On a cool, crisp October morning, the UC Davis crew joined our Ranch Manager, Mark Biaggi, up on Horse Hill to continue with our Native Grasses Strip Seeding Project started last Spring. This project is exploring the potential benefits and cost savings of re-planting native grasses in concentrated strips instead of across an entire field. Horse Hill is a prime spot for treatment because it is dominated by annual grasses.

The site was treated through the use of precision horse grazing bringing vegetation down to the ground evenly across the site. Instead of tilling or using herbicides, we elected to work with horses to make it easier to seed without negatively affecting the microbial communities in the soil. Our hope is that through continued adaptive grazing with cattle, the planted native grasses will once again be able to thrive in the restored soil and then will begin to re-colonize the entire field. If successful, this strategy of strip seeding may make it far cheaper for ranchers throughout California to re-establish drought-resistant and deep-rooted native grasses that not only help keep their livestock well-fed, but also save water, restore native habitat, and even help capture atmospheric carbon to grow healthy soils.

For planting, a seed drill was rented by UC Davis to use for all of their strip seeding projects in CA to maintain consistency across the trials. The 8 foot wide seeder was a little different than the one that Philip Brownsey, Rangeland Ecologist, said that he was used to using. This seed drill utilized speed as the control. Go slow, sow more seed. Go fast, seeding is more sparse. On a similar project the day before, the seeder worked well after a few adjustments. On this particular morning, the seeder was only laying down ⅓ of the seed it was supposed to lay down. Phillip used some brown paper lunch bags to collect the seeds in order to test the equipment. Since the machine was controlled by speed, it was determined they would need to make 3 passes. The day before they had the same seeds, but from a different eco type, which meant the seeds differed slightly in size from the previous day affecting the performance of the seeder. After a few more trials, they were ready to start drilling.

All in all, the day was a success and we got the seed down before the rains begin this winter. It will be interesting to observe the grass growth and we’ll be sure to report back in a few months.