A Permaculture Guide to Choosing Cover Crops (2022)

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A Permaculture Guide to Choosing Cover Crops (1)

One of my constant refrains is “Permaculture is a decision making tool for arriving at regenerative solutions.” Here I’m going to show how permaculture can help create strategies for deciding what cover crops to use. In permaculture, we’re always looking for potent leverage points, and soil-building is a big one. If we create fertile, water-absorbing, biology-rich soil, a lot of higher-level problems—things like insect damage, low nutrition, poor growth, and excess water use—all go away. And cover cropping, which is the use of specific plants to add organic matter and nutrients, is a great way to build soil. I use other methods, such as composting and mulching, but there’s something about having living roots in the soil that makes cover cropping extra effective. That thick network of roots is constantly exuding sugars and other microbe food, creating a life-rich rhizosphere that pumps nutrients into plants and builds a lush habitat for mycelium and other beneficial organisms.

(Video) How to Choose the Right Cover Crop for What You Need

I’m going to use cover cropping to illustrate how permaculture decision-making works. How do we design a cover cropping program? Good design has three major components: setting a goal, developing strategies, and choosing techniques. First, we already have our goal: We want to build our soil’s fertility, organic matter, and tilth. There are many strategies for reaching this goal. (A strategy is simply a plan, or, as management consultant Henry Mintzberg puts it in my favorite definition, a strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions) Different strategies for soil building include composting, sheet mulching, chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers, cover cropping, and several more. It may seem like those are techniques rather than strategies, but I think of them as strategies because there are so many different ways of doing each. Do any two people build a compost pile in the same way? And we have many different kinds of cover crops, and a host of ways to use them. That’s why I think of each of those as a strategy: Just because we’ve arrived at cover cropping as a way to build soil, we’re not done with making decisions. There’s a “lower” or more fine-grained level that we need to make some choices about. We need to choose the specific variety of cover crop, how and when we will plant, and how we will get that cover crop into the soil, such as by tilling, chop-and-drop, or harvesting and composting it. So we need to have some criteria in mind to help us make those decisions. That’s one of permaculture’s strong points: It gives us tools that remove a lot of uncertainty from making decisions. That lets us rest in the near-certainty that we’ve made appropriate choices.

To start that decision-making process, we first gather up information about cover crops—we make lists. The first obvious list to make is simply a compilation of all the varieties of cover crops that can grow in our conditions. A little Googling will get us there. One of my top sources of cover crop information is Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (https://www.groworganic.com). They ‘ve got a huge assortment. But a simply list of cover crop species doesn’t get us very far. We need to break it down into some categories, because we can’t just plant any old cover crop; every soil has specific needs and conditions. Fortuitously, the drop-down menu on cover crops at the above link has already done some category-making for us. They’ve divided cover crops into fall-planted or cool-season types, warm-season types, and year-round varieties. These categories give us a handy machete to begin chopping our way through the cover-crop thicket.

What other categories will be useful in choosing cover crops? Another big dividing line is between plants that fix nitrogen and those that don’t. Nitrogen-fixing cover crops are varieties that have a symbiotic relationship with specialized bacteria that can take gaseous nitrogen from the air, which plants can’t use, and transform it into nitrate, nitrite, or ammonia, which plants can take up as fertilizer. Non-nitrogen fixing cover crops are important too. They build biomass and add carbon to the soil, which feeds beneficial soil organisms, helps retain moisture, lightens and fluffs heavy soil and—oh, right—alleviates climate change by pumping carbon dioxide out of the air and storing the carbon in the soil. Most cover crop blends contain a mix of N-fixers and non-N-fixers.

(Video) Cover Crops - How To Use Them In Permaculture Gardens And Regenerative Agriculture

A third division, near and dear to permaculturists, is that between annual and perennial cover crops. Annuals are great if we’re going to till in the cover crop or follow the cover crop with something else. But there’s a role for perennials, too, in paths or between rows of production crops, or as a constant biomass source. In a perfect world, all gardeners and farmers would be generating their own fertility on-site, not importing it from somewhere else that might be impoverished by the constant drain of organic matter. Ecological garden guru John Jeavons says that we should be dedicating roughly four to six times the area of our food garden to fertility crops to cover what we withdraw from harvesting. Before the fossil fuel era, most farms allotted more land for fertility production in the form of pasture for generating animal manure than they did for food production.

