Fast Growing Plants


You’ve no doubt heard the old folktales about fast growing plants back in the early days when our virgin soils were supposedly so bountifully fertile. In one of them, a farm wife notices that a squash has formed on a vine in her new garden. Before she can pick it, a sudden rain falls, sending her inside for awhile. Later she goes back out to get the squash only to find that the vine, nourished by the rain, has already snaked out of the garden and is headed down the lane. She chases after it but can’t catch up. She grabs an ax and severs the vine thereby stopping the runaway squash. The storyteller usually concludes by saying, with all due solemnity, that this is how farmers in the good old days learned to put little sleds under their watermelons so that fast moving vines would not ruin the fruit while dragging it over the ground.

Sometimes in June when there is plenty of rain, warm temperatures and sunlight hours, I half-believe those tall tales even though we all know that no matter how fast the vines might grow, the melons or squashes stay where they first appear. A few days ago, I put up the electric fence around the corn to stop the dratted deer. The fence runs next to the grape arbor on one side and I made sure the wire was at least two feet from any vines. Two mornings later, I kid you not, a couple of vines had grown out over the wire.

I got to wondering. Just how fast can a plant grow in the long hot days of June and July when soil moisture is optimum. I am going to bet on bittersweet. One day I drove up the lane passed the bittersweet on the fence without incident. The next day a bittersweet vine had stretched out far enough to reach into the pickup window and jabbed me in the ear.

But corn might be faster, especially when growing on soil rich in organic matter. When it reaches about knee high, it can grow six inches on a warm, moist night in late June or early July. You can actually hear it growing at such a time if you stand out in the middle of a cornfield. And that’s not folklore. All those thousands upon thousands of leaves stretching out and reaching skyward make a very slight rustling sound. No, not from wind. You hear it best when there is no wind to make a rustle.

This is a good year to observe fast growth here in our neighborhood. It has been very rainy with many warm days since the middle of April. The potatoes grew a foot in the first three weeks. Our lawn mower went on the blink right at the time the grass took off (you might know) and in just five days, the turf had grown up nearly a foot tall. Some weed (Carol says it is a kind of ragwort) grew up even taller and blossomed a sprightly yellow, making me wonder once again if we are not all a little crazy for mowing our lawns so often.

But it is the fast growth of the pastures that has been most awesome to watch. Those of us who have developed permanent, managed pastures of grass and clover undisturbed by cultivation and enriched with manure from the grazing animals for a decade or more now, saw our pasture plants just erupt in the hot, moist weather. I could be grazing three times the number of sheep I have. The clover is so lush it could be making prime steaks as tasty as corn-fed. When the sheep lay down, they disappear from sight. My old tractor rotary mower will barely cut through the grass even after the sheep have been grazing a plot for ten days. While growers of annual crops struggle to get the corn and soybeans in the ground (some soybean fields still have not been planted in the first week of June) we are literally rolling in the clover. I’ve made hay out of some of the excess and some I just let molder away into the sod as green manure when the weather was too wet for making hay.

If I could keep this up for another fifty years, my goodness, I would not dare grow any squash or melons in these pasture soils. The vines might race off to the road before I could stop them and cause an accident.


Due to all the rain we’ve gotten here in NE Wisconsin, I’ve had 10 acres of hay rot in the field, can’t get the last of our (organic)soybeans planted and the cattle can’t graze fast enough to keep up with the grass growth. When things dry out here the neighborhood will go hay crazy and the corn will change from pale green to dark green. By the way, we quit mowing most of our farm yard and now just use polywire and weaned calves to keep the grass short. Fuel is too expensive and life too short to spend time on a lawn mower!

Thistledog, thanks for that account of working over clipped pasture with bushhog. My neighbour has one and we share equipment so it’s likely I’ll give it a try. I made up a tandem earthway seeder like Gene talks about and lo, neighbour wants to borrow it to plant his corn. He has 70 hp 4wd tractor for tilling and bed prep but no seeder. Funniest feeling to be walking over the field pushing that little seeder.
But back to the clipping, mowing, bushhogging: I’m trying to spend as little fuel and minimize equipment use for pasture management. Haying is one thing, clipping for looks is another. Like Gene says, I want to let the livestock do the work.

