Independent Farming for Self-Sufficiency

John and Sally Seymour share their independent farming experience running a five-acre farm that grows grasses, hay, and herbs.

| March/April 1975

Independent farmer growing hay

The crop that covers most of the human inhabited world is grass. This means, in the British Isles, grass and clover: in many other parts of the world grass and various edible bushes.


Ah, the vicissitudes of time. Two years ago, when there were NO currently relevant small scale farming introductory handbooks available, many of us welcomed the publication of Richard Langer's Grow !t! with open arms. Now that we're all older and more experienced, however, some folks find it increasingly easy to criticize that breakthrough beginner's guide (see the Feedback sections of MOTHER EARTH NEWS NOS. 23, 24 and 25). Which brings us to another breakthrough book that is just as important (probably more so) now as Grow it! was two years ago … and which may well come up for its share of criticism in another 24 months or so. Be that as it may, John and Sally Seymour's record of 18 successful years on a shirttail–sized homestead in England is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to today's back–tothelanders … both real and imaginary. I started serializing the book in my No. 25 issue and I'm sure that many readers will want a personal copy for their home libraries. — MOTHER.   

Earth's increase, foison plenty,
Barns and garners never empty.


Independent Farming: Grass

The crop that covers most of the human inhabited world is grass. This means, in the British Isles, grass and clover: in many other parts of the world grass and various edible bushes. Humans cannot eat grass, and so they must get it at second hand, through animals, in the form of meat, milk or eggs.

Grassland, in the British Isles at least, can be classified as either permanent pasture or ley (temporary pasture). It can be divided corner ways to this too: into grazing land and hay land.

Some of the best grassland in the world is permanent pasture, and it is a crime to plough it up. Some of the finest fattening pastures in England, such as the Romney Marsh and some of the Leicestershire fattening pastures, were ploughed up during the Second World War, owing to stupid decisions made by ignorant people, and have never yet recovered. Much permanent pasture, though, is pretty rough, and not very productive. It can be rendered more so by ploughing up and re seeding, or by treatment that does not involve ploughing up. Very heavy and drastic harrowing does a lot of good; you can drag it about until it looks as if most of the grass has been destroyed and the grass will be the better for it. Dressing with lime if it needs lime will often work wonders, as will slag or other phosphorous dressing. Both lime and phosphate encourage the clover at the expense of the grasses, and this is generally all to the good. Good draining is, of course, a sine qua non. Grass (when I use the word grass I mean grass and clover) will give you far more yield if you graze it really hard all at one time, and then rest it completely, rather than if you keep nibbling at it all the time. This is because the individual plants put down much better root growth if they are not kept nibbled off all the time. It is always a good thing to top grass, when it needs it, either with a mower of some sort or a scythe. This cuts the flowering heads off that the animals have left and forces the grass to make leaf instead of going to seed, and also kills the thistles. The application of nitrogen encourages the grasses and suppresses the clovers. This is because the clovers make their own nitrogen out of the atmosphere, by means of the symbiotic bacteria which live in their root nodules. This gives them an unfair advantage over the grasses. If you apply soluble nitrogen you take away this unfair advantage, and the grasses will grow at the expense of the clover. If you want very high yields from grass you must put on nitrogen and sacrifice the clovers. Personally I would prefer to give adequate phosphates and lime, and potash if it needs it, and this encourage the clovers and then I don't have to pay for nitrogen: the clover makes it. It has been proved conclusive, that the grass produced by heavy applications of nitrogen not so nutritious as that grown otherwise, but of course if they are, say, selling hay what does that matter? If you are using the hay yourself, though, it is a very different story. All nitrogen in the bag is expensive. And if ever there is a poorly shortage (nitrogen is fixed commercially from the air by the expenditure of electrical power) it will become more so. Heavy applications of farmyard manure do nothing but good. The manure rots down and disappears very quickly: actually earthworms drag it down into the soil. But if it is cow manure don't graze the land with cows for a while — no animal likes grazing near its own droppings. Where cows have been grazing in a field for long you will find long green tufts of grass growing around, or after, their droppings. The cows will not touch these. Put horses in though, or sheep, and the tufts will very soon go. This is another excellent reason for mixed stocking and not mono–stocking.

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