We could come up with other categories, such as soil preference (clay, silt, sand), frost hardiness, and so forth, but the three I’ve outlined above are the ones I use most often. Those categories create a two-by-two-by-two matrix or three-dimensional chart that really helps to zero in on the right choices. Let’s build that chart.

Here’s a table of over 100 useful cover crops, edited from a USDA list at http://plants.usda.gov/java/coverCrops?sort=comname

(Video) 9 Things to Consider when Choosing Groundcovers for Food Forest & Polyculture Gardening

Scientific NameCommon NamePlant Family
Amaranthus caudatusfoxtail amaranthAmaranthaceae – Amaranth family
Amaranthus cruentusred amaranthAmaranthaceae – Amaranth family
Amaranthus hybridus × hypochondriacusPlainsman amaranthAmaranthaceae – Amaranth family
Amaranthus hypochondriacusPrince-of-Wales featherAmaranthaceae – Amaranth family
Arachis glabratarhizoma peanutFabaceae – Pea family
Arachis hypogaeapeanutFabaceae – Pea family
Avena sativacommon oatPoaceae – Grass family
Avena strigosablack oatsPoaceae – Grass family
Beta vulgariscommon beetChenopodiaceae – Goosefoot family
Beta vulgaris ssp. ciclachardChenopodiaceae – Goosefoot family
Brachiaria ramosasignalgrassPoaceae – Grass family
Brassica hirtawhite mustardBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Brassica junceabrown mustardBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Brassica napus var. napusrapeBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Brassica napus var. pabulariaSiberian kaleBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Brassica nigrablack mustardBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Brassica rapa var. rapafield mustardBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Bromus hordeaceussoft bromePoaceae – Grass family
Cajanus cajanpigeonpeaFabaceae – Pea family
Camelina sativafalse flaxBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Canavalia ensiformisjack beanFabaceae – Pea family
Carthamus tinctoriussafflowerAsteraceae – Aster family
Chenopodium quinoaquinoaChenopodiaceae – Goosefoot family
Cicer arietinumchick peaFabaceae – Pea family
Cichorium intybuschicoryAsteraceae – Aster family
Crotalaria junceasunn hempFabaceae – Pea family
CucurbitagourdCucurbitaceae – Cucumber family
Cyamopsis tetragonolobaguarFabaceae – Pea family
Daucus carota var. sativuscarrotApiaceae – Carrot family
Echinochloa crus-galliBarnyard grassPoaceae – Grass family
Elymus hoffmanniiRS wheatgrassPoaceae – Grass family
Elymus trachycaulusslender wheatgrassPoaceae – Grass family
Eragrostis tefteffPoaceae – Grass family
Eruca vesicaria ssp. sativarocketsaladBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Fagopyrum esculentumbuckwheatPolygonaceae – Buckwheat family
Glycine maxsoybeanFabaceae – Pea family
Helianthus annuuscommon sunflowerAsteraceae – Aster family
HordeumbarleyPoaceae – Grass family
Hordeum pusillumlittle barleyPoaceae – Grass family
Hordeum vulgarecommon barleyPoaceae – Grass family
Indigofera hirsutahairy indigoFabaceae – Pea family
Lablab purpureushyacinth beanFabaceae – Pea family
Lathyrus sativuswhite peaFabaceae – Pea family
Lathyrus sylvestrisflat peaFabaceae – Pea family
Lens culinarislentilFabaceae – Pea family
Lespedeza capitataroundhead lespedezaFabaceae – Pea family
Linum usitatissimumcommon flaxLinaceae – Flax family
Lolium perenne ssp. multiflorumItalian ryegrassPoaceae – Grass family
Lolium rigidumWimmera ryegrassPoaceae – Grass family
Lolium temulentumDarnel ryegrassPoaceae – Grass family
Lotus corniculatusbird’s-foot trefoilFabaceae – Pea family
Lotus tenuisnarrowleaf trefoilFabaceae – Pea family
LupinuslupineFabaceae – Pea family
Lupinus albuswhite lupineFabaceae – Pea family
Lupinus angustifoliusnarrowleaf lupineFabaceae – Pea family
Medicago littoraliswater medickFabaceae – Pea family
Medicago lupulinablack medickFabaceae – Pea family
Medicago polymorphaBur cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Medicago rugosagama medicFabaceae – Pea family
Medicago sativaalfalfaFabaceae – Pea family
Medicago scutellatasnail medickFabaceae – Pea family
Medicago truncatulaBarrel cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Melilotus albawhite sweet cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Melilotus officinalissweetcloverFabaceae – Pea family
Mucuna pruriensvelvet beanFabaceae – Pea family
Onobrychis viciifoliasainfoinFabaceae – Pea family
Panicum miliaceumproso milletPoaceae – Grass family
Pennisetum glaucumpearl milletPoaceae – Grass family
Phacelia tanacetifolialacy phaceliaHydrophyllaceae – Waterleaf family
Pisum sativumgarden peaFabaceae – Pea family
Poa pratensisKentucky bluegrassPoaceae – Grass family
Psathyrostachys junceaRussian wild ryePoaceae – Grass family
Puccinellia distansweeping alkaligrassPoaceae – Grass family
Puccinellia nuttallianaNuttall’s alkaligrassPoaceae – Grass family
Raphanus sativuscultivated radishBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Secale cerealecereal ryePoaceae – Grass family
Sesbania bispinosadunchi fiberFabaceae – Pea family
Sesbania herbaceabigpod sesbaniaFabaceae – Pea family
Sesbania sesbanEgyptian river hempFabaceae – Pea family
Setaria italicafoxtail milletPoaceae – Grass family
Sinapis albawhite mustardBrassicaceae – Mustard family
Sorghum bicolorsorghumPoaceae – Grass family
Sorghum bicolor × S. bicolor var. sudanenseSudex (Sorghum-sudangrass)Poaceae – Grass family
Sorghum bicolor var. bicolor × bicolor var. sudanenseSudexPoaceae – Grass family
Spinacia oleraceaspinachChenopodiaceae – Goosefoot family
Thinopyrum intermediumintermediate wheatgrassPoaceae – Grass family
Thinopyrum ponticumtall wheatgrassPoaceae – Grass family
Trifolium alexandrinumEgyptian cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium ambiguumKura cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium fragiferumstrawberry cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium hirtumrose cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium hybridumalsike cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium incarnatumcrimson cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium pratensered cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium repenswhite cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium subterraneumsubterranean cloverFabaceae – Pea family
Trifolium vesiculosumarrowleaf cloverFabaceae – Pea family
TrigonellafenugreekFabaceae – Pea family
Triticosecale rimpauitriticalePoaceae – Grass family
Triticum aestivumcommon wheatPoaceae – Grass family
Urochloa ramosabrowntop milletPoaceae – Grass family
Vicia atropurpureapurple vetchFabaceae – Pea family
Vicia benghalensispurple vetchFabaceae – Pea family
Vicia fabafava beanFabaceae – Pea family
Vicia grandifloralarge yellow vetchFabaceae – Pea family
Vicia sativagarden vetchFabaceae – Pea family
Vicia villosawinter vetchFabaceae – Pea family
Vigna radiatamung beanFabaceae – Pea family
Vigna unguiculatacowpeaFabaceae – Pea family
Vulpia myurosannual fescuePoaceae – Grass family
Zea mayscornPoaceae – Grass family

