Frost Seeding

Weaned Pigs on Pasture

Susan Lea asked:
How do you “frost seed”? That is a huge amount of acreage to seed by hand. We have some pasture that needs to be re-seeded and had thought of renting a no-till drill, but we don’t know anything about how to do it. So I’m curious about frost seeding.

The key to the way that we seed is mostly a matter of timing and of climate. Years ago I had heard someone mention frost seeding. Here is a search pattern on the topic. I tried it out and found it works quite well. We also do mob seeding and storm seeding. We do these methods on fresh cut new fields such as last year’s conversion from forest to pasture, over existing pasture and over bare spots where we do managed rotational grazing.

Sow on Frost Seeded Kale and Rape in North Field

For frost seeding we seed in the spring just after the snows have gone but we’re still getting hard frosts. The frost causes the ground to open and close and makes the seeds drop down into the soil. This takes our northern climate to work.

We experimented last year with late fall frost seeding. We don’t notice any significant difference between what we seeded then vs the spring seeding. The advantage of the fall seeding is that by the time the snows melted we already had the seed in the ground when we might otherwise be occupied with spring projects.

The kale and rape did great even in the shadows of the regen, small trees that had sprouted from stumps and between stumps. In fact, they did so well that I wish I had planted broccoli and brussel sprouts like that! The pigs browse the leaves in the summer and then in the late fall they go for the roots. They do the same for the beets, turnips and mangles. This allows the cole and root crops to keep growing while being grazed and then provide a late fall bounty.

For mob seeding we seed just before we’re about to move the livestock out of an area. They trample the seeds into the soil. The grass and clover seeds are too small for sheep, pigs and cattle to pickup so they don’t eat it. This works with small seeds and big animals. e.g., no corn and no chickens.

For rain seeding a.k.a. storm seeding we watch the weather and seed just before a rain storm. The falling rain drops drive the seed down into the soil and fling soil up into the air to cover the seeds. This also wets the seeds to get them to sprout. Combining mob seeding and rain seeding is ideal.

Grasses and Clover initially hand seeded 12 years ago.

Timing is important or various little critters will eat the seed. Chickens are an obvious concern as are the field mice and such. By timing things correctly most of the seed gets into the soil quickly and thus away from the animals who would eat it.

This is similar to a natural seeding method, like the seeds coming off of the plants. It is a heck of a lot easier and safer than drilling and driving a tractor on our steep slopes. I try hard to avoid tractor work on inclines even though I have our tractor wheels spread to a full 8′ of width. On flat lands this would be less of a concern and one could more easily do mechanical seeding, tilling, drilling and all those fun things.

In a hot or dry climate our techniques might not work as well due to the lack of frosts, less rain fall and the seedlings needing more cover. Try a patch and see if it works for you.

More on frost seeding on these posts.

For more photos of our pastures see this post.

Outdoors: 61°F/34°F Cloudy, Occasional Light Rain
Tiny Cottage: 68°F/66°F

Daily Spark: Always make new mistakes. -Ester Dysen

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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9 Responses to Frost Seeding

  1. steven says:

    I’m curious to know how well broadcast seeding of your cole crops works on untilled ground. Do you broadcast it on areas the pigs have rooted, or just over the grass using the aforementioned methods? Have you devised a way to figure germination rate? Thanks.

    • We spread one hundred pounds of rape and kale seed on 73 acres. But some acres got two passes and some got one pass – we only did one pass on the east fields as the pigs aren’t on them this year. Overall that is the one pass equivelant of 128 acres.

      The recommended seed rate is 8 to 12 pounds per acre. We did 1.3 lbs/acre. This was broadcast along with clovers, alfalfa, grasses and other seed so none of them were done at the full seed rate as that would have been too much and thus a waste of seed.

      The area in front of the sow in the picture above is a typical two pass area (1.5 lbs/acre) example. The one pass (0.8 lbs/acre) areas also have lots of kale and rape.

      I don’t have a way of measuring the exact germination but based on what we’re seeing I would say it was very good. These are particularly nice crops for this as they do well in our cool weather and soils. The clovers also did very well. The grasses were slower to get going but by mid-summer were very strong. I have been taking plot photos and at some point plant to count species which will better answer this question.

  2. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    Walter, your coverage of weather/stock aided seeding is great! I’ve seen treatments of “mob seeding” before, but without real world photography. A question: I’m a Californian, where rape (the forb) is almost unknown. Some years ago, looking for a little farm in Missouri, I was told that rape, after frost, contains deadly concentrations of cyanic compounds. Do you ever have that problem, or do your short legged cattle eat it all before first frost?

    • We’ve not had any problem. We’ve raised beets, turnips, kale and other cole crops out in the fields for years plus the pigs, sheep and chickens clean out the gardens. I suspect this myth comes from doing a chemical analysis and then saying, “If animal X eats food Y to level Z then it will likely kill it.” Probably true. But in the real world the different forages are mixed in and the animals sample different things. My mother was a physician. Her response to this sort of thing was, “Toxic things tend to taste bad so animals will avoid them and are unlikely to eat enough to cause any problem.” A vet I know said something similar. If you look at the toxic plant lists it turns out that a great many of the plants out in the fields and woods will kill us. But we don’t tend to eat them or not to a large enough degree. Example: cayenne pepper – that nice spicy taste is toxicity. Same with a lot of spices. Eat your veggies, just not too much. :)

      As a side note, to me the cole crops tend to taste sweeter after the frost. Generally that is a sign from the plant of “eat me!” Some plants like to be eaten. But they don’t want to be eaten until their seeds are fully formed. Then we poop out their seeds in nice warm piles of fertilizer all over the planet so they, the plants, can spread and populate the world. It’s all a plot by the plant people to take over the Universe! Shh… don’t tell them we know…

  3. Arron says:

    For a frame of references how big is that sow in the second photo where the kale is?

  4. karl omelay says:

    old timers here swear by scattering seed on top of the last snow of the season. it melts first and drives the seed to the ground-away from birds. during the melt, nitrogen rich water saturates the seed and probably drives even deeper by usual following frost. scattering on snow has the added benefit of seeing where you have been, scattered seed on snow is easy to spot and shows density fairly well. I’ve tried once and it worked extremely well–forever my intention to follow this method.

  5. Jeff Marchand says:

    Another great informative post Walter that I will be trying out on my farm.


  6. Amanda says:

    Oh my gosh, I am so excited to find this!!!! Very practical information. Much appreciated. Looking forward to giving it a go in zone 9….big difference from where you are, but I think the mob and storm seeding will work here. Thanks so much. Cheers!

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