die in summer and this patch should carry on if I allow self-seeding each year.

Will I do the whole paddock next year?  While I would love to, there are three limiting factors for me.

Watering the whole paddock would be a real chore and very time consuming. 

Keeping the chickens off would be near impossible, unless I keep them locked up for a month.

Hand weeding would be very time consuming.

For now, my business, family and horses keep me pretty busy and I won’t put any more effort into growing more native grass.  However, I have learnt a lot and when we move south one day and have real soil and a lot of land, I would love to try again.

by Helen Davey