Next we need to organize these by dividing them up into our matrix. We’ve got 3 categories and two choices in each category.

  • N or B: nitrogen-fixer or biomass accumulator;
  • W or C: warm season or cool season; and
  • A or P: annual or perennial.

Two choices in each of three categories makes eight possible combinations in our matrix, which I will label like this:

  • NCA (N-fixer, cool season, annual)
  • NCP (N-fixer, cool season, perennial)
  • NWA (N-fixer, warm season, annual)
  • NWP (N-fixer, warm season, perennial)
  • BCA (Biomass, cool season, annual)
  • BCP (Biomass, cool season, perennial)
  • BWA (Biomass, warm season, annual
  • BWP (Biomass, warm season, perennial).

We can organize those eight combinations in a matrix:

(Video) Why Perennial Cover Crops Don't Work

A Permaculture Guide to Choosing Cover Crops (2)

And now we need to split our cover crop variety list into those eight categories. I’ve created a table, below, with the cover crops divided into annuals, perennials, N-fixers, and biomass plants, but having spent more time on this post than I intended to, I haven’t divided them into warm and cool weather crops. Sample cool weather cover crops are fava beans, winter wheat, and vetch. Warm weather cover crops include alfalfa, sudan grass, and buckwheat. Interested readers can use the catalog and tables from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply or other sources on the web to create the remaining categories. Or maybe I’ll get around to it someday.

