How to supply Humus, Texture, and Fertility by the Aid of Deep-Rooting Grasses
by William Lamin
A letter published in 'The Farmer and Stock-breeder' on the Clifton Park System of Farming
422 Mansfield Road,
Since the publication of the new edition of R. H. Elliot's Clifton Park System of Farming, with an introduction by Sir George Stapledon, I have been reading Sir George's remarks on it, and I gathered from his remarks that he had not given R. H. Elliot's system the attention he ought to have done, and was inclined to come to R. H. Elliot's ideas. Sir George Stapledon suggests that R. H. Elliot's mixture of grasses could be very much simplified by deleting many of the smaller grasses. I quite agree with Sir George that a much simpler prescription would do quite as well. I have been farming with R. H. Elliot's system for about forty years, and never used a bit of rye grass after getting hold by chance of a copy of Elliot's book.
We did not stick to Elliot's original prescription, but gradually eliminated many of the smaller inferior grasses. We tried kidney vetch several years, but it did not stay, only in patches. We also tried lucerne, but that only stayed in patches. They both did well where they did stay.
We stuck to tall fescue (rhenish) and tall oat grass until I finished farming, but now Sir George has bred the different strains of cocksfoot. The tall fescue and tall oat grasses can be replaced by sowing extra cocksfoot in their place, but let the seed merchant guarantee how much of the commercial and leafy strains there are in the mixture.
In the Farmer and Stock-breeder for 20th July 1943, Mr. T. Nellist Wilks of Wharton's Park, Bewdley, one of Sir George Stapledon's associates, remarks that good July grazing is most difficult to get. In this connection, a four-year-old cocksfoot clover ley was a revelation, and was as fine as a lawn. I may say it has been no revelation to me for many years. If you have plenty of cocksfoot in the mixture you will have plenty to eat, not only in July, but in every month. But I should never think of seeding a field down without chicory, burnet and yarrow all over the field. You do not want it in strips round the fields, as has been suggested. We always sowed the chicory all over the field where it wants to be to aerate and disintegrate the soil.
J. G. Lewis, in his Back to Better Grass, extols perennial rye grass for dry land in the dry districts, to the detriment of cocksfoot, and so do many more grassland advisers. J. G. Lewis suggests districts with less than twenty-five inches annual rainfall are not so well adapted for ley farming, but these are the districts where the land wants R. H. Elliot's system, with deep-rooting grasses, to make the humus, texture, and fertility. If you try to bring such land round with rye grass it would take ages, and just about ruin the farmer, while he was trying to do it. Every dry summer he would be frizzled up, and the rye grass roots would make no humus. Rye grass is all right for good land, where there is plenty of rainfall, but if they would try a full seeding of cocksfoot and look after it properly, they might have many revelations as well as Mr. T. Nellist Wilks.
You must have a cover crop when seeding land down in a dry district. The oat crop makes too much flag, and it also takes more moisture out of the land and robs the small seeds of that bit of moisture that would keep them going if it happened to come a dry time. A thin seeding of barley is the best for dry sandy land, as you do not want your barley to get down and kill the small seeds, and drill your small seed as soon as ever you have drilled your barley. If it is strong land you are seeding down, I daresay a short strawed wheat crop like white victor, or any wheat which you prefer, would give you a better mould in the spring if it was well harrowed, and harrowed again after you have drilled your small seed, and then it will want rolling. But if it is light land, liable to blow, do not roll until your barley has got plenty of cover.
The quick-get-away grasses are all right for reseeding without a crop in districts with plenty of rainfall, but they are no good for dry districts as they would not be able to get enough moisture for them to get away quick. The ley grasses, like cocksfoot, are slow to get away, and we see very little of them whilst in the corn. The first year of the ley you get plenty of clover, which we always mowed. The second year the grasses have got well established and come into being and contribute the bulk of the crop for the second, third, and fourth years. Do not graze the cocksfoot too hard the first year until it has got well hold of the ground, and then you can graze it as hard as you like. After four years, you should have the soil full of roots and fibre as deep as you want to plough, which will add no end of humus, texture, and fertility to the soil which it would be impossible to get with a rye grass mixture. When you have got your land full of humus from the rotted turf, it will hold the moisture in dry weather..
A Simplified Prescription of R. H. Elliot's Mixture:
20 Cocksfoot of the various new strains
4 Meadow fescue
1 Rough-stalked meadow grass
1/2 Sheep"s parsley
3 Montgomery red clover
2 SlOO White clover
1 Kentish wild white
This prescription is all right for the dry sandy districts, or strong land that wants opening out in the dry districts.
Next: Appendix 3
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