Cover Crop Benefits

Have you given much thought to what actually helps your soil work for you?  There are many relationships going on unseen beneath the ground pretty much all year long.  Let’s take a look at some basics.

1. Organic Material- made up mostly of dead plant material and animal wastes

2. Bacteria and Fungi- breaks down organic matter.

3. Protozoa- eats bacteria and fungi and excretes plant available nitrogen.  Protozoa are mobile and can move in the soil.

4. Nematodes- bacterial nematodes make nitrogen out of bacteria but root feeders let you know that something is out of balance in your soil.

Cover crops help you to “feed” your soils natural cycles without sacrificing productivity. Maintaining living root systems will increase the organic matter and water holding capacity of your soil.  Cover crops will also reduce wind and water erosion in addition to helping you with your weed management.  Only half of the residue should be hayed or grazed to maintain surface residue.  Even better would be to graze with high density stocking rates or mob grazing.

When choosing your mix pick a minimum of three species.  You will see better results with 5-7 different species that have a variety of rooting systems (fibrous, tap, legume).  Choose plants that are not normally in your rotation and be sure to mix short, medium and tall plants whenever possible.  Aim for 20 seeds per square foot.

Camelina is a cheap and excellent choice.  Radishes are good if planted after mid june.  Turnips will do well if not terminated too early.  If sawfly have been a concern make sure oats are in your mix as they make an effective trap crop, have a fibrous root and are easy to control.  Warm season species are good choices if you will fall or winter kill.  Flax, peas, vetch, millet, winter rye, buckwheat, and sorghum are other desirable choices.

     *tip~ don’t choose a biennial sweet clover for your mix if it is short term.  The clover is hard to kill!

For the backyard gardener these crops can make a great fall & spring pasture for your chickens when your harvest is complete.  If you plant under your veggies at the end of August, the chickens can graze during the day in late September and early October.  You can also plant cover crop blends in your chicken yard and use it to rotationally graze the chickens much of the year.

A few last things to remember to help make feeding your soil a success:  If you are going to purchase crop insurance your cover crop must be terminated 35 days before planting a spring crop and at least 90 days prior to a fall planting like winter wheat.  There is some cost share available through CRP.  As always if you have any questions or would like some help coming up with a cover crop for your land feel free to message me.

Michelle Buker

Healthy Land/ Healthy Bodies

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