In addition to weed control, cover crops have a variety of benefits, depending on which crop you go with. For instance, we have a perimeter of Sudan grass on the edge of the field. This grass will grow 6 feet tall, acting as a wind break while also sending down deep roots to break of soil compaction. We plan to plant a cover of purple topped turnips and daikon radishes in a compacted section of the field.
In last week’s Tom Talk I briefly touched on cover cropping as a means of weed management. This week we will dive into cover cropping and all of its benefits.
A cover crop is a non cash crop planted on ground not being utilized for vegetable production. Leaving bare ground or “tillage” in your field puts you at risk for weeds germinating and going to seed, as well as top soil erosion in the event of rain. As we expand production up in the field, we do an entire growing season of cover cropping on the new section to aid with weed pressure. We plant fast growing buckwheat, which smothers the weeds and attracts a bevy of pollinators and beneficial predatory insects.
Later, the lambs can graze over the crop and eat the tops, leaving behind a free fertilizer for us to use. A crop of field peas, mixed with a crop of oats is planned for late summer. This tandem crop will grow together and serve multiple purposes. The peas will quickly smother weeds, attract pollinators with its flowers, and will “fix nitrogen” in the soil. To “fix nitrogen” means it will make nitrogen available in the soil that is not readily available. The oats will help smother the weeds while sending down deep roots to break up compaction and improve drainage. Cover crops are more than just ground cover, it’s sustainable agriculture in action!