• farmhands

4 Best cover crops and why you should grow them

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Cover crops have been used for many years to maintain soil vs growing a crop for sale. They are grown mainly for the benefit of the soil rather than the crop yield. Cover crops are commonly used for weed management, reducing soil erosion, help build and improve soil fertility and also soil quality, help reduce crop diseases and pests, and promote biodiversity. How Cover Crops Reduce Soil Erosion: Vegetation plays a vital role in controlling erosion by:

Shielding the soil surface from the impact from rainfall.Holds soil in place. Prevents crust formation.Improves the soil’s capacity to absorb water.Slows the velocity of runoff. Soaks up water between storms through the plants.  Soil type, depth, water-holding capacity, and fertility all affect plant growth. Depending on the crop you intend on planting you can increase fertility by growing legumes and incorporating them at the proper time in order to provide nitrogen. If you have clay or if water penetration is poor in your soil, cover crops with fibrous root systems, such as cereals, can be grown to improve the physical structure of the soil.  Four classes of cover crops: 1.) Grasses/Grains

  • Rye

  • Wheat

  • Barley

  • Oats

2.) Legumes

  • Alfalfa

  • Red clover

  • Fava

  • Vetch

  • Cowpeas

3.) Brassicas

  • Radish

  • Turnip

  • Rapeseed

  • Arugula

  • Mustard  

4.) Broadleaves

  • Spinach

  • Flax

  • Marigold

  • Buckwheat

Planting cover crops: Plant your cover crop strategically in the fall so that in will grow faster than the weeds in the spring.  Maximum effects are achieved by planting early in the fall or in the late summer into a prepared seedbed followed by an irrigation to increase germination, early growth, and soil cover.  Seedbed Preparation: Regardless of the cover crop species selected, soil preparation is relatively standard. Preparing a well granulated, soft, friable, and moist seedbed generally works well for virtually any cover crop species. Seeding: Cover crop seed can be planted either with a drill or a broadcast seeder. Drills place the seed with much more precision than broadcast seeders but either can be used.  Watering after seeding helps ensure successful germination and establishment of the crop. Once germinated, many cover crop species can survive drought fairly well.  Mowing: Mowing the cover crop can actually improve cover crop establishment and performance. Mowing removes taller weeds that can shade the cover crop. Mowing also encourages the growth of shoots from the crown of the plant, spreading, and flowering. Many cover crop species are pasture forages which respond well to grazing.  No-Till versus Till: Whether to till or not is an important consideration while choosing a cover crop strategy. Preventing soil erosion and saving energy are two benefits to no-till management strategy. Another benefit is firm footing in wet weather, which can make a tremendous difference, especially if your area receives a high volume of rains.  Growers also often report fewer insect and mite pest problems in no-till areas.  What is no till? No-till planting refers to the planting of primary crops into actively growing cover crops. This practice can be used when planting a grain crop. The other type of no-till involves planting into a bed where the cover crop was killed 2 or 3 weeks before planting time. Annual Cover Crops Green manures: Green manure cover crops are typically planted from roughly September to early December or into the spring. They consist of winter annual grasses, legumes, or flowering plants. If the green manure is used to add nitrogen, legumes are used alone or in combination with non-legumes, usually cereal