from the farm: cover crop time!

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It’s cover crop time!  With a break in the rainy weather, a little sunshine has dried the soil enough to finally get some seeds in the ground.

The benefits of covering one’s garden with cover crops, or “green manure” in winter (or between crops in peak season) are numerous.  “Having a garden filled with cover crops allows you to rest assured through the winter that nature is working as it should to replenish itself.” (Source.)

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Cover crops are planted for erosion control, their ability to break apart and loosen soil, nitrogen-fixing abilities, and, once matured, are tilled into the soil for as “green” manure, adding organic matter and nutrients.

Besides adding organic matter at the end of their lifetime, the living roots contribute to stabilization by encouraging mycorrhizae populations which produce glomalin, “one of the most important substances in promoting and stabilizing soil aggregates”

(According to Managing Cover Crops Profitably.)

This year, we’ve selected two legumes, clover and field peas, which are best known for their ability to grab nitrogen from the air and store it in tiny nodules that develop on their roots.  The difference from growing these plants for harvest is that the stalks of the plant must be cut down or tilled before they produce a fruit.  If not, the stored nitrogen in the nodes will be utilized producing a crop.  (Reference.)

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Nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria live in nodules on legumes

There are many different methods for planting cover crops on a large or small scale (yes, they’re great for the home garden, too!).  At the farm this week, the team tilled all of the resting fields and broadcast seeds throughout.  This time of year, they won’t require much watering or attention; they are very low-maintenance helpers!

The south west field, tilled and sown

The south west field, tilled and sown

A bit about the varieties we’re using this year:

Field peas: Supply large amounts of nitrogen and serve as short-term soil conditioners when the foliage is turned into the soil. Can be grown as a winter or summer annual. Field peas are also known as Austrian winter peas (black peas) and Canadian field peas (spring peas).  (Source.)

Sweet clover: Sweet clover can grow nearly anywhere, with as little as 16 inches of rainfall per year. It has deep tap roots that mine soil nutrients and water from deep within the soil. It is better than many of the other clovers for nutrient recycling and appears to have a greater capacity to extract potassium, phosphorus and other soil nutrients from insoluble minerals.  (Source.)

We will keep you posted on the progress, and I know we’ll all be enjoying the benefits of the cover crops when we harvest veggies this summer!

Happy growing!

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