Monday, June 8, 2015

a crop for the soil to eat

Cover cropping is an important part of organic farming systems. Last year, I wrote about some of the benefits of cover cropping. This year, I was able to work some mid-summer cover crops into the rotations. In mid-May, I seeded buckwheat in the beds where later summer plantings will go. Buckwheat grows ridiculously fast; in a week or two I'll till it in to make way for beets, cabbage, and chicories. And soon, when my earliest plantings are done, I will seed some Sudangrass in those early beds. Sudangrass is a weed-choking, deep-rooted summer bunchgrass, which will grow for the rest of the year until it's killed by a frost.

Buckwheat, just about to flower. The bees love it!
Mid-summer cover crops serve many of the same functions as winter ones: they shade out weeds as they grow, reduce soil from erosion from wind or rain, feed beneficial insects when they flower, and ultimately, once they're tilled in, they feed the soil. Huh? you say. The soil needs to eat? In reality, it's the microbes in the soil that need to eat, but those little guys (most of which aren't visible to the naked eye) feed the plants by breaking down nutrients into a form plants can use.

One of my buckwheat sections, with peppers on the right and dry beans in the distance on the left.

The edge of my field. Buckwheat is in the back; the shorter plants at the bottom of the frame are weeds. Boy am I glad the buckwheat is there!
Feeding the soil microbes is such an important idea for sustainable agriculture, some farmers will tell you they are just farming soil, and letting the plants take care of themselves. I like that idea. I'm not sure I'm there yet with my systems, but I think it's a goal work shooting for.

Knee-high buckwheat on June 8.

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