N- fixer, AnnualN-Fixer, perennialBiomass, annualBiomass perennial
arrowleaf cloveralfalfaannual fescuebrowntop millet
chick peaalsike cloverbarleychicory
cowpeabigpod sesbaniablack mustardIntermediate wheatgrass
crimson cloverbird’s-foot trefoilblack oatsItalian ryegrass
Egyptian cloverblack medicbuckwheatKentucky bluegrass
Egyptian river hempbur clovercarrotNuttall’s alkaligrass
Fava beanFlat peaceral rye
fenugreekjackbeanChard
gama medicLablab beanChickpea
garden pealupinecommon barley
garden vetchnarrowleaf lupinecommon beet
guarnarrowleaf trefoilcommon flax
hairy indigored clovercommon oat
hyacinth beansesbaniacommon sunflower
Kura cloversweetclovercommon wheat
large yellow vetchwhite clovercorn
lentilwhite sweet clovercultivated radish
mung beanDarnel ryegrass
peanutFalse flax
pigeon peaField mustard
purple vetchfoxtail amaranth
rhizoma peanutfoxtail millet
rose clovergourd
roundhead lespedezalacy phacelia
sanfoinlittle barley
snail medicpearl millet
strawberry cloverplainsman amaranth
subterranean cloverPrince-of-Wales feather
sunn hempproso millet
velvet beanquinoa
water medicrape
white lupinered amaranth
white pearocketsalad
winter vetchRS wheatgrass
Russian wild rye
safflower
Siberian kale
signalgrass
slender wheatgrass
sorghum
soybean
spinach
Sudex (Sorghum-sudangrass)
tall wheatgrass
teff
triticale
weeping alkaligrass
white mustard
Wimmera ryegrass

I hope you find this useful. Permaculture really can be a great decision-making tool.

(Video) Choosing The Best Way To Use COVER CROPS With WOODCHIPS In A NO DIG Garden

Photo credit: By USDA NRCS South Dakota – Cover Crops in Northwestern South Dakota 2015, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48210676

FAQs

What cover crop should I use? ›

Cover crops that provide good cover and a dense root system help stabilize soils and combat erosion. Clovers, annual ryegrass, Austrian winter peas, crown vetch, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, rapeseed, mustards, and cowpeas are good cover crops for erosion protection.

What is the best nitrogen fixing cover crop? ›

Nitrogen is necessary for all plant growth. Legumes have the ability to “fix” nitrogen from the air and store it in nodules in their roots. This nitrogen can be released or use by subsequent crops.
...
Cover crops as nitrogen source.
Cover CropLb./A *
Cowpea100-150
Crimson Clover70-130
Field Pea90-150
Hairy Vetch90-200
7 more rows
1 Apr 2015

What legumes are good for cover crops? ›

Some cover crop mixtures are described in the individual cover crop sections.
  • Berseem Clover. ...
  • Cowpeas. ...
  • Crimson Clover. ...
  • Field Peas. ...
  • Hairy Vetch. ...
  • Medics. ...
  • Red Clover. ...
  • Subterranean Clover.

What is the most common cover crop? ›

Grass Cover Crops, Such as Rye and Winter Wheat, Are the Most Common Cover Crops Used Before Planting Corn, Soybeans, and Cotton.

How do I select a cover crop? ›

Choose tough, low-growing covers such as grasses or clovers. Limit foot traffic to alternate rows, or delay a field operation to allow for cover crop establishment. Another option could be to use a reseeding winter annual that dies back and drops seed each summer but reestablishes in fall.

What cover crops add nitrogen to soil? ›

Some cover crops directly add nutrients to the soil by fixing nitrogen at their roots. Examples include winter field beans and peas, clover and vetch. These are all types of legume and are a great choice for sowing before nitrogen-hungry brassicas such as cabbage.

What plant puts the most nitrogen in the soil? ›

Legumes such as peas, peanuts, beans, clover, and alfalfa are the best plants for adding nitrogen to soil. According to Wikipedia, a legume is a plant that has “symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria in structures called root nodules.” (The specific type of bacteria is called Rhizobia).

How long does it take clover to fix nitrogen? ›

A vigorous stand of white clover will fix 100-150 pounds of nitrogen per year depending on soil and growing conditions (Table 3). At fertilizer nitrogen prices of $0.60 per pound, this translates to $60-$90 per acre.

