I've discovered another thing about writing a blog, it's a marvelous way to keep myself accountable and get things done! On that topic, I decided to talk about cover crops, since that's what I've been busy penciling out today. This year is shaping up to be a drought year again, and it's imperative to keep the ground covered to reduce water loss from evaporation. One of the best ways to do that, is a cover crop.
A cover crop can be a way to suppress weeds, add nutrients, prevent erosion, limit water loss, house beneficial insects, and even give the mice somewhere to hide from the resident Great Horned Owls... although I wish them luck with that (Also, how great is it that my mouse control is a pair of Owls!?). This year, I will probably have about 12' between my rows so I can run my tractor up and down them, if needed. The reason for that, is in case the weather turns snarky and wet, I will be able mow and cultivate the weeds if my cover crop fails, and not have to spend 18hrs a day hand weeding. By putting in a cover crop, I can suppress the weed growth and get the added benefit of supplying nutrients back into the soil, and, once again, no more 18 hrs a day weeding! I've noticed in the last four years of growing, that I've lost a great deal of soil tilth. I look at tilth as including trash cover and trash inclusion in the soil (trash = previous years plant residue), aggregate formation, and overall ability to withstand compaction. If there is one main thing I do Not want to do in this garden, it's mine or otherwise harm the soil, so I am taking steps to improve it. Garden vegetable residue breaks down insanely fast to my conventional crop growers eyes. On a barley stubble field, you will see residue all the next year, whereas in the garden, the residue is gone about mid-June.
So, here's my plan. Well, today's plan, I can't guarantee it won't change when I talk to my seed suppliers! They are, after all, the experts in this sort of thing. I'm going to plant a mixture. I've listened to speakers on youtube, and attended a seminar where they touted the benefits of having numerous species in one cover crop mixture, because of the different benefits each plant brings to the table. One might have a deep root system that breaks up the hardpan, one might fix nitrogen, one will add bulk and protection with its height, one might be flowering for insect food.... the mixes are endless and I will be able to formulate one specific for my needs. Our organic matter here is around 8% and that's mainly because we are in the black soil zone, and we routinely spread manure on our fields.
Soil Needs Are:
Nitrogen fixation. Why? Nitrogen is imperative for good plant growth, and it's ridiculously expensive to buy. Why not get it for free from wonderful soil borne organisms?
Flowering (low growing): Why? Flowers are not only pretty, but they attract insects, which pollinate, and feed various bird populations.
Bulk: Why? Because I want to build up the tilth in the soil and get some good organic matter back in there, and, I want something that will help slow down the wind. There's nothing worse on a drought year than wind, because it will suck the soul right out of your soil, the soul in this case, being water.
Compaction Busting: Why? After four years of walking on, driving on, discing, mowing, super wet years, then super dry years... I have some serious compaction happening. Our soil might be wonderful black manna, but I tell you, if you get it wet and dry it out immediately afterwards, you are in for some serious concrete problems (And, leads to an interesting time trying to cultivate with your tractor continually pulling a wheelie, which is not good because that's why things break!)
Brassica Inclusion: This goes back to a previous blog post about wireworm control, the more biological warfare I can wage on pest insects, the better.
That's all from me for today! I'm going to head back to area calculations and seed mixes :-)