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GRASSING BARE PATCHES


Grassing Bare Patches is a citizen science demonstration on three small farms in the Capital Region. It aims to test and demonstrate methods for improving grassy groundcover on persistent bare patches in acidic and low fertility soils through soil improvement, green manures and erosion management. The strategies for tackling bare patches are intended to be practical, effective and easily applied on small farms in our region. See our project protocol for details of the strategies.

The demonstration will run from September 2020 to May 2022. Updates will be posted on this page.

The Small Farms Network Capital Region received funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program for this demonstration. 

 

  • 1 Nov 2020 11:14 PM | Jennie Curtis (Administrator)

    After 7 weeks... my farm at Bywong has had very good rain in excess of 145mm in October.

    Read the full PDF report with photos

    All demonstration plots have had no significant soil loss or erosion and there is no noticeable difference in the soil surface. The temporary fence seems to be restricting native grazing and I have seen no Kangaroos or Wallabies etc on the demonstration plots.

    The green manure crop has germinated on all the plots and the different growth rates have been noticeable on each of the plots.  I have not intervened with any of the demonstration plots since they were established.


    From my observations, the breaking up of the soil surface and compaction seems to have the highest benefits.  Variation Plot 1 which had the greatest soil surface penetration/ break up appears to have provided the best growing conditions for the green manure crop.  Both the germination and growth seems higher in Variation 1.  The Common Improved Plot germination and growth seems higher than that in Variation 2 plot.  This is consistent with the soil compaction / surface breakup.  My estimations based on my observation for both germination and growth are in the table below.

    Demonstration Plot

    Germination rate

    Growth

    Common Improved

    70-80%

    25- 35 cm

    Variation 1

    80-90%

    45 – 55 cm

    Variation 2

    50-60%

    15 – 25 cm

  • 1 Oct 2020 1:54 PM | Jennie Curtis (Administrator)

    My farm is located in Bywong and consists of 9.62 hectares. The soil is shale-based and half the property has minimal top soil with large rock shelfs and outcrops.  The block slopes towards the west and the demonstration plots are located on the flat section on the western side of the property.  The demonstration plots receive full sun all day. 

    Read this report as a PDF file

    The property was subject of subdivision in the early 1990’s.  Prior to the subdivision, I understand that the owner had a small flock of goats to help keep the grass under control.  The property since the subdivision has had no fertiliser, pasture improvement activity or grazing stock.  A separate 1 hectare paddock was established on the property in 2015. This single paddock was cultivated, limed and is irrigated.  The remainder of the property is one single paddock and is only grazed by kangaroos, rabbits, wild ducks and hares.

    Pasture composition on the farm includes both native and introduced grass species but not all are present in the demonstration plots.  Whilst there are other groundcovers present on the property and in the demonstration plots, I do not know their names.  The highlighted grasses are known to be in at least one the demonstration plots. 

    •  Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata)
    • Kangaroo Grass (Themeda australis)
    • Lomandra
    • Redgrass (Bothriochloa macra)
    • Subclover
    • Wallaby grasses (Rytidosperma spp.)
    • Weeping grass (Microlaena stipoides)

    Like all of us, there are also weeds in the demonstration plots including moss, cape weed and serrated tussock.  The serrated tussocks will be chipped and removed rather than using a herbicide.

    I have constructed a temporary fence around the demonstration plots in an attempt to restrict the native grazing.

    With the demonstration plots, I aimed to use a minimalistic approach by using only those implements or materials at my disposal or readily obtainable at a reasonable cost. 

    Soil tests were taken from each of the plots and divided into the various soil layers for analysis.  The CT122 soil test was conducted on the layers 0 – 5 cm and 5- 10 cm while CT 179 was conducted on the layers 10-15cm and 15-20cm.  Samples from each layer within the plots were combined.  Separate samples for the same layers were taken from another section of the paddock that had better ground cover.  This was done to see if there were any notable differences to explain the lack of ground cover in the demonstration plots. 

    Figure 1 Soil profile September 2020


    The Common Control plot is 10m X 5m.  This allows for native grass seeds to be broadcast in April / May 2021 on half of the control (5m X 5m) to demonstrate the effect of only seed being distributed. The photos below show the control plot in September 2020.


    The three (3) remaining demonstration plots (Common Improved, Variation 1 and Variation 2) were subject of the addition of agricultural lime to increase the soil pH to the target of pH5.5.  To effect this change from the initial pH of 4.3 to 5.5 approximately 3.8kgs of lime per 25m2 needed to be added.  The superfine lime was weighed and distributed using a bucket with holes (approximately 6mm) drilled in the base.  While this was adequate for the demonstration plots or a small problematic area, I do not consider this to be a viable method for an complete paddock.  A drop spreader or a belt driven spreader would be more suited to larger distribution of superfine lime.

    Figure2 Agricultural lime

    Figure 3 Weighed lime

    Figure 4 Lime bucket


    COMMON IMPROVED PLOT

    The Common Improved plot had lime added to the surface and was to be incorporated to a depth of 5cm by hand.  My compact soil did not allow for the lime to be incorporated to that depth and was “scratched” into a maximum depth of 2cm.  The green manure crop consisting of 90% ryecorn and 10% crimson clover was broadcast across the plot at a rate of 40 grams per m2.  This equates to 400 kilograms per hectare which maybe high but the green manure crop was sown late and the rate is to help compensate for a potential lower germination rate.  The Common Improved plot was then covered with jute mesh.  The jute mesh as covered with compost obtained from the Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council Waste Minimisation Centre.

