Too Late To Plant Rye Grass or Too Early? Trick to Sprout Grass Faster and Manage Erosion.

Planting Rye grass is the very first thing you do after disturbing the ground. Planting Rye grass is the last thing you do at the end of the day to protect whatever soil is still bare. No matter what the weather. That is my opinion. It is cheap enough to make a mistake with. Maybe it will be too dry for it to germinate, or maybe there will be a surprise shower and the Rye will sprout overnight. It does no harm to have it out a little too early in the season or a little too late because this grass takes advantage of every warm or sunny day and keeps going all winter.

While everything else is dying, the Rye Grass is sprouting! November 28th.

Rye Grass is amazing for all sorts of applications. I wish I had discovered it early on in the construction of my barn because I could have saved a lot of muddy days and wheel barrow work. Since the basement of the barn was put in at the end of October I thought I would just have to wait until Spring to get any grass to grow. It was a warm winter though, and I could have had grass growing before the post and beams went up in December.

I had heard of Rye Bread, but never heard Rye grass was so hardy. It will germinate at temps as low as 43° if the moisture is right. Old timers used to throw Rye seed right on top of the snow, so I tried it January 31 after learning about it. Once it has established a root, it will grow a little any warm day you get in the fall, winter or spring. It won’t die or even go dormant in below zero weather…in fact it will still be green. What kills it is 95° heat. Have two or three days of that weather and you will notice the stand will go golden brown.

The backhoes are long gone and we continue to correct the grade around the barn using wheelbarrows. The ground keeps settling and more and more dirt has to be added to maintain a slope in front of the barn. Water accumulation on the field side of the barn is really concerning going into winter. At least an acre of land lies up hill from the east side and we don’t want rain-water soaking in, freezing and cracking the foundation. All this earth moving is hard work, so we don’t want to lose any more dirt to erosion than we have to. We’ve used carpet scraps that neighbors put out on trash day to control the slipping in the mud and to stop erosion. Professional versions of these are called ‘Swamp Mats. However, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that those same carpet scraps could also be used to speed up germination of Rye grass seed.

My youngest wanted to earn some money, so I drove him out to the barn to move wheelbarrows of dirt even though a huge rainstorm was predicted at sundown. He did a great job and we raked it to the right shape for shedding water and sowed Rye grass all across the top. As we were finishing up we could see the thunderstorm coming in the distance so I grabbed the muddy scrap carpet and put it over the newly laid seed just to keep them from getting washed away. [We have thick lush Rye grass ditches and gullies because the seeds get washed all to one area despite straw used as protection].

November 18th Discovery

We returned a few days later to move more dirt on November 18. When we pulled off the carpets the Rye was not only all evenly distributed, it had also sprouted in record time. The little sprouts are a unique and pretty red that change to green as they mature. Thanks to the soaked carpets the seed was kept at the perfect moisture level and the thick carpet made it impossible for birds to eat. If you leave the carpet on too long it will kill the seedlings, but simply checking every 3-4 days is usually sufficient to prevent that problem. The following photos will show how much progress it made over 10 days in November.

November 20th
November 28th

Without carpets to hold the seed in place during rain, keep it moist for germination and fend off the birds, this is the kind of sprout density you get on a slope even in the summer. The seeds find it hard to get a start in straight clay. Note that the drip line off the roof is very deep.

Because of the early start Rye grass gets it is used as a ‘nursery grass’. That means when you are trying to put in a regular perennial grass that needs heat to grow, the Rye grass seed sprouts first and protect the warm weather grasses as they take longer to put down roots. The plan here is to sow perennial Alfalfa into the annual Rye grass in the spring. We will see if Alfalfa is a good grass so close to the barn. I love Rye so much maybe I should buy the more expensive Perennial Rye Grass too so we have green grass all winter, every winter.

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The Amazing Amaranth: Chicken Feed, Vegetable, Cereal, and Cut Flower

File this under: “Stupid Stuff I Do So You Don’t Have To.” Growing Amaranth isn’t stupid. It’s a fantastic plant that can be eaten as a micro-green, spinach replacement, cereal grain, chicken feed, landscaping annual and cut flower. If you want to learn more about it’s ancient history, dig in here. However, the 4 ways I went about trying to collect the seeds were all fails! Next year I’ll put entire seed heads into the chicken coop as treats and only harvest 3-4 of the best ones. All the seeds I collect will be put right back into planting next spring….I won’t bother trying to clean and process the seeds for breakfast [but I could].

