Friday, 10 August 2012

Maintaining a wildflower meadow - part 1

Way back when, before the advent of herbicides, chemical fertilisers and intensive farming, traditional species rich meadows were managed with one thing in mind…..animal feed.  Modern meadows are still managed for animal feed…but today’s farmer usually wants to feed more animals per acre of land and so he (or she) spends lots of money ensuring that the land grows grass, just grass, and as much of it as possible.  But that’s by the by.
So, before Fisons 57 became an essential ingredient, this is what would have happened in the four seasons of farming:
highland cow taking a break from munching through
all that vegetation
In late summer/early autumn cattle, sheep and probably some of the horses would be out at pasture most of the time, grazing on the grasses and other herbaceous plants and having very little in the way of supplementary feed…no need for it, there is still plenty of nourishment in leafy plants at this time of year.  Whilst grazing, they would trample and churn parts of the ground with their feet, thus creating small bare areas where wild flower seeds could germinate without too much competition from the grass.
As autumn draws into winter and the nights get longer, most creatures…especially the hardy old-fashioned breeds, will still be living out of doors but they may have be given extra hay or sugar beet pulp to supplement their diets because not only have the perennial wild flower plants “gone to ground”, most of the grass will have been grazed quite short.
In midwinter, some of the creatures will be brought into sheds – the grass has next to no nourishment in it so supplementary feeding is a must. Plus, the farmer likes to keep a close eye on youngstock and on pregnant ewes and cows.
Come the spring, there’ll be a flurry of activity with calving, lambing, foaling and the like.  Plants begin to grow again and so most of the beasts will be kept in the farmyard so they can be cared for whilst they’re still vulnerable.
early spring flowers in a traditionally managed meadow
In the meadow, with all the beasts safely out of the way, various wildflowers will be germinating, early blooms such as cowslips will be out to welcome the bees and of course the grasses….which is what the farmer is interested in, will be growing strongly.
As spring rolls into summer, various species of wildflower will bloom in succession providing a whole season’s worth of nectar and pollen for butterflies and bees
Some meadows may be grazed…it’s impossible to keep every animal indoors for all spring and summer, others would be encouraged to grow long.
By the end of July, the meadow grasses will be setting seed and at exactly the right stage of growth to make the hay that will feed the beasts in winter.  Hopefully, too, the weather will be kind and so the farmer is able to mow the whole meadow, grasses, flowers, herbs and all; let the clippings dry in the sun and then bale them up and take them away for storage.
A couple of weeks later, the grasses will be growing strongly again and the beasts can come in to graze.  Which of course means that the meadows they were scoffing in spring can have a bit of a recovery period and maybe even pop up a few flowers?  Certainly clover is happy to be grazed (or mown) and will flower again in next to no time.
And so the cycle begins again.
Meadowmat has been designed to emulate a species rich meadow and so if you take all the above waffle, swap grazing for mowing, and translate it into a management program for Meadowmat, it looks a bit like this…..
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sept
Oct
Nov
Dec
Growing
Mowing
Growing
Mowing


BUT
Us gardeners aren’t so interested in feeding our cattle, we want Meadowmat to support wildlife and look pretty for as long as possible.  So…..we need to tweak that management programme a little…
More details in a future blog post, but in the meantime, if you need advice on managing a wild flower meadow, please don’t hesitate to drop me an email angelal@qlawns.co.uk or drop a comment on this blog.............look forward to hearing from you
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