In his poem entitled ‘February 2, 1968’, Wendell Berry wrote:
In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.
Personally, this poem has always had lots of meaning to me. As a high school student, I remember the escalation of the Vietnam War, and the gnawing in the pit of my stomach at my chances of being drafted. Later, in my career as a county agent, I found the time tested and proven practice of sowing clover into existing grass pastures very early in the year to be one of the best methods for improving our forages and livestock feed.
Just by the look and feel of it, the month of February doesn’t lend itself very well to making us think green and growing thoughts. The landscape is pretty brown, and we continue to deal with cold weather, overcast skies, and sometimes not so pleasant precipitation. Yet, this is a good environment for the practice of frost seeding. Adding clovers to hay and pasture fields, called ‘pasture renovation,’ pays big by making the pasture quality better, by increasing forage yield without additional nitrogen, by decreasing the ‘summer slump,’ and by making most classes of livestock perform better. There are actually several ways to add legumes to grass fields, but the one involving February weather is classic.
Most farmers have heard the slogan ‘sow clover in the dark moon of February on a snow.’ Actually, this age old practice of seeding clover this early has some pretty good principles of agronomy going for it (the right seed at the right time with good seed/soil contact). February generally has adequate moisture and freeze and thaw action to actually ‘plant’ the small, nearly round clover seeds, hence the name “frost seeding.” This planting action of the heaving soil is even more successful if the field to be sown has been grazed down pretty closely. Sowing on a snow can certainly insure that adequate moisture is present for the freeze and thaw action, and it’s really nice to be able to see your tracks so you know where you’ve been. Now, let’s discuss the last part of the slogan – the dark moon. My Dad always farmed by the moon and the “signs,” as have many farmers with whom I have worked over the years. University folks say that research has never proven this one way or another, but if it helps trigger our actions to plant and renew in so bleak a time as February, then it is definitely a good reminder.
We may feel as if nature laid a heavy burden on us last fall with the drought, but as farmers, we must continue to trust that nature can also help to renew our grasslands for the future.
NRCS announces sign up for Grassland Reserve Program
The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Kentucky is accepting applications for the Grassland Reserve Program. Although GRP applications are continually accepted, the application ranking cutoff date for 2011 is March 31. Applications received after March 31 will be deferred until the next ranking cycle.
The Grassland Reserve Program is a voluntary program offering landowners and operators the opportunity to protect grazing uses and related conservation values by conserving and restoring grassland resources. All participants in GRP are required to implement a grazing management plan that will be developed in conjunction with NRCS.
Eligible land for GRP includes grasslands for which grazing or haying is the predominant use, or land that has been historically dominated by grassland, forbs, or shrub land. Restoration for land enrolled in GRP has a maximum cost share rate of 50 percent. Additional program information is provided at http://www.ky.nrcs.usda.gov/programs. Scroll down to Grassland Reserve Program for specific program information.
Interested landowners and operators should contact Randy Van Matre, District Conservationist for Henry & Trimble Counties, at 845-2890.