Small Town News
Tips for getting started planting cover crops
You have read all the articles on soil health and you know how important it is. You have decided you want to try and plant cover crops, but where do you go to get started? The best thing to have is a mentor or friend that you can bounce off ideas. Look around, there may be other like-minded people in your area that may be already experimenting with cover crops. They would be an excellent source of information and experiences. If you don't have anyone near you, you might be able to access the web and find others with whom to share experiences. Talk to your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office and conservation district, they may be aware of additional resources available to you. You are determined to do this on your own, so what do you need to know? You first need to understand the four principles of building soil health.
1. Minimize disturbance of the soil; disturbing the soil destroys the home of the microbiology and the soil aggregates that you are trying to build.
2. Armor the soil. The soil needs to be covered as much as possible to protect it. The biology's home won't be very effective if you don't give it a roof.
3. Supply living roots for 10 months per year on average. The biology needs a constant diet for optimal health. A feast after harvest and a famine during fallow will not build a population very quickly.
4. Maximize crop diversity. Biodiversity is good. Biology needs to eat from the four food groups: warm-season grass, warm-season broadleaf, cool-season grass, and cool-season broadleaf. Make some of those broadleaves a legume for good measure.
Start with a small piece of ground that you can devote the management time to. If this is new to you, you can make mistakes, that is how you learn. I' 11 bet you didn't learn to walk without falling down a time or two. Leave a check or control strip in the field. That's how you can tell what you are learning. Keep that strip in the same place every year. Over a few years of cover crops versus the control strip you will be able to see where you are going. In addition, it will make a great field tour.
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