From winter cover crop to healthy seed bed


Meadowlark

Gardner, Angler, Adjunct Professor, and Rancher
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First step is to plant the seed in the fall. Elbon rye, crimson clover, turnips, Austrian peas, oats, wheat, buck wheat, etc etc. Here in zone 8 I like to get 'em started early Oct. but earlier and later works also. I keep some space for winter crops and cover the rest.

cover 2019.JPG


As Nov. rolls into Dec, , the cover flourishes protecting the soil from weeds and building the fertility naturally

cover dec 2019.JPG


January through early March the soil building continues as green manure organic matter grows and grows.


winter cover 2020.JPG


Here in Zone 8 early March is time to start the seed bed preparation. The beautiful cover crop is shredded, left to dry a few days, and then turned under into the soil. Tons of organic matter with unmatched soil building magic that money can't buy.

winter cover shredded 2020.JPG



In a matter of days the seed beds are prepared in the rich organic laced soil. Some of the cover is saved for hay mulch on the tomato plants as shown but the vast majority is returned to the soil. This is an unequaled seed bed that will now be planted in corn, beans and peas and then the summer cover crop cycle will start. It is a continuous process here from winter cover to production to summer cover to production and back to winter cover again.

seed bed 2 2020.JPG
 
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Meadowlark

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It is certainly very common in this area. I call it goatweed....but I wouldn't say it is a problem on my place.

Good grazing practices e.g. not overgrazing and regular pasture mowing seems to easily keep it in check. Abandoned fields and especially overgrazed areas can be very prominent with it. In my garden, its seed just does not stand a chance to take hold with the cover crop practice.

Thanks for the question.
 
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That has to be the most beautiful sandy loam I've ever seen Meadowlark! I live in black gumbo clay that's very alkaline and almost unmanageable. Those people up north grow those megacrops have soil like yours. I've only fantasized about someday having soll like that but I'm too old now and will never have it. I bet the pH is around 6.2 to 6.8 perfect for growing large crops very fast.. I can tell you know what you are doing and you are doing it good too! Breathtaking Photos!!
 

Meadowlark

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Thanks for the comments oneeye. Much appreciated. Yes the ph is a perfect 6.5.
 
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6.5 perfect! I look forward to seeing your grow this year and will be watching. Thank you for sharing!
 
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I have a question about how you handle the cover crops, do you harvest anything or just mow all till it all?

Im aware of some winter crops and am considering planting those next fall as a cover crop but not sure if they would serve the purpose.
 

Meadowlark

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Yes, sometimes I harvest produce from the cover but only sparingly normally. In this winter cover crop above, turnips were included...and I love raw turnips, so I selectively harvested them all winter. In summer, my choice for cover crops usually includes various cow peas and I normally harvest a few of those for eating before shredding and allowing them to reseed. Notice that a separate row is included above for harvest produce and the cover is generally left alone. By rotating these you can get 100% of your garden included each growing period.

I don't harvest the small grains in the winter cover, the Elbon rye, the oats, the buckwheat, the wheat, the clovers etc. but the root crops ...such as radishes,turnips,beets...occasionally get harvested. Legumes in particular I try not to harvest because of their incredible ability to add N2 to the soil.

Legumes are included in both winter and summer cover crops because of their magical properties. In winter, various clovers, Austrian peas, vetch, etc. are wonderful cover additions. In summer, cow pea are my go to but also use fava beans and pinto beans (when they escape picking) for natural N2 soil amendments, weed control, insect management, etc etc.
 
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Ok so basically a throw away crop. I'll pick up extra turnip seeds for next winter. Would carrots be acceptable as well?
 

Meadowlark

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Sure. However, Carrots don't generally throw as large of a canopy as turnips for example(less weed control).

In rotations, a simple rule is grow an above-ground crop and then a below-ground crop. In cover crops, its fine to do that but generally I'm looking for much more in soil building and weed control and insect prevention.
 
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Ok. Are there certain cover crops that are better than others for certain harvesting crops? For example, if one plans to harvest cucumbers what would a good cover crop be? Or does it really matter?
 
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Meadowlark

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I like to use a variety of plants in my winter cover crops. Summer cover crops are somewhat limited by the weather,i.e. only certain types will thrive in the super heat of summer here i Texas.

For winter, I always include legumes for N2 addition. Clovers, vetches, Austrian peas etc. are all excellent legumes. For soil building in winter cover crops, I always include Elbon rye which in addition to excellent soil building properties is a natural deterrent to nematodes. Other soil building plants I like include other small grains, e.g. wheat,Oates, etc. I always add turnips to the mix and other root crops. Fava beans are a good cool season cover.

Summer cover here is somewhat limited to use of specific plants because of the harsh summer heat. Cow peas are superior, purple hull, crowders, cremes, blackeyes, etc. are all excellent summer legumes which I seed, shred, and repeat all summer long adding N2, soil building, weed control etc. Pintos and other beans are also good in summer heat and have N2 addition properties....but just have to remember that N2 addition is reduced by harvesting the beans.

Your garden soil is an investment and like any good investment needs attention to pay continuous dividends.
 
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I get that the soil is the heart of the garden. But, i think the difference in our growing regions is making a divide between us. No personal issues intended, just different geography. In other words, i have only 2 seasons vs the three you have down south.

So, realizing that we don't have a "hot" season do you have a reccomend planting for cover over a sub freezing winter? Again, i realize you're not necessarily used to snow so ill take what information you can share and try to make it fit the northern growing region.
 
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Meadowlark

Gardner, Angler, Adjunct Professor, and Rancher
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I think I recommended "Do your homework" in another thread. It certainly applies here.

The internet is a tremendous tool...just a quick search yielded me several sources which address cover crops in your area including an Ohio State article directly applicable. They recommend the same plants I have discussed here. Suggest you do your homework.
 

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