    The photos below show the Common Improved plot in September 2020 before treatment.

    Here is the plot after spreading lime and then after incorporating lime.

    And then after sowing green manure and covering with jute mesh.

    After spreading the compost.


    VARIATION 1 PLOT

    The Variation 1 plot had lime distributed in the same manner as the Common Improved plot.  For this plot mechanical means were used to incorporate the lime.  The four tines on a box grader were used to break up the soil to a depth of approximately 10cm.  The green manure crop was then broadcast at the same rate of 40 grams per m2.  The plot was then covered with the compost obtained from the Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council Waste Minimisation Centre.  Ideally the ripped area could have been “smoothed” to break up the larger pieces with field harrows or a crumble cage attached to the rear of the box grader.  Neither was available to me when initiating this demonstration plot.

    Variation 1 plot in September 2020 before treatment.

    Variation 1 plot after spreading lime.

    Incorporating lime in Variation 1 plot.

    Green manure seed broadcast on Variation Plot 1.

    Compost spread on Variation Plot 1.


    VARIATION 2 PLOT

    The variation plot 2 was completed a little later (5 days) after the common and control plots.  This variation 2 was without any physical incorporation of the treatments to the plot.  It was based on comments made by several farmers about the improved grasses they had from where round or large square bails had been left for stock to graze on.  Their comments were that the seed in the meadow hay coupled with the animal foot traffic and manure from the stock created an environment for improvement in grass ground cover in that area once rested. 

    Variation 2 plot in September 2020 before treatment.

    The lime was distributed by the same manner as the Common Improved plot and left on the surface and not incorporated.  The green manure crop was then broadcast at the same rate of 40 grams per m2.  The plot was then lightly covered with meadow hay.  Only half a small bale was used for the 25m2.  Pelletised poultry manure (Dynamic lifter) was broadcast on this plot at the same rate as the green manure crop of 40 grams per m2.  I believe that this is consistent with application rates for pasture of between 150 and 400 kg per hectare.  The variation plot 2 was then also covered with the compost obtained from the Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council waste minimisation centre.

    Variation 2 plot after spreading lime.


    What has happened so far

    Three weeks later

    We have had good rain in September with over 40mm recorded and much warmer weather.  For me it has been a good start to spring but the yellow cape weed is very noticeable in the farm landscapes.

    The compost on both the Common and Variation 1 plots moved slightly with the rain but there was no significant loss or erosion.  More compost was washed from the demonstration plot in the Common plot than in Variation 1 plot.  It would appear that the compost “settled” into the rips in the Variation 1 plot.  Variation 2 plot had little or no movement of the compost.

    The green manure crop has germinated in both the Common and Variation 1 plots but there is no germination visible in the Variation 2 plot.  The germination of the green manure crop has been within 21 days of broadcasting the seed.  Variation 2 plot lack of germination may be due to the sightly later completion of the demonstration plot but I hope that by the end of September there will be germination in this plot also. 

    Allan

  • 30 Sep 2020 1:22 PM | Jennie Curtis (Administrator)

    What is going on with the soil in the demonstration plots to make them so hostile to plant establishment when other areas nearby are doing better? Part of the story is to find out what is happening with the soil. Dr Jason Condon helped us design a soil sampling protocol to test the soil 0-20cm in 5cm depths. We want to find out if there is something going on with the soil that prevents the establishment of pasture and even weeds!


    In September 2020 the farmers headed out into the paddock to take soil tests from each site. The sampling included a ‘normal patch’ of paddock and a bulked sample across the treatment sites in 5cm depth intervals down to 20cm. These samples were tested by Nutrient Advantage.


    The 0-5cm and 5-10cm tests (test code CT122) include analysis of organic carbon, exchangeable calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, CEC, pH in water, pH (CaCl) and electrical conductivity.

    The 10-15cm and 15-20cm tests (test code CT 179) are the same as CT122 without the organic carbon analysis. Testing the subsoil  allows us to find out if the soil conditions at depth are affecting plant growth.

    Assistance with the cost of soil analysis was provided by South East Local Services.


    If you would like to learn how to take soil samples check out this link from Holbrook Landcare. You can watch demonstrations about how to check for subsoil acidity and soil sampling.

    If you would like to take your own soil samples you can contact your Local Land Services Office for soil corers and sample bags.

  • 23 Sep 2020 1:08 PM | Alex James (Administrator)

    The purpose of the Grassing the Bare Patches project is to trial different methodologies for establishing ground cover on persistent bare patches in paddocks in a small farm setting. The three farmers involved in the trials, Allan, Jennie and Harji met with the committee, Dr Jason Condon from the Graham Institute of Agriculture and Helen Smith from South East Local Land Services to develop a protocol for the project. Read the protocol.

    Following several years of drought, it turns out that the demonstration will happen in a year with above average rainfall.

    Here are the three demonstration sites. They are located in Bywong and Sutton NSW.

    Farm 1 project site is located near the top of a north facing slope in Bywong that has not managed to recover its groundcover in over 20 years

    Farm 2 project site in Sutton is on a flat site that was cultivated for cropping

    Farm 3 project site in Bywong is located near the bottom of a west facing slope that can get waterlogged


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PO Box 313
Bungendore
NSW 2621

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