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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink How low should I graze my pastures down during the winter?

Answer: It depends on the species of grass, but always leave a minimum of 4 to 5 inches. If you have 1,500 to 1,800 pounds of grass per acre that you are grazing, I would suggest leaving about 8 to 10 inches. You do not want to graze the grass down to nothing; this is extremely detrimental to the health of both the grass and the soil. Leaving several inches of residue protects the soil and soil microbes over the winter by acting as an insulating blanket and mitigating the impact of harsh winds. As a result of the soil protection and insulation provided by grass residues, your grass will grow back earlier in spring and you can return to the pasture earlier.

Stock densities that are high enough to trample this residual into the soil (100,000+ pounds of animals per acre) are very much recommended. Incorporating the residue as organic matter into the soil helps feed those microbes, absorb rainfall, and improve water infiltration.

For more information on grazing, see the ATTRA publications Irrigated Pastures: Setting Up an Intensive Grazing System that Works at, and Why Intensive Grazing on Irrigated Pastures? at

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Permalink Are orchids edible?

Answer: The blooms of all orchids are considered safe for consumption, but some species can irritate the stomach. The vanilla bean or pod is considered the world’s only edible fruit-bearing orchid. The genus Dendrobia is also commonly used as a food ingredient and garnish. As with any raw product, be sure to thoroughly wash it prior to consumption.

Cultures in Africa, Asia, and Australia have eaten different parts of the orchid plant for hundreds of years, if not more, and the plant has also been used medicinally in many places.

Soft Cane Dendrobians are used in stir fry dishes, in sauce recipes, and boiled for tea in many Asian countries. In Thailand, Dendrobian flowers are dipped in batter and deep-fried. In Europe, many chefs garnish cakes and desserts with beautiful orchid petals. Hawaiians have been making salad dishes and sugar-coated orchid candies for decades. Orchids are becoming a popular garnish to drinks served in upscale restaurants, as well as offering a burst of color to salads and lending their unique flavor to cuisine sauces.

The flavor depends on the genus of orchid used and also what part of the plant is being consumed. Often, orchid petals are described as having a fresh, crisp flavor that is similar to endive or watercress.

There are also several other types of edible flowers genus’ including pansy blossoms, rose petals, nasturtiums, marigolds, calendulas, violas, camellias, dahlias to name a few. To learn more, see the ATTRA publication Edible Flowers, available at

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Permalink I’m about to till in sorghum-sudangrass cover crop. Will they have allelopathic effects on subsequent crops?

Answer: Sorghum-sudangrass is often grown as a cover crop to reduce erosion, increase soil organic matter, and suppress weeds, but you’re right to be concerned about its allelopathic effects on subsequent crops. These effects can include death or stunting due to the presence of a number of inhibitory compounds including sorgoleone, phenolic acids, and dhurrin, which converts to cyanide. However, the presence of these chemicals is not permanent (or else nobody would use this cover crop), and according to University of California-Davis, waiting at least six to eight weeks for these compounds to leach and degrade before transplanting into the residue is usually sufficient to avoid the allelopathic effects. Appropriate irrigation or rainfall is necessary to facilitate leaching. The 2009 UC-Davis study states:

"We studied the effects of sudex, a sorghum hybrid used as a cover crop, on subsequent crops of tomato, broccoli and lettuce started from transplants. Within 3 to 5 days of being transplanted into recently killed sudex, all three crops showed symptoms of phytotoxicity including leaf necrosis, stunting and color changes. There was 50% to 75% transplant mortality in all three species. Plant growth and development, as determined by biomass measurements, were also significantly affected. Yields of mature green tomato fruit and marketable broccoli and lettuce heads were reduced significantly. Tomato, broccoli and lettuce should not be transplanted into sudex residue for at least 6 to 8 weeks, or until the residue has been thoroughly leached."

For more information on the issue of allelopathy in sorghum-sudangrass, read the entirety of the UC study at

For more information on cover crops, see ATTRA’s publication Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures at

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Permalink I want to lease my land to someone who raises grass-fed beef in a holistic or sustainable way. Where can I find a set of principles or rules I can incorporate into our lease to ensure that they observe and follow those practices?

Answer: As with almost any lease situation, there are rarely any guarantees and both parties must keep their end of the agreement. Despite the best planning and efforts on both sides, unforeseen circumstances can arise that will have to be dealt with as they arise. To help ensure a successful lease experience, be sure that expectations and responsibilities are clearly stated and understood by both parties.

ATTRA has two publications outlining sustainable pasture management and production techniques, entitled Organic and Grass-fed Beef Cattle Production and Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management (see links below). You will find many sustainable production practices that you may want to write in to your lease language.

Pasture management practices would likely be the main items you would want to include in your lease—how often will cattle be rotated, how many animals will be grazed (stocking rate and density), the level of grass that will be left (residual growth) in pastures after cattle are rotated, the rest period of a given pastured for grass to become fully recovered, specific dates cattle will cattle be put on and taken off grass, the plan for drought, how weeds or unwanted plants will be dealt with, etc. Be sure to specify if your property is organic, as this will determine what, if any, fertilizers can be used on the property. You may want to include how and what the lessee can fertilize with or use as soil amendments. The above-referenced ATTRA publications provide more information on these topics.

Are there any creeks or ponds on the land? If so, you may want to include language about protecting the water sources and managing access to them. If your land has a riparian area, how will that be managed? If access is denied to a stream, you will need to provide an alternate water source for the cattle.

There are other important factors to consider when leasing out grazing land. Is the lease long- or short-term? Who is responsible for fixing fences? What improvements, if any, do you expect to be made to the property during that time? Also, be sure to express that you expect the land to be maintained during the lease and returned in the same condition or better at the end of the lease.

For more information:

*Organic and Grass-fed Beef Cattle Production,
*Pasture, Rangeland, and Grazing Management,

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