Free nitrogen — boy, wouldn’t that be a great cost-share program. Well, it almost exists.


All we have to do is manage for legumes in our pastures. Legumes are an essential part of a strong and healthy nitrogen cycle in pastures. In many cases, they come by themselves when we start to manage for them, but in some instances, we need to introduce them back into our pastures.


That isn’t all bad since we can choose improved varieties that are higher producing, and in some cases, more persistent. N.C. Department of Agriculture soil test recommendations for fescue pastures are 60# N per acre in the spring and fall, which can also be accomplished with a 30 percent stand of ladino clover, according to research.


There are a few steps that we can take that will help to ensure that our frost seedings are successful:


* Control broadleaf weeds. Broadleaf weeds must be controlled prior to seeding legumes.


* Test soil and adjust fertility. For pasture renovation to be successful, proper soil fertility is required. Lime and fertilize pastures according to soil test results. Lime should be applied six months prior to renovation if possible, but can be applied at any time.


* Suppress sod and decrease residue. Graze or bush-hog pastures to be seeded to ensure optimal seed to soil contact. Regardless of what seeding method is chosen, good soil-seed contact is required for seed germination and emergence.


* Seed on proper date. Frost seeding legumes back into pastures is usually best accomplished in late winter or early spring (February and early March). Frost seeding is accomplished by simply broadcasting the seed on the soil surface and allowing the freezing and thawing cycles to incorporate the seed into the soil.


It is best to broadcast at a time when the soil is going through freeze/thaw cycles. Success with frost seeding can be enhanced by dragging your pasture after or as you broadcast the seed. This simply gets the seed in better contact with the soil. Prior planning and preparation are important so that seeding can be done in a timely manner.


* Use high-quality seed of an adapted species. Choose forage species that are adapted to our area. Use either certified seed to ensure high germination, seed genetics and low noxious weed content. Cheap, low quality seed often cost more in the end due to lower production and thin stands. In Randolph County, a good mixture for renovating pastures with is 4 pounds of red clover and 2 pounds of ladino clover per acre.


* Use correct seeding rate. Calibrate your seeder prior to planting. Seeding at too high of a rate needlessly results in higher seed costs. On the other hand, seeding at too low a rate results in weak stands and lower productivity.


* Inoculate legume seed. Always use inoculated legume seed or inoculate it with the proper strain of a nitrogen-fixing bacteria prior to seeding. This is relatively inexpensive insurance that legume roots will be well nodulated and efficient nitrogen fixation will take place.


* Control seeding depth. Small seeded forages should never be placed deeper than 1/2 inch. When using a drill, always check seeding depth since it will vary with seedbed condition and soil moisture status. Placing small seeded forages too deep will result in stand failures.


* Check seed distribution pattern. When using a spinner type spreader/seeder, make sure and check your spreading pattern. In many cases, small seeded forages are not thrown as far as fertilizer. This can result is strips of clover in your pastures rather than a uniform stand. Also, check your seed distribution pattern. Single disk spinners often throw more seed to one side if not correctly adjusted.


* Control post-seeding competition. Failure to control post-seeding competition is one of the most common causes of stand failures. Clip or graze the existing vegetation to a height just above the developing seedlings. This must be done in a timely manner to ensure that the competing vegetation does not get ahead of the seedlings.


* Pray for rain. Lastly and most importantly, pray for rain. We can do everything just right, but if it doesn’t rain, success will be unlikely.


— Adapted from an article written by Chris D. Teutsch at Virginia Tech

* Jonathan A. Black is the county extension director for beef cattle and forages with the N.C. State Extension service in Randolph County. Contact: 336-318-6000 or email jonathan_black@ncsu.edu.