Which legumes fix the most nitrogen? ›

Grain legumes such as soybean and peanut use most of their fixed nitrogen for themselves. Forage legumes, such as alfalfa and clovers, are the best crops for companion planting as they can fix substantial amounts of surplus nitrogen under the right conditions.

What clover produces the most nitrogen? ›

Red clovers

That makes it have a life span of about two-three years serving as a forage crop. One of the most important benefits of using the red clover is to fix up to 250kg of nitrogen in one hectare within its first full year.

Will clover fix clay soil? ›

Some of the best cover crops for clay soil are clover, winter wheat, and buckwheat. You can also select crops with deep tap roots, like alfalfa and fava beans, to pull nutrients into the topsoil from the subsoil while, at the same time, breaking up the compact clay.

Which is a better cover crop wheat or rye? ›

So, drilling seed in that dry fall resulted in better ground cover, and planting cereal rye instead of wheat resulted in more ground cover. When we had a cold snap in early 2018, cereal rye lost less ground cover than wheat and rebounded quicker (again, since it is more tolerant of these cold temperatures).

When should cover crops be planted? ›

In most regions, it's best to plant right after you make your last harvest. The cover crops need at least 4 weeks before a fall frost to get established. Buckwheat can be planted earlier in areas that have already been harvested. In the spring, you pull, cut, or till the cover crops into the soil.

Do cover crops increase yield? ›

The results to the survey were released in late fall. Farmers who planted corn in a field following a cover crop had a 3.1 percent increase in yield compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops. Likewise, soybean yields increased 4.3 percent following cover crops, according to the survey.

What cover crop produces the most biomass? ›

Rye produced the most biomass of all cover crop species, both when planted early and when planted late.

What is the best cover crop to plant in fall? ›

Popular fall-planted cover crops include oats, winter rye, winter wheat, crimson clover, and hairy vetch. The latter two crops are legumes- plants that can add a lot of nitrogen to your soil after they decompose. These crops are typically planted as early as August 15, but no later than October 10th.

Can I plant cover crop in spring? ›

Spring cover crops risk poor germination because of cold, wet weather. And the slow growing conditions, especially if you have a cool, wet spring, might mean few returns. On the other hand, it's better than leaving your garden fallow, if, say, you didn't get a cover crop in (or mulch) during the fall.

Why don t farmers use cover crops? ›

According to an Agri-Pulse poll conducted this fall by Aimpoint, large majorities agreed that cover crops can improve soil health and prevent soil erosion, but 70% of farmers said cost was the biggest reason they wouldn't plant cover crops.

Why are farmers reluctant to use cover crops? ›

A cover crop disadvantage for commercial farmers is the cost. The crop must be planted at a time when labor, as well as time, is limited. Also, there is the additional cost of planting the cover crop and then tilling it back under which means more labor.

Should you fertilize cover crops? ›

Do I need to fertilize a cover crop? Zimmer: Yes, whether it's manure or commercial fertilizer, fertilize right in front of your cover crop. We want maximum plant growth and sequestration of minerals in the carbon-biological cycle.

What cover crop adds potassium to soil? ›

Potassium (K) availability is reduced when soils are saturated and compacted because the K ion gets tied up in the soil minerology, which is called potassium induction. Legumes and clovers are cover crops that can fix N.

Which green manure is best? ›

Clovers, red or crimson clover being the best as it dies down, also in the legume family. Winter tares, also known as vetches, are also winter-hardy but like rye they can be difficult to dig in. Again, part of the legume family so they fix nitrogen into the soil.

How long does cover crop take to decompose? ›

Most vegetable producers mow and incorporate their cover crops, then form a seed bed for their cash crop. The cover crop residue needs to decompose before planting. If soil conditions are moist and warm, decomposition happens in about three weeks. If the soil is cool, add extra time.

What plants put phosphorus back into the soil? ›

Many plants, such as comfrey, lupine, sweetclovers, nettle or vetches accumulate phosphorus and they can be used as green manure.

Is chickpea a nitrogen fixer? ›

Chickpea and faba bean provide many benefits in northern cropping rotations, including the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen (N2), resulting in more soil N for following cereal crops. The amount of nitrogen fixed is determined by how well the pulse crop grows and the level of nitrate in the soil at planting.

