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By Hubert Earl

Seeding when the ground is frozen produces excellent results, particularly on thin soils. The one great advantage of frost seeding is that the seeds are worked into the ground as the soil freezes and thaws. As a result of this process the seed is then in place for early spring germination. Hard seeds such as the clovers and trefoil work best; however, sowing several varieties of grasses is also recommended. Red clover, New Zealand type white clover, birdsfoot trefoil and grasses such as orchard, timothy, brome, the fescues and the new endophyte-free species of reed canary are all excellent choices. (Alfalfa does not seem to establish well using this technique and is therefore not recommended.) Careful consideration must be given to the drainage conditions when selecting the various types of legumes and grasses.

Seeding rates may vary, but on our farm we strive for a 50% legume content in our pastures. As a guide, we broadcast 12lbs./acre of mixed legumes and grasses, and have obtained superb results. If only legumes are to be sown, then 5-6lbs./acre should be adequate.

Seeding can be accomplished by means of a hand operated cyclone seeder, or by using a seeder mounted on the back of an all-terrain vehicle. Here we have had good success with a 3-point hitch fertilizer spreader. We know others who have used the conventional seed drill, just as the snow was disappearing, with equally good results.

Although frost seeding can be done anytime after freeze-up, we have had the best results by broadcasting on top of the snow. Frost seeding on the snow during February or March enables us to see at a glance where we have already seeded, thus producing a more uniform distribution.


by Mike Pembry

Under seeding of cereals is now a very common practice and there are a variety of ways it can be done. I've tried a number of ways and I'd like to share my experiences with members. Perhaps others will have suggestions that might allow me to improve what I'm doing.

Broadcasting is the approach I've used most for getting red clover on my winter cereals. The 3-point-hitch broadcaster has done a good job for me under the right conditions. I prefer to choose a day when the ground's still frozen and there's a nice covering of snow. I like the frozen ground to avoid compaction and I like the snow because I can easily spot the seeds on the snow and see if I'm getting a good pattern and the right density. The spreader can throw the heavy clover seed quite a distance, but I still like to run over the field in both directions to get a more even coverage. Setting the opening on the spreader is difficult because the seed will dribble through the slightest opening. I usually shut it down completely and still get enough coming out of the crack that's left.

If the frost comes out of the ground before I can get out there - this happens when there is a very early and heavy snow cover that lasts through the winter, then I switch to the hand cyclone seeder. This obviously takes more time and energy. I keep my line of travel straight by leaving a white feed bag at each end of the field - pacing out the spot where my return trip should be made, and hanging the bag in the hedge as a target for my return trip.

A couple of years ago I used the hand seeder to add some grass seed to a field where the red clover was in it's second year. It was quite muddy and the chance of a good freeze seemed remote. Plodding up and down that 10-acre field in rows about 10 feet apart was quite an effort and only by whistling a good marching song did I manage to maintain the right pace.

I have not had the same success with surface seeding grass as I have with clover. I'm always amazed how quickly clover, spread on snow, germinates and establishes itself. Grass seed, being lighter doesn't always settle down on the soil as well and is more subject to being washed away by spring rains.

For those who like excitement and who don't have a three-point-hitch spreader, sitting on the back of a pickup truck and operating a hand seeder is a method I have used. I've also done it from the front-end loader of a tractor using seat belts to fasten me securely in place. This is not a recommended practice because of the danger factor - not to mention the possibility of some good-sized bruises on the posterior.

Later seeding

There have been times when I either missed the right time for frost seeding or wanted less growth of clover early in the season. In a wet year, with short varieties of winter grain, the clover may grow up and hamper combining and also make the crop slower to dry. Under these conditions I have broadcast the red clover just before harrowing the fields. This harrowing of winter grains sometimes helps with weed control and gives the clover a good start. One has to be careful not to bury the clover seed too deep using this method.

I look forward to reading experiences from other members in seeding their crops. There's no way you can get a good crop if you don't get a good catch from your seeding.

Copyright 1993 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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