Salt marsh hay grows along the Cogmagun River’s edge bordering the farm. This is a tidal river connected to the Bay of Fundy. About 20 times per year, high tides flood the entire salt marsh, and a nice layer of nutrient-rich silt gets deposited. Free nutrients! This salt marsh hay grows year after year without added fertility from farmers. We have learned from older farmers in the area, such as James Card and Phillip Nunn, that salt marsh hay was a valuable resource for feeding livestock. It is a mineral-rich feed, and cows love it. It is generally fed in combination with upland hay.
James Card showed me special flat wooden horse shoes used when horses went out on the marsh to haul in the marsh hay harvest.
We will use this hay for feeding cattle and sheep, but it is also a valuable weed-free source of mulch. Anything that grows on the salt marsh must withstand flooding and salt. These species will not grow in upland soil, so mulching with salt marsh hay is not a source of weed seeds the way upland hay is. This makes it excellent for mulching crops like garlic, or perennials.
For many Nova Scotia farms, located along estuarine rivers and bays that flood at the highest tides, harvesting salt marsh hay is a way to bring nutrients on to the farm without depleting the marsh.
It is important to harvest the salt marsh hay after the birds have raised their young. In particular, we know the Nelson’s Sharp-Tailed Sparrow (or Nelson’s Sparrow) nests in our marsh so we wait until late summer (after mid-July) before harvesting the hay.
In the video posted below, please note that freshly harvested hay should not be stored in a barn until it is dry.