We have some meadow areas in our field here. They’re now just starting their third year, and coming on nicely. We’re using them to show off some of the different seed mixes we sell, so they’d better do well!
One thing many people don’t do is to keep their meadows cut short over the winter. If you want a tussocky look with a lot of grasses – great for voles, thence raptors – that’s one thing, but for a “traditional” hay meadow look you need to cut it short. And keep it short until the spring. Your medieval farmer would have taken the hay cut then have livestock in the field for most if not all of the winter. Hooves pushed seed into the mud and the grass was nibbled low. I use a sit on mechanical sheep to achieve the same effect.
Keeping your meadow like this in winter not only makes it tidy, but also allows sunlight to reach the perennial wildflowers. These typically form low lying rosettes which aren’t harmed by cutting, even very tightly. Most over-wintering insects, eggs and larvae are unharmed too, particularly as we do leave areas around the margins which we will only cut every 3 years in rotation. Mowing also gives wildflower seeds a chance to germinate and flourish. I’m thinking particularly of Yellow Rattle, which is an early germinating annual. It’s also true that removing the cuttings will reduce fertility.
If we didn’t cut our meadow areas like this the grasses would take over and we would lose the diversity and colour wildflowers bring.