If you are going to walk barefoot in Texas, you better be tough. The entire State is determined to poke, stab, slash, burn, bite, and scratch you. My daughter and I are both barefooters. Yes, you’ve probably seen that in a few of the videos. Being barefooters, we know every inch of our homestead with an intimacy you’ll never get wearing shoes. We know exactly the condition of the soil, where it is ‘safe’ and at what time of year (yes, it does change).
My passion has been to create an ever growing radius around the house that is barefoot friendly. This is hard-core land reclamation. We have just about every type of non-existent ‘soil’ you can imagine. Some areas are pure beach sand, some areas have the ‘orange clay of death’, and some is simply rock. If anything is growing there – and there is a surprising amount – it usually has barbs, thorns, or stingers.
My goal in working with the landscape is quite tangible; be able to walk comfortably while barefoot.
I have successfully created quite a few patches of areas that are now officially barefoot friendly. And as my experience grows I am expanding my efforts.
The main formula I have found that works is using livestock for fertility in rotation on the areas to be reclaimed. I use livestock in several ways.
In the spring our family grows out a flock of meat birds. It’s a four month project from pullet to freezer. We get about 100 meat birds delivered to the Post Office. We raise them up for about 3 months until they are ready to harvest. Our family works for a series of Saturday mornings to do the butchering. And for our efforts, our family has a source of chicken enchiladas and curries for the whole year.
Aside from the meat, the fertility is what excites me. Once the chicks are large enough we move them outside. We first put them in tractors, and as they grow we move them onto fresh areas with portable fencing. The paddocks up by the barn where I’ve been rotating them each year are now barefoot friendly and almost downright lush.
In the areas where fairly decent grass has been established, the proverbial ‘lawn’, I am now moving rabbit tractors across the landscape to keep it fertilized and healthy.
When the land is almost bare and ridiculously harsh, the chickens don’t do very well, and forget putting rabbits on it.
You know what has worked the best?
Yeah, no kidding.
You have to feed the geese (because there really isn’t anything there for them to eat). And I rotate them to nicer places with grass from time to time for a much needed break. But as long as the geese have some big pans of water to splash around in, they are quite content.
Geese are the perfect animal for this job. They are surprisingly tough creatures. They are easy to confine, and easy to protect (they are excellent guards for themselves).
But their main ‘gift’ is… I don’t know any way to say this nicely… but geese shit all over the place. Boy do they make an amazingly fertile mess. My husband hates them for that reason. God help me when they get loose and come visit the patio.
Anyway, last year I decided to start working on a side yard area to make it barefoot friendly. It started out extremely rough. Mostly sand, a few scattered wildflowers, and an occasional patch of sticker burrs. I set up four paddocks and started rotating the geese through each. I would drag around a hose with a sprinkler to irrigate the areas a bit.
I kept the geese in each paddock for about two weeks. I would fill and change the poopy pan water the geese played in once or twice per day. I move the pans around to encourage equal distribution of the mess. It would take about two or three weeks in each paddock for a good majority of the area to have gotten drenched in the poop water. Then I move them to the next paddock.
I found the geese especially loved it if I would turn on the sprinkler while they were in the paddock. They were just like little kids with a sprinkler.
Comedy, fertility, and ruggedness. What more could you ask for?
Well, quiet would be nice. But that is another story and another reason why they are away from the house.
As that first summer of the side yard experiment wore on I was so excited. With the water and fertility, there was an explosion in growth of sticker burr plants. This probably sounds worse than it actually is because I took great care to mow them before they even had a chance to think about seeding out.
Sticker burr plants without the seed heads look mostly like grass. And it got so if you didn’t know better, it looked like a lawn.
No one has been more ecstatic over a patch of sticker burrs than I. Something is better than nothing. The ground was getting covered and with every mowing we were adding more organic matter. The sticker burr plants were loving the goose poop and irrigation. They were growing like gangbusters.
A couple of very important points: the timing of irrigation and mowing is critical. You have to keep on top of it.
And you have to continually keep the fertility coming. The geese did that part beautifully.
Now for the sad part.
At the end of the summer I moved the geese temporarily to another area to rest on real grass. And between my suddenly hectic travel schedule and some rains (what? it really rained in Texas?) I did not get to the mowing.
“Please” I asked my teenage son as I dashed out to catch a plane “could you mow the side paddocks?”.
“Sure mom” he said, and I was hopeful.
But reliability isn’t exactly developed in 15 year old boys. The sticker burrs came out, turned green, and then hardened.
I came back to an absolute ‘no man’s land’. It went way beyond barefoot unfriendly. Even if you went in with knee-high boots you would get covered with stickers.
My husband valiantly offered to mow the stickers and try and bag them up. But there has always been a more than adequate seed bank of stickers in the ground (as I had already proved). Why bag up and haul off the organic matter?
So I simply mowed the stickers with the mower on mulch mode and decided all the seeds would just have to be more organic matter.
But no way could I put geese, or rabbits, or anything on that land for quite a while.
Before I mowed, I tossed out a bunch of oats, clover, and rye seed (for the winter growing season). And I wondered what to do next.
I really want to keep adding some fertility to keep the momentum going. The rye and oats have sprouted and are coming up – hit and miss – throughout the area. The clover? Hmm, not much. I know oats and rye will do much better if I put something out there to give them a bit of help.
The soil is so sandy, I don’t know how long a liquid or even granular fertilizer would work. Call me backwards, but it just doesn’t feel right. I wish I had some worm casting tea, but I don’t have enough for that scale of a project. I do need to get a big bin going like I had when I was living in Oregon – (check out this video I did when living on the West Coast, everyone loves this video on worm farming).
I wish that clover could come up strong.
I wish I had made seed balls (yeah, like I really had time for that).
I wish I could get a thick patch of alfalfa to grow…
And then it hit me. Even the cheapest rabbit pellets are mostly compressed alfalfa with some minerals mixed in. I wonder if that would be a good fertilizer to use? It would take some time to swell up and then break down. It won’t get washed away down the great sandy drain with the first rain that comes along.
And alfalfa is a legendary plant for land restoration.
Now I’ll admit that a lot of that legend is because of the massive root systems. Rye is also known for a massive root system, which is why I really want to help out the rye that is growing as much as possible.
So I am going to toss out two 50 lb. bags of rabbits feed pellets on the area and see how it goes.
What do you think? Should I mark off two areas and test one and leave the other as a control and see if there is a noticeable difference?
Drop me a note in the comments area.
And I’ll post an update in a few months with the progress.
Marjory Wildcraft is an Expedition Leader and Bioneer Blogger with The [Grow] Network, which is an online community that recognizes the wisdom of “homegrown food on every table.” Marjory has been featured as an expert on sustainable living by National Geographic, she is a speaker at Mother Earth News fairs, and is a returning guest on Coast to Coast AM. She is an author of several books, but is best known for her “Grow Your Own Groceries” video series, which is used by more than 300,000 homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations around the world.