As we all start donning our long sleeves and pants, the farmscape is rapidly changing. Fall vegetables like lettuces and mustards, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, chard and beets are growing strong in the greenhouse and fields while summer friends like tomatillos, tomatoes, peppers and basil are nearing their ends. With all the nice rain, all our farm plants are looking beautiful! While we are getting this lovely rain and soil temperatures are still warm, now is a good time to plant fall cover crops as many farmers are doing. There are many benefits to using cover crops:
- Microbe mess halls. Cover crops add tons of organic matter to the soil which feeds microbes that help make micro-nutrients available to your plants and create humus in complex relationships and can combat numerous diseases that enters the soil.
- Benefactor of the beneficials. Various cover crops’ flowers yield nectar for beneficial insects as well as providing them with cover and dwelling. These crops can feed these beneficials to keep them around when nothing else is in flower.
- Nitrogen Nets. Cover crops love to hoard nitrogen and legumes like hairy vetch, clover and pea can even convert nitrogen from the air to make available for your next crop. Once these plants cover an area, excess nitrogen cannot leach away. Gluttony stays in check because all surplus nitrogen is taken up by the plants and then returned to the soil once the plants are tilled in. This nitrogen will be passed on to the next crop that grows in its place. Using legume cover crops like alfafa, crimson clover and hairy vetch, in combination poly-culture with a grass like rye or wheat can give farmers’ fields a nitrogen and organic matter boost.
- A lovely prison for potential runaway soil. The roots of the cover crops buttress the soil, preventing erosion of your humus rich life-giving topsoil.
- Bane of Weeds: Some crops like winter rye and vetch will smother other weeds competing for space. Greedy grass like rye and oats are allelopathic, which means they release chemicals into the soil which can eradicate the germination and growth of competing seedling species. Some farmers even use winter rye and hairy vetch to create a no-till mulch situation.
- Nutrient Bank. Once the implementation of cover crops becomes a yearly routine, gardeners will own a rich nutrient investment in the soil.
Post by Andrea Wood