I didn’t purchase actual Amaranth ‘planting seeds’ for use this summer. We just had some left over organic Amaranth grain cereal which is technically seeds, but could have been completely infertile. You cook it up like Cream of Wheat, but we loved the taste of it even more and it had the same or better high energy morning benefits for us. The fact we liked eating it made me interested in growing it. There was just a little left in the bag, not enough to actually make another pot, so we experimented.

My kids got handfuls of outdated seeds when they wanted to plant around the barn construction site. The builders weren’t done and might trample any new plants, but I wanted the kids to have fun. I wasn’t watching where the kids were tossing the seeds, but a few plants actually sprung up through the clay and heavy foot traffic. The Amaranth grain was organic, so it wouldn’t have been offspring of GMO but I can’t insure that it’s not hybrid.

A few seeds washed down the path and sprouted at the edge of the chicken coop where the curious hens couldn’t reach the sprouting leaves. The big root system of the Amaranth made full use of the chicken coop’s nutrient’s and dripping chicken waterer. By summer’s end it was over 3’ tall which is pretty good for growing out of solid clay so late in the summer.

More and more seeds began to fall out of the maturing seed heads and the hens enjoyed the flavor so much they began to dig a hole at that corner of the coop trying to get every little one.

When the beautiful scarlet started to fade to brown it seemed likely they were as mature as they were going to get. I cut off the ‘flowers’ and put them in paper bags and sat the bags in the green house to dry out. We were sure to leave the bag tops wide open.

This is where collecting the seeds gets interesting. My plan had been to just strip each flower/head between my finger and thumb. It was easy to do out in the field. I don’t know if the process of the flower drying out is what made the stickers become an issue, but I wish I had done it out in the field. The first reason is because Amaranth is an excellent self-seeder and harvesting the seeds in the same area that you intend to plant next year can really give you a head start. The second reason I wish I had collected seeds outside is because Amaranth pop out of the seed heads at random angles with springy velocity. I have seeds shoved down in the cracks of my dining room ‘office’ floor now that will nether become chicken food nor grow into a giant Amaranth. The third reason to do this outside is the dust that now coats everything in my office. I probably need to replace my furnace filter now.

Method #1 Fail. When I went to remove the seeds later using my finger and thumb I discovered little tiny ‘stickers’ in my fingers. So small I couldn’t see them without my camera zoom, but I got them out with careful rubbing. The stickers felt like fiberglass and I couldn’t take it after a while. I don’t find any mention on-line of Amaranth seed pods having stickers, so perhaps growing one from a seed catalog would do away with this problem.

Method #2 Fail. Next I tried using a larger dinner fork and running that down the stem. This simply knocked off large flower plumes and shot tiny seeds all over the dining room ‘office’. The dog loved it though!

Method #3 Fail. Crushing the flower heads in the paper bags I had stored them in seemed to help reduce their volume and I could hear seeds falling to the bottom of the bag. However, the stems poked random holes in the paper letting more seeds spill on the floor. Puffs of dust came out of the top of the bag because some of the seed heads had toppled the plants over into muddy puddles during the heavy fall rains. When I peek inside the bag some of the flowers look like they haven’t been touched.

Method #4 Fail. Pouring the contents of this torn paper bag over a screen of hardware cloth releases more dust into my dining room ‘office’. The dog has seeds and flower stickers on his muzzle now. Everything just sits on top of the screen. Rubbing my hand across the pile doesn’t expose the back of my hand so I get much less of that fiberglass effect. The seed pods do get broken up, but leaves, stems, flower petals and a whole foxtail make it through. The 19 ounce end result is unacceptable if sold on the open market, but should serve my purposes just fine this coming spring as I try to convert the solid clay construction site into a decent garden.

