7 Things to Know About Cover Crops

7 Things to Know About Cover Crops Food and Water Security: 3 Things You Should Know
Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash

FoodFindsAsia | 7 Things to Know About Cover Crops | Recent environmental and ecological consciousness has sparked a revival in cover crops. Even though cover crops have been utilized for generations, the contemporary advanced farmer grew up in a generation that saw the prevalent use of fertilizers and herbicides as a substitute for cover crops. A few farmers are now attempting to use cover crops but lack the necessary knowledge and experience. 

University and private research scholars are returning to the fundamentals and trying different things with advantageous plants to see how they can subsidize or substitute purchased inputs in modern farming methods. Cover crops play a critical role in the success of sustainable farming mechanisms. Below are 7 things to know about cover crops.

  • Cover crops also perform well when combined with other plants. 

For maximum performance, combine a small grain (consider cereal components such as oats, barley, and rye) and a legume (nitrogen-fixing plant such as peas or vetch) when covering cropping for an extended amount of time. Consider cover crops to improve soil, especially green manure crops or tender, quick-growing crops that compete effectively against weeds. Provide some easily-digested, soft, and smooth foodstuff for soil microbes when cover cropping for shorter periods. Buckwheat and field peas are two good examples. 

Determine how long your cover crop will take to reach maturity from when you plant it until you kill it. Cover crops help regulate weeds in a variety of ways. Weeds are suppressed through direct rivalry for nutrients, moisture, and light. Some plants can be allelopathic to weeds.

  • The cover crop must be killed at some point.

 You might be wondering about how to kill the cover crop. There are several ways to kill a cover, but the most common for home gardeners is mowing, weed eating, or simply chopping down with loppers. Nevertheless, ensure you’re operating with a mowing-resistant cover crop, or you’ll eventually wind up with a re-growing cover that might not be what you’re looking for. Winter annual rye, for instance, can only die by mowing after it forms a seed head but not before it discharges its seeds. 

Winter peas in Austria, in contrast, can be mowed at any time and will die. Even so, remember that cover crops can minimize soil compaction. Cover crops help decrease deep soil moisture content in very wet seasons, enabling machinery on the fields earlier in the growing season and removing compaction of wet soils. 

  • Cover crops residue has to decompose.

So, how long can the cover crop residue take to break down? Tender residue, such as buckwheat or peas, will be consumed by soil critters somewhat faster than sorghum stalks or barley stems. It’s significant because of what you intend to do with the bed after cover cropping. Do you want to get rid of the cover crop and plant seeds quickly? 

Consider a tender cover, such as buckwheat. If you want to kill the cover crop and let the residue act as mulch on the soil for as long as possible, more rigid, carbon-rich crops such as oats or sorghum are excellent choices. Nevertheless, you have to remember some disadvantages of using cover crops. If the cover crop doesn’t naturally winter-kill, a farmer must have a technique for killing it before competing with the following cash crop.

  • You have to know the season.

Specific cover crops, such as cowpeas, soybeans, and sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, are ideal for summer, while others, like the winter wheat, clovers, and Austrian peas, are ideal for winter. Besides, the practical approach to maximizing the benefits of cover crops is to permit the crop to mature as much as doable without producing seeds. Once you can no longer let it go, you kill it, thus enabling it to create a layer of mulch on the soil that continues to feed the food web below as it decays. 

If preparing the soil for spring cole crops from seed, think about using another cereal grain, such as wheat. Start by defining how your farming system can accommodate you. Preferably, the next crop is planted after one crop has been harvested, killed, or integrated. Look for open periods in the rotation of every field where a cover crop can be grown.

  • The subsequent food crop is essential.

When a plant sets up roots and develops into compressed areas, it improves soil tilth. Water infiltration is also enhanced. When a field is left fallow for an extended time, the surface seems to seal, and water runs off. Cover crops protect the soil’s surface and help to prevent sealing. However, you must understand what you intend to grow after the cover crop. It enables you to choose the best cover crop species.  

For instance, if you intend to plant a high-feeder (a crop that draws a lot of nutrients from the soil), such as tomatoes, it’s a good idea to follow it up with a leguminous cover crop, such as field peas or clover, that will add nitrogen to the soil. A few cover crops, in contrast, can have a harmful impact on the food crop you intend to plant. Winter rye residue is allelopathic to the seeds of some brassica species (it releases toxic chemicals as it breaks down).

  • The best approach is biomass.

Cover crops can also provide biomass to enhance soil coverage and organic matter while assisting in nutrient redistribution for the subsequent cash crop. Increasing biomass is essential for enhancing soil health. Even in irrigated fields, a cover crop can boost plant growth by opening the soil profile and allowing water to seep deeper, allowing roots to pull water and nutrients more profoundly into the soil than the first 6 inches. 

Even a minor increment in organic matter can significantly impact moisture retention and water infiltration. As a result, slight improvements do not always result in small benefits. Rebuilding soil through cover crops is a long-term commitment. And it isn’t the only solution. Cover crops will not be the be-all and end-all solution for lowering or removing fertility inputs, but they will help you better use the nutrients in the profile.

  • Do not dive in with both feet.

Farmers considering cover crops should only “dip a toe in the water” to begin. Cover crops will aid in weed control, but they are rarely a miracle cure. It’s another weapon in your arsenal against weeds in the summer. They may substitute for some nutrients, such as fixed nitrogen; however, they also need nutrients to develop. Some cover crops are better at “redistributing” nutrients than others.  

Redistributing nutrients within the soil profile is frequently recommended. As a result, you may be able to mine potash and phosphorus from lower soil depths and bring them closer to the root zones of your cash crops.

Final thoughts 

Cover crops are grown to cover the soil instead of being harvested. Commercial cropping and crop residue discharge leave the topsoil naked until the subsequent crop is planted. Naked soils are incredibly brittle and susceptible to erosion, capping, heating, and degradation. Bare soil causes floods and dust storms. Growing cover crops to safeguard and enhance soils has numerous advantages for all agroecosystems. Cover crops represent the future of climate-smart regenerative agriculture. Furthermore, when it comes to selecting cover crops, there are various options. You must be aware of the state of your farm and the objectives you wish to accomplish.