Do green beans put nitrogen back into the soil? ›

Legumes — beans, peas and non-edible relatives such as clovers — give back to your garden because they have a symbiotic relationship with a soil bacteria. This special relationship allows them to convert atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into ammonium nitrogen (NH4), which they release into the soil.

Does alfalfa fix nitrogen? ›

Alfalfa fixes more nitrogen than any legume crop. In fact, a stand can fix as much as 300 pounds of N per acre per year. It uses much of this nitrogen to produce protein in the plant, which growers can harvest and feed to livestock.

Does spinach fix nitrogen? ›

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) is considered a nitrogen (N) intensive plant with high nitrate (NO3) accumulation in its leaves.

Does clover put nitrogen back into the soil? ›

Clover's roots add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, improving the soil's ability to absorb and hold moisture.

Do sweet peas add nitrogen to soil? ›

COVER CROP PLANTS: Sweet Peas

Like fava beans, sweet peas belong to the legume family, which means their roots contain nodules that house nitrogen-fixing bacteria. This bacteria actually captures inert nitrogen from the atmosphere and turns it into a biologically useful form of nitrogen – ammonia.

Do potatoes fix nitrogen? ›

After the utilization of a certain amount of applied mineral nitrogen by potato plants, initiated with the inoculation, bacteria reflect the changes in the soil environment and reveal its nitrogen-fixing function. This, in turn, significantly reduces the denitrification activity in the rhizosphere of inoculated plants.

Does Red clover fix nitrogen? ›

Red clover can be used as a cover crop that provides many benefits such as fixing nitrogen (N) to meet needs of the following crop, protecting soil from erosion, improving soil tilth, competing with weeds, as well as supplying forage needs.

Can you plant oats and clover together? ›

It's hard to beat the oats-and-clover combo. This green-on-grain duo is perfect for planting in tight corridors. These plots are a little more resistant to over browsing than option No. 1, too.

Should I plant clover instead of grass? ›

But before you squash the shamrock-shaped intruders, consider the benefits of keeping clover as a low-maintenance, eco-friendly grass alternative or companion plant. Clover requires fewer harsh chemicals than regular lawns, tolerates tough growing conditions, and fixes nitrogen in the soil for other plants to thrive.

How much clover seed do you need per acre? ›

A standard base rate of 15 pounds per acre planted with a drill is being used. Pure Live Seed seeding rates of 100%, 75%, and 50% are being compared to the base rate of uncoated seed and coated seed.

How do you break up clay soil without tilling? ›

Ways to Amend Clay Soil Without Tilling

You need to poke holes in the soil, make sure they are relatively deep and a few inches wide. Remove the clay and dispose of it accordingly. Finally fill in the holes with compost or other organic matter. In time, this will change the chemical composition of the soil.

How do you amend heavy clay soil? ›

Bark, sawdust, manure, leaf mold, compost and peat moss are among the organic amendments commonly used to improve clay soil. Two or three inches of organic materials should be spread and rototilled, forked or dug into the top six or seven inches of your garden beds.

Are oats a good cover crop? ›

Oats are quick growing annual winter-kill cover crops that have many beneficial benefits. The roots create a mat of organic matter which helps prevent soil erosion, and the top becomes the cleanest straw when grown in the fall. Sow thickly for the most effective mulch.

Are sunflowers a good cover crop? ›

The deep root of sunflower is beneficial to sequester residual nitrogen. “Sunflowers in cover crop mixtures are primarily used for soil health benefits such as cycling and scavenging nutrients, reducing soil erosion and alleviating soil compaction,” explains Paul.

Does winter wheat make a good cover crop? ›

Wisconsin's short growing season doesn't provide a lot of time for growing cover crops. However, the early harvest of winter wheat allows an excellent window for cover crops to grow, protect the soil and provide other benefits.

Do you have to water cover crops? ›

Of course, the cover crop itself will need water—but drought-tolerant selections, such as summer-dormant native perennial grasses, will need very little. In fall and winter, when more moisture is available, clovers and legumes provide excellent ground cover while also depositing available nitrogen for the cash crop.

Does clover need a cover crop? ›

The second reason clover works well for cover crops is that it acts as a ground cover and protects the soil from both erosion and weeds. Clover grows quickly and establishes itself in the spring before other plants and newly germinated weeds can, acting as a natural form of weed suppression.