What I should have done was follow the advice on the Internet and used an old pillow case. Fill the pillow case up, beat it against our concrete retaining wall and throw the stems into the coop so the hens could get the last clinging seeds. Below freezing today and flurries…so my dining room ‘office’ seemed a better spot. It wasn’t. It made a mess that created dust throughout the house.

Like I mentioned earlier, my first priority next year will be to cut off an entire seed head and hang it in the coop. The chickens adore the flavor of the high protein seeds and the velocity that the seeds pop out creates entertainment for family and fowl. Planting several on the edge of the coop and chicken yard lets the birds make use of the shade and periodic falling seeds. The Amaranth will again get the extra nutrients and moisture the chickens provide.

This haphazard experiment went so well I intend to plant the entire 19 ounces of seed/stems/petals into the red clay ‘garden’, chicken run and in among the erosion control area grasses. Maybe we can create some summer shade for the greenhouse and barn. Next year I may purchase these Amaranth seeds for comparison, although I’m also excited to see how my saved seeds will fair next year with earlier planting and slightly improved soil.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Collecting Pretty Marigold Seeds and Displaying For Fall

Marigolds are pretty amazing flowers. They are stare-at-the-sun bright, strong, bloom all summer, grow bigger than mums, deer won’t eat them, bugs avoid them and they help keep bugs away from food grown near them. I generally don’t plant flowers (that is my daughter’s area) but I am a big fan of marigolds.

My daughter may end up planting flowers for the farmer’s market, but marigolds belong to my youngest son. He plans to sell seeds and seedlings, but kids get busy and lose interest, so we will see. His 4H class project from 4th grade was one little seedling in a Styrofoam cup, and that has become the bumper crop of marigold seeds we have now. It was a busy summer when we popped the little seedling into the landscaping and went on visits to grandma, football camps,and vacation. By the time school started the marigold had flourished despite utter neglect. My son was proud of himself, but I completely missed the opportunity to capitalize on that.

Luckily, the amazing Marigold gave me a second chance when three small volunteer seedlings popped up the next Spring. They grew to massive proportions and spread over the sidewalk forcing us all to walk into the grass. That year was my first attempt to harvest seeds and I did it wrong. I cut the plants off at the ground after a rain and put them in a huge plastic tub to dry. The plants started to decay and some of the seeds began to mold…it was an ugly black mess. A close-up of the 2019 seeds shows they are viable, but certainly not center-piece worthy.

The summer of 2020 I threw some marigold seeds directly into the sticky red clay even though construction was still going on and they were constantly trampled. The amazing marigolds survived! When construction was finally over they really took off! I can’t be sure, but I think I have enough seeds here for more than an acre of marigolds….if I really want to keep the deer away!

It is easy to pull the seeds right out of the flower head, so that’s how I harvested them in 2020. I needed a break from digging, so I sat on the ground and harvested them on a 70 degree day. You could also cut them off at the ground and do this at a table. Instead of saving the whole head, skip that step and just pull them out so the drying process can speed up. Don’t use a plastic bag or container if you can avoid it even though a bag can be a headache in the wind. If you must use a plastic container transfer it to a paper bag (keep top open if you have a lot like we do here) as soon as you can and try to remember to shake it or run your hand through it often to help release moisture. You’ll notice that all of these seeds came out as black spikes.

Light brown seeds are like the little white seeds you see in a watermelon…they didn’t get a chance to fully develop like the big black watermelon seeds. They likely won’t germinate or if they germinate they will only grow a puny little plant. A few came out as light brown, so I tossed the light brown ones directly into the garden…if they are viable they will grow, but I don’t have to tie up any space for them.

Because of when I timed the seed harvest, there were still a few orange petals attached. It is so pretty and different it’s hard to keep your hands out of it. Smells like potpourri when you stir it and piles like magnetic/kinetic sand.

It will make a nice fall display for a few days to encourage my youngest in his ‘business plan’. Then they will go back into a brown paper bag to allow them to finish drying out. No top soil has been moved to the garden yet, so marigolds might be the only thing I am able to grow directly in the soil in 2021, and I’m ok with that.

Brass Egg™ participates in affiliate marketing programs, and may receive compensation when you click and purchase from links to retailers. Brass Egg™ of Russell Holdings Group, LLC 2021. All content ©2021 Russell Illinois Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.