Broomsedge – Poverty Grass for Poverty Soils

Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus)

‘Tis the season for broomsedge.  It’s barely noticed during the growing season, and then in late fall, this perennial grass turns brownish-red and really sticks out from the rest of the pasture.  This year, we have a little more than we had last year.  I didn’t think much of this until I started reading up on it.  Turns out broomsedge is a big indication you’re on barren soil.  Whatta bummer.  I call broomsedge “major downer” because of this and also because its seeds look like fluffy white down this time of year.   

Broomsedge is a rescue plant.  It arrives and roots deeply into worn-out soils where higher plant life won’t grow.  Charles Walter’s Eco Farm states: “As soils get depleted and eroded, as topsoil vanishes and the humus supply disappears, real soil poverty sets in.  And that is what broom sedge means- a poverty grass for poverty soil.”

broomsedge in middle field

But just what is so wrong with our soils?  Our middle field, where these two pictures were taken, definitely has problems.  First off, organic matter (humus) is only 1.6%.  The bare minimum for healthy soil is considered to be 2.5%, with 5% being a much safer bet.  With organic matter this low, the soil is limited in its exchange capacity, or its ability to deliver nutrients to plants.  In addition, the soil has little tilth (it’s like dust) and it holds little water.  That’s okay though, because organic matter can be built up over time.

This field also has calcium and magnesium out of balance.  Magnesium is 22% of all the exchange sites, too high.  It should be around 12%-15%.  And calcium at 61% isn’t bad, but I’d like to get it up to 65%.  Ca and Mg add up to 83%.  This sum should be 80% at most, so there’s too much magnesium.  And, all the micro nutrients (sulfur, boron, iron, manganese, copper, zinc) are very low.  Phosphorus, potassium, and sodium are at good levels- yay!

We want our soil to be home to lush and very nutritious grasses for our animals- grass that supplies everything the animals will need to make gourmet steaks!  To get there, we have to correct the magnesium, add a little calcium, and add a lot of micro nutrients.  Organic matter should start coming up as we get these nutrients in the right balance.  Good balance makes the soil very hospitable to microbes and other soil life that shred plant matter and manure and transform them into organic matter in the soil.  We have a long way to go, but it feels good to know about the Albrecht method and at least have plan to make our soils fertile again.

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