How do I care for it?
Managing your cover crop is just as important as managing your cash crop. For optimum results, you need to ensure a variety of factors to not only utilize the benefits of the cover crop, but ensure that it does not out-compete your cash crop, and remains a profitable endeavor.
- Select an appropriate cover crop not only for your specific crop, but the manner in which you need it, the season you are using it in, the specific region you’re in and it’s weather habits, and the benefits you are trying to accomplish.
- During your first season or two, especially with clover, you will need to still do some weed management to ensure a homogenous crop.
- You need to decide at the end of the season to either “till in” or “harvest” your crop.
- When you “till in” your winter or inter-row crop you receive a lot of benefits
- Your field accumulates more organic material
- This is what creates top soil when broken down microbially, fungally and entemologically. Avoid high frequency tilling which damages Mycorrhizae)
- If you are using one of the recommended cover crops from above, you are also harboring the nitrogen you accumulated with these crops.
- These crops, when tilled in, also increase the aeration of your tilled soil.
- Also, you are NOT taking anything out of the soil. You are NOT removing any nutrient value. All of the nutrients that the plants uptake stay in the field!
- When you harvest your field, there are benefits and drawbacks
- When you harvest your cover crop, you are more often than not, reducing the overall nutrient value of your soil.
- You also eliminate a lot of microbial/fungal content as well as many organisms in the soil food web when you remove the root mass completely
- The benefit of harvesting particular crops like alfalfa and mustard is that not only do you get to profit from the crop and it’s end products, but harvesting techniques may allow you to leave enough biomass in the field to reduce nutrient loss to a minimum and condition the field microbially
- Continued use of these crops year after year ever can actually lead to soil degradation, causing the exact issues we are trying eliminate
- No matter what you decide, remember that it is always important to monitor your soil, and continue to diagnose and treat it accordingly. Constantly monitor nutrient levels, pH, moisture content, heavy metal content, and pest and disease issues. Never hesitate to address any of these issues immediately, upon noticing the first sign of problems, before they rapidly arise and multiply.
...Check in next week for more on how to Fertilize without using Cover Crop!
“Garden responsibly, because we did not inherit this planet from our parents, we are borrowing it from our children!”