Can you plant cover crops with vegetables? ›

Cover crops and green manures can be planted before vegetables are planted, after harvest, in place of a vegetable crop, or in a fallow area of a garden. Warm season cover crops (e.g., buckwheat) are planted in spring or summer, before or in place of a vegetable crop.

What are the advantages of cover cropping? ›

Cover crops help prevent soil erosion, regulate moisture, attract pollinators, assist in weed and pest management, serve as mulch and the source of green manure and organic matter, and are used for grazing or forage.

Do cover crops pay? ›

The NRCS cover crop payment rates vary by state, often starting at $50–$54 per acre for the “basic” cover crop rate of a single species and increasing with the use of multi-species cover crop mixes or for special categories (such as organic farming or being a beginning farmer or socially disadvantaged farmer).

Do cover crop mixtures give higher and more stable yields than pure stands? ›

The best mixtures of cover crops had 9% greater N yield than the best pure stands. The best mixtures had the same variability in biomass and N yield as the best pure stands. Mixtures lowered the risk of choosing a sub-optimal cover crop species.

When should I plant a cover crop? ›

In most regions, it's best to plant right after you make your last harvest. The cover crops need at least 4 weeks before a fall frost to get established. Buckwheat can be planted earlier in areas that have already been harvested. In the spring, you pull, cut, or till the cover crops into the soil.

Do cover crops increase yield? ›

The results to the survey were released in late fall. Farmers who planted corn in a field following a cover crop had a 3.1 percent increase in yield compared to side-by-side fields with no cover crops. Likewise, soybean yields increased 4.3 percent following cover crops, according to the survey.

What is a good winter cover crop for a vegetable garden? ›

Examples include winter field beans and peas, clover and vetch. These are all types of legume and are a great choice for sowing before nitrogen-hungry brassicas such as cabbage. Phacelia can be sown in late summer in milder areas – or wait until spring if winters are cold where you are.

What cover crops are best for loosening soil compaction? ›

The roots penetrate the compacted soil and loosen it. By mowing and turning the mowed tops in, the soil is additionally loosened. Cover crops could include annual ryegrass, winter wheat, winter rye, buckwheat, oilseed radishes and hairy vetch.

Are cover crops worth it? ›

Blooming cover crops benefit both beekeepers and growers by providing better nutrition for bees, increasing the soil's water-holding capacity by adding organic matter, increasing water infiltration, reducing erosion, and providing natural weed control.

Do you have to water cover crops? ›

Of course, the cover crop itself will need water—but drought-tolerant selections, such as summer-dormant native perennial grasses, will need very little. In fall and winter, when more moisture is available, clovers and legumes provide excellent ground cover while also depositing available nitrogen for the cash crop.

How long does cover crop last? ›

The cover crop residue needs to decompose before planting. If soil conditions are moist and warm, decomposition happens in about three weeks. If the soil is cool, add extra time. If conditions are dry, you may need to irrigate to allow the residue to decompose.

Do cover crops reduce the need for fertilizer? ›

As a “trap crop”, a cover crop will store nutrients from manure, mineralized organic nitrogen or underutilized fertilizer until the following years' crop can utilize them, reducing nutrient runoff and leaching.

How do cover crops improve soil? ›

Sediment is agriculture's number one pollutant. Water erosion occurs even on flat soils and is especially a problem on hilly soils. Cover crops produce more vegetative biomass than volunteer plants; transpire water, increase water infiltration and decrease surface runoff and runoff velocity.

Do cover crop mixtures give higher and more stable yields than pure stands? ›

The best mixtures of cover crops had 9% greater N yield than the best pure stands. The best mixtures had the same variability in biomass and N yield as the best pure stands. Mixtures lowered the risk of choosing a sub-optimal cover crop species.

What cover crop adds potassium to soil? ›

Potassium (K) availability is reduced when soils are saturated and compacted because the K ion gets tied up in the soil minerology, which is called potassium induction. Legumes and clovers are cover crops that can fix N.

What cover crop produces the most biomass? ›

Rye produced the most biomass of all cover crop species, both when planted early and when planted late.

What crops add nitrogen to soil? ›

Plants that contribute to nitrogen fixation include the legume family – Fabaceae – with taxa such as clover, soybeans, alfalfa, lupins, peanuts, and rooibos.

What is the best cover crop for clay soil? ›

Some of the best cover crops for clay soil are clover, winter wheat, and buckwheat. You can also select crops with deep tap roots, like alfalfa and fava beans, to pull nutrients into the topsoil