Quality of seed is an important factor in making a meadow. The rental value of the land plus the cost of preparing it are many times greater than the cost of the seed; but if only a small percentage of the seed is capable of germination and that which is vital is not true to name, or if it is infested with noxious weed seeds, the total outlay may result in a loss, or, worse still, in a positive injury.
The origin of growth of grass and clover seeds is often equivalent to varietal differences, usually in point of hardiness. Grass plants grown from seeds produced in a warm climate are more easily winter killed, and those from a moist temperate climate are more susceptible to drought than are thoroughly acclimated plants. Experiments with Alfalfa at Guelph show that northern grown seed, particularly that from long-established fields in the district, is more hardy than seed obtained from dryer or warmer climates. Red Clover from southern Europe or from Chili, although of satisfactory type, will not stand the Canadian winter as well as plants from homegrown seed. Competent seedsmen should know the origin of the grass and clover seeds they sell, and purchasers should demand seed of northern and, if procurable, of local production.
Varieties: Few Canadian farmers differentiate between varieties of the common grasses and clovers. In fact, varieties of Timothy,
Orchard Grass, Western Rye Grass, early Red Clover, Alsike or Alfalfa are little known, and, with the exception of certain strains of Alfalfa, are not commercially available. Such varieties are of recent production, but the difference in point of earliness, yield or general quality is quite remarkable. As soon as reliable seed of the best varieties is available, farmers will find it profitable to use it instead of the ordinary seed of commerce.
Percentage vitality in grass and clover seeds is an important consideration and should receive special attention in the case of the finer grasses. Fully ninety-five per cent. of the fodder crop seeds used in Canada consist of Timothy, Orchard Grass, Brome Grass, Western Rye Grass, Red Clover, Alsike and Alfalfa, and, with the exception of Brome Grass, commercial seeds of these kinds are seldom deficient in vitality. Good seed of Brome Grass, the Blue Grasses, Fescues and others of the finer grasses should germinate eighty per cent. or better; but commercial samples often contain less than fifty per cent. of vital seeds. Seed that will germinate eighty per cent. or better is really cheaper at thirty cents per pound than seed at half the cost, if the percentage vitality is commensurately low. Reliable seedsmen know what the vitality of their seeds is, but purchasers of the finer grass seeds should buy at least a month before planting time and test their seeds. Sow two hundred average seeds of each kind in light soil in a flower pot and keep them slightly moist in a living room temperature in a sunny window for about three weeks.
Purity: The value of grass and clover seeds is affected most by the nature and amount of their impurities. Unfortunately it is difficult to obtain these seeds free from weeds. One hundred weed seeds in an ounce of grass or clover may not be detected, but the weeds are very evident in the resultant crop. The folly of purchasing the inferior qualities is not always clear from an examination of the seed itself; and although the weeds may be quite evident in the meadow their bad effect on the stock is seldom fully appreciated. The best available seed is always the cheapest in the end.
The suppression of noxious weeds in meadows is most effectively and economically accomplished by clean cultivation before fodder crop seeds are sown. Perennial weeds, such as Daisy, Thistle, Campion and Couch Grass, tend to increase in meadows. In a moist climate such annual and biennial weeds as Wild Oats and Blue Weed can be prevented from seeding and thus effectively suppressed by leaving the land in meadow for five years or more.
In a dry climate weed seeds buried in the soil retain their vitality longer. Mustards, Ragweeds and other annuals may be reduced by seeding the land to meadow or pasture for a term of years, though it is scarcely possible to prevent occasional plants from ripening a few seeds each year.
After seeding to grass and clover on reasonably clean land, an early maturing nurse crop can usually be counted upon to check weed growth and prevent the seeds from maturing before the crop is harvested. The nurse crop should be ready to harvest or be cut for fodder within three or at most three and a half months after seeding. If weeds are not too prevalent when the nurse crop is harvested, it is better for the seedling grass and clover to leave a stubble four or five inches high. That will remove the seed stalks of the taller and more vigorous weeds and will enable the still tender fodder plants to gradually adapt themselves to altered conditions. Autumn weeds may be largely prevented from seeding by cutting with a mowing machine about a month after the nurse crop is harvested, and when Ragweed is prevalent this is especially important.
In the development of a meadow it frequently happens, as a result of unfavourable weather, irregular seeding, patches of too wet or too hard and dry soil, or a heavy nurse crop perhaps lodging in places, that the seedling plants suffer severely or are killed out in small areas. As soon as the autumn rains commence, or, if the soil is sufficiently moist, at any time after the summer heat is past, it is well to re-seed such patches quite thickly. If necessary, apply a thin dressing of rotted barnyard manure to cover the seed, to retain moisture and to insure vigorous autumn growth. If the killed out areas are large, it is sometimes advisable to use a sharp harrow to make a good seed bed. If the late fall is favourable and the re-seeded patches are well protected during the winter, they should make a fair growth, even for the first cutting, and succeeding crops will well repay the trouble and expense.