I think vining plants are attracted to electric fences. I think ALL weeds grow better under electric fences…. How do people keep them clear!

There are obviously judgement calls here that may change from situation to situation. I would clip the plot after the grazing and make hay out of it if there is a lot of forage there. Makes good emergency feed in August and winter. May-June growth is always heavy. If you know for sure you have an oversupply of grass, you can make hay out of some of it even before grazing. The crucial thing this time of year (and especially this year) is to get a window of three days to make the hay. Therefore cut the grass when the three days are coming, even if it is only six to eight inches tall. It will make great hay and the regrowth will not overwhelm the cattle so much. They will get it eaten down better. Some experts say that mowing after grazing is not necessary for the plants but just looks good to the grazier. That may be sort of true, but I don’t entirely agree. I think you should get rid of that old growth to encourage the new growth to come on sooner. If you use a rotary mower, it will usually chop up the old growth so that it won’t smother the new grass coming on. I have had occasions when a gob of cut grass sort of killed out the growing grass under it, but only for awhile. The chickens may stop some of the rank growth, yes. It also helps them hide from hawks. Good luck. Gene

I just (April) put in a small (75sq ft) deep-dug garden bed filled with mature amended soil, planted it in early May, have kept it well-watered and I’m seeing this phenomenon happen right before my eyes. Dang squash plants are booming up like ICBM missiles launching. Turnips doubled their top growth in a week. Dangest thing.

I have heard corn growing, just like you describe. It’s a little bit creepy and a whole lot amazing.

For Ian: I’ve not built my herds yet so can only mow for now to manage my KY pastures – I’ve found that cutting once at the end of the growing season (rotary grass cutter bar, not a sickle), leaving the “hay” to dry, then running my Bush hog over it at a decent height to mulch it in and spread it out has made all that top cover just disappear into the soil. Three years of this and those pastures are lush and vigorous. Think how much they’ll improve with animals on them…

Big clumps will indeed smother growth below, but that durn Bush hog will flail them apart on the next pass, and you can kick them apart on your next pasture walk too. Next best thing to running a mob of cows over a field to trample in the uneaten growth.

Gene, I know what you mean! We are on the east slope of the Sierra Nevada, so the rain clouds coming in from the Pacific Ocean tend to lift along our ridge and dump moisture. We figure we got well over 50 inches of rain this year. The grass is so high the dogs have to pogo stick through it to see anything, and the only way I can see them is to watch for the tips of their tails! Your comments about plants growing far and fast reminded me of the year I planted Anasazi half runner beans; they interpreted the term “half runner” pretty loosely, as they grew up one side of a six foot trellis, flopped over the top and went about halfway down, then climbed back up again. I bet if I had been able to plant them close enough to the house they would have been on the roof…

Gene, I’ve been waiting for a post from you on pasture and hay for this season, let’s hope the thread grows like a vine in June!
Here in S ON, west end of Lk Ontario, same deal, May 10degF above normal could have cut hay by May 15. I didn’t and now it’s lodging in the rains of the last week. My rotational grazing plan (first year) is basically unable to keep up. My 8 head of cattle take 3 days to eat a quarter acre! I let them graze off the top six or 12 inches and move them, field hardly looks touched. Now, should I clip it or leave it grow back and move them in again in a month?
Say a bit to us about clipping. Above you did say you cut and let molder, can there be too much cut grass on top and kill the sod underneath? What about next time coming through with the sickle mower, will it not jam up quite a bit in that thick thatch, half rotted? And in drier times when the pasture is eaten down to a couple inches, except for the rank plants, does one always clip the taller stuff to get rid of the unpalatable plants? (as aside, I’ve started putting about 90 chickens in the pasture with a mobile coop and they roam quite widely, seeming to destroy any cow pats they come across. This may stop the rank grass problem, eh?

Looking forward to making haystacks again this year.

Ian G
Old 99 Farm

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