Over the past twenty-odd years of organic farming we’ve noticed a very gradual invasion of our fields, and our silage fields in particular, by dandelions. In the good-ol’-bad-ol’ days before we went organic, most of our fields got a regular spray of herbicide to kill perennial weeds like docks, nettles and thistles. We hardly saw a dandelion except on the roadside verges.
At first I was a bit concerned that this ‘invasive’ plant might be harmful to the productivity of my grasslands or the livestock, but now I’ve come to the opposite conclusion. Its presence is more than welcome! It seems that in our grazed fields it has got to a certain moderate level and, having found its natural balance point, stopped there. In our silage fields, management of the fields has very much tipped things in the dandelion’s favour.
We used to spray and fertilise these fields which stimulated earlier and faster grass growth, allowing us to mow them for silage in the 3rd or 4th week of May. Any dandelions that managed to survive the chemical onslaught were about to set seed at this point but they would be swept up in the forager and stuffed into the silage pit for winter feed.
But now, we don’t use any of the chems, we don’t plough the fields anymore and we mow our silage a couple of weeks later giving the dandelions time to grow, flower and set seed. You’ll see from the photo how many of them there are – millions! Don’t they smother out the grass? I ask. From the amount of silage we harvest, it seems not. In fact silage yields are now about as good as they were when we were applying all that toxic stuff. Not only that but the dandelion greenery, which is harvested along with the grasses and other herbs in out silage pastures, is rich in vitamins A, C and K and minerals calcium, potassium, iron and manganese.
And if that wasn’t enough, the thick tap root of the dandelion burrows deep into the soil mining these nutrients and opening the soil up to allow air and water to get in and feed the soil biome, building soil biodiversity and locking up carbon. The flowers provide an early source of nectar for pollinating insects, and the seeds provide early season food for small birds. We were watching a bullfinch feasting on dandelion seeds this morning.
What’s not to like? The big question is, ‘can we get too much of a good thing?’ That does bother me a wee bit but what I’ve learned over the 20-plus years of organic farming is that nature usually brings things back into balance, given time.
By David Finlay