What are cover crops?
Cover crops are a way to give back to the soil. It’s a simple way to replenish the nutrients in soil so they can provide abundant crops the next growing season. No matter what size plot you grow on, 500 acres to a 2X2 square, cover crops are for everyone!
Cover crops are crops planted after growing seasons to provide an organic way of fertilizing soils, preventing erosion, increasing yield, and more. These crops are not harvested, but plowed and tilled into the soil to decompose and release their nutrients.
How to use cover crops?
Planting cover crops is based on your schedule! Whenever you’ve harvested your crops, you can begin planting the seeds for the cover crop of your choice.
If you’re planting around fall/winter, be sure to plant at least four weeks prior to frosts, so they can become established.
Many crops can be planted depending on your location and the season in which you’re planting. Contact Full Spectrum Crop Consulting to find out the best options for your fields.
Grasses: Annual Rye Grass, Barley, Oats, Winter Rye, etc.
- They grow effectively
- High C:N ration
- Note: Don’t grow grasses to maturity because there will be less available nitrogen
Legumes: Red Clover, Fava Beans, Field Peas, etc.
- Fix atmospheric nitrogen
- Very high nitrogen levels
- Note: Legumes must be inoculated with proper nitrogen fixing bacteria (microbial inoculants like MycoMax)
Others: Buckwheat, Brassicas (mustard, rapeseed, forage radish)
- Buckwheat accumulates Phosphorous
- Brassicas have long root systems and can improve drainage
When growing cover crops, it has shown well to combine different types of crops for optimum nutrient availability and fertility. Check out what grows best in your local area!
Killing the Crop:
Once your crop has reached the level of maturity with the most nutrients available for the soil, you must kill your crop. There are many methods, including mowing, weed eating, or chopping.
Now it’s time to leave the litter for at least three weeks so the soil can eat up and decompose its new nutrients!
Why use cover crops?
Environmental benefits that come from cover cropping are exuberant.
- Reduce soil erosion
- Increase organic matter in soils
- Prevent nutrient loss
- Increase soil quality
- Decrease pests and subsequent diseases
- Increase biodiversity and wildlife
- Enhanced water retention
- Increase food production
With the climate changing, droughts and floods are increasing in areas. Cover cropping can counter the risks these patterns have.
Fun Fact! The USDA NRCS says that with every 1% increase in soils’ organic matter, U.S. croplands could store the same amount of water that flows every 150 days over Niagara Falls!