Have you given much thought to what actually helps your soil work for you? There are many relationships going on unseen beneath the ground pretty much all year long. Let's take a look at some basics.
1. Organic Material- made up mostly of dead plant material and animal wastes
2. Bacteria and Fungi- breaks down organic matter.
3. Protozoa- eats bacteria and fungi and excretes plant available nitrogen. Protozoa are mobile and can move in the soil.
4. Nematodes- bacterial nematodes make nitrogen out of bacteria but root feeders let you know that something is out of balance in your soil.
Cover crops help you to "feed" your soils natural cycles without sacrificing productivity. Maintaining living root systems will increase the organic matter and water holding capacity of your soil. They will also reduce wind and water erosion. Only half of the residue should be hayed or grazed to maintain surface residue. Even better would be to graze with high density stocking rates or mob grazing.
When choosing your mix pick a minimum of three species. You will see better results with 5-7 different species that have a variety of rooting systems (fibrous, tap, legume). Choose plants that are not normally in your rotation and be sure to mix short, medium and tall plants whenever possible. Aim for 20 seeds per foot.
Camelina is a cheap and excellent choice. Radishes are good if planted after mid june. Turnips will do well if not terminated too early. If sawfly have been a concern make sure oats are in your mix as they make an effective trap crop, have a fibrous root and are easy to control. Warm season species are good choices if you will fall or winter kill. Flax, peas, common vetch,millet and sorghum are other desirable choices.
*tip~ don't choose a biennial sweetclover for your mix if it is short term. The clover is hard to kill!
A few last things to remember to help make feeding your soil a success: If you are going to purchase crop insurance your cover crop must be terminated 35 days before planting a spring crop and at least 90 days prior to a fall planting like winter wheat. There is some cost share available through CRP. As always if you have any questions or would like some help coming up with a cover crop for your land, call us anytime. It's what we do!