The Grass That Wouldn’t Die

This is a companion post to the conversation Amanda and I had yesterday on the weekly podcast about ryegrass.


First, recall how wet the summer, fall, and winter were in central Alabama. Record-breaking rainfall had Amanda and me hyper-vigilant about soil erosion from our farm. We knew we needed to disk Veg Hill to smooth it out before we installed the deer fence, and we knew from experience that the loosened soil would be vulnerable to the nearly constant rains we were getting in February. So we knew we needed to plant something to hold the soil. What can you plant in mid-February in central Alabama that will do any growing at all? So that’s how we settled on ryegrass. We knew from experience that it would jump out of the ground even in winter and establish a decent root structure.

And it worked. The ryegrass come up promptly, and although it never reached its full height, we didn’t need it too. What we needed it to do was to hold on to the soil on Veg Hill and keep it from washing. We didn’t get full coverage of grass, even though we broadcast the seed throughout Veg Hill. The seed settled in the disk rows. Fortunately, however, so did the rainwater. The effect was that we had ryegrass growing where we needed it, and Veg Hill’s soil stayed put.

Now fast-forward to mid-May, where we find ourselves and our little patch of garden today. The ryegrass is seemingly happy as it can be and showing no signs of fatigue as the weather heats up. It’s continuing to hold the soil where we’re not actually planting, and that’s good. But like last week’s chicken and persistent house guests, it’s worn out its welcome. The combination of nice loose soil, frequent watering from Amanda for her target crops, and sheer tenacity seems to be a splendid formula for ryegrass success.

The ryegrass is competing with Amanda’s plants as they emerge from the soil. She keeps trying to control it with a combination of my lawn mowing, mulching, and hand weeding, but it seems to be with us for the long haul. We can only hope that it eventually succumbs to the heat and dies back. Until then, she will have to be content with daily admonitions to herself and the man who loves her that we don’t want to do this again.

So how will we hold on to the soil next winter? One thing we know is that the ryegrass isn’t growing nearly enough to go to seed. So we have little or no concern that it will spring back next year. And by then, the west side of Veg Hill (currently under cultivation) should be mulched, and the east side should be covered with the sunn hemp we’re about to plant, which we will crimp in time for fall garden planting. We have our fingers crossed that this strategy will work next year and that we will have a nice, stable growing area where Amanda’s target crops can flourish!

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