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Cover Crops
Introduction Definitions: Cover crop – a crop planted between main crops to prevent erosion or to be plowed in to enrich the soil Green Manure – a growing crop that is plowed in to enrich the soil The backbone of a  sustainable  crop system
Legumes Able to “fix” nitrogen Nitrogen in atmosphere unavailable for plant use Bacteria in nodules converts inert nitrogen to nitrates Extra nitrogen fertilizer is not required Examples: peas, beans, alfalfa & clovers
The Industrial Model Crop planted in spring Pesticides used to control insects and weeds Crop harvested in fall Land left  fallow  in winter Land fertilized in late winter Land sprayed with herbicides in early spring Crop planted in spring
Benefits of Cover Crops Prevent Erosion Improve soil quality Suppress weeds Reduce insects Prevent nutrient leaching
Prevent Erosion Roots hold topsoil in place Water & wind strip topsoil from land Sediment clogs waterways Major water pollution problem Tillage exposes soil to erosion Use No-till techniques
Improve Soil quality Root depth Deep rooted crops break through compacted subsoils – biological plow Soil aggregates Decomposed organic material (humus) binds mineral portion of soil in stable aggregates
Soil quality Soil Organic Matter Replaces organic materials lost in cultivation Soil Fertility Roots of legumes returns fixed nitrogen to the soil
Suppress Weeds Cover crops shade soil Blocks sun to low-growing weeds Reduces weed seed germination Residue left after harvest acts as mulch Prevents weed seed contact with soil Allelopathy – some plant roots secrete natural toxins that slow the growth of competitor plants Small grains like ryegrass & sorghum
Reduce Insect Problems Provides habitat for diverse insect populations Increases the population of “predator” bugs
Prevent nutrient leaching Stops  phosphorus  pollution from sediment Absorbs excess  nitrogen  from fertilized crops and returns it in more stable form
Cover crop models Winter cover crop Summer green manure crop Living mulch Catch Crop Forage Crop
Cover Crop Model Winter cover crop Planted in fall – prevents erosion over the winter Legumes increase soil nitrogen for next summer’s crop Summer green manure crop Plant in late winter - early spring and plow under  Increases soil organic matter Legumes add nitrogen Non-legumes smother weeds
Others Living mulch Plant vegetables into clover beds Strips of grasses in alley ways between perennial crops Catch crop Plant rye after corn to collect excess nitrogen Forage crop Cover crop grown for grazing
Killing cover crops Need to kill the cover crop before you can plant the main crop Pesticide Glyphosate (Round-up) kills all plant material Mowing Mowing at proper stage prevents regrowth Crimping Stalks are bent down and cracked Winter kills Annual cover crops are killed by frost
Buckwheat Legume Roots very fibrous but not deep Adds nitrogen to the soil Plant in spring or fall Used to fight weeds
Clovers Legumes Live about 2 years Plant in spring or fall Kill & turn under 4 weeks before planting crop Used to Add nitrogen Build soil Resist erosion Fight weeds
Cowpeas, soybeans or field peas Legumes Annual Used to: control erosion Build soil nitrogen
Sorghum/Sudan grass Very vigorous root growth Used to: Build soil Loosen subsoil Fight pests
Winter rye, wheat or oats Winter rye & wheat – grow during the winter Oats and regular wheat grow in spring and fall Annuals (die every year) Extensive root system Grow rapidly in proper season Build soil, fight weeds and pests
Root boxes Plant your cover crop Measure weekly: Vegetative height Root depth
Wrap - up What difference do you expect in the soil nitrogen levels after the crop is turned under? What do you expect to change when we test the soil again in June? Which plant root structures will penetrate the deepest in the boxes?   How can you protect your garden soil from erosion?

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4 21 cover crops

  • 2. Introduction Definitions: Cover crop – a crop planted between main crops to prevent erosion or to be plowed in to enrich the soil Green Manure – a growing crop that is plowed in to enrich the soil The backbone of a sustainable crop system
  • 3. Legumes Able to “fix” nitrogen Nitrogen in atmosphere unavailable for plant use Bacteria in nodules converts inert nitrogen to nitrates Extra nitrogen fertilizer is not required Examples: peas, beans, alfalfa & clovers
  • 4. The Industrial Model Crop planted in spring Pesticides used to control insects and weeds Crop harvested in fall Land left fallow in winter Land fertilized in late winter Land sprayed with herbicides in early spring Crop planted in spring
  • 5. Benefits of Cover Crops Prevent Erosion Improve soil quality Suppress weeds Reduce insects Prevent nutrient leaching
  • 6. Prevent Erosion Roots hold topsoil in place Water & wind strip topsoil from land Sediment clogs waterways Major water pollution problem Tillage exposes soil to erosion Use No-till techniques
  • 7. Improve Soil quality Root depth Deep rooted crops break through compacted subsoils – biological plow Soil aggregates Decomposed organic material (humus) binds mineral portion of soil in stable aggregates
  • 8. Soil quality Soil Organic Matter Replaces organic materials lost in cultivation Soil Fertility Roots of legumes returns fixed nitrogen to the soil
  • 9. Suppress Weeds Cover crops shade soil Blocks sun to low-growing weeds Reduces weed seed germination Residue left after harvest acts as mulch Prevents weed seed contact with soil Allelopathy – some plant roots secrete natural toxins that slow the growth of competitor plants Small grains like ryegrass & sorghum
  • 10. Reduce Insect Problems Provides habitat for diverse insect populations Increases the population of “predator” bugs
  • 11. Prevent nutrient leaching Stops phosphorus pollution from sediment Absorbs excess nitrogen from fertilized crops and returns it in more stable form
  • 12. Cover crop models Winter cover crop Summer green manure crop Living mulch Catch Crop Forage Crop
  • 13. Cover Crop Model Winter cover crop Planted in fall – prevents erosion over the winter Legumes increase soil nitrogen for next summer’s crop Summer green manure crop Plant in late winter - early spring and plow under Increases soil organic matter Legumes add nitrogen Non-legumes smother weeds
  • 14. Others Living mulch Plant vegetables into clover beds Strips of grasses in alley ways between perennial crops Catch crop Plant rye after corn to collect excess nitrogen Forage crop Cover crop grown for grazing
  • 15. Killing cover crops Need to kill the cover crop before you can plant the main crop Pesticide Glyphosate (Round-up) kills all plant material Mowing Mowing at proper stage prevents regrowth Crimping Stalks are bent down and cracked Winter kills Annual cover crops are killed by frost
  • 16. Buckwheat Legume Roots very fibrous but not deep Adds nitrogen to the soil Plant in spring or fall Used to fight weeds
  • 17. Clovers Legumes Live about 2 years Plant in spring or fall Kill & turn under 4 weeks before planting crop Used to Add nitrogen Build soil Resist erosion Fight weeds
  • 18. Cowpeas, soybeans or field peas Legumes Annual Used to: control erosion Build soil nitrogen
  • 19. Sorghum/Sudan grass Very vigorous root growth Used to: Build soil Loosen subsoil Fight pests
  • 20. Winter rye, wheat or oats Winter rye & wheat – grow during the winter Oats and regular wheat grow in spring and fall Annuals (die every year) Extensive root system Grow rapidly in proper season Build soil, fight weeds and pests
  • 21. Root boxes Plant your cover crop Measure weekly: Vegetative height Root depth
  • 22. Wrap - up What difference do you expect in the soil nitrogen levels after the crop is turned under? What do you expect to change when we test the soil again in June? Which plant root structures will penetrate the deepest in the boxes?   How can you protect your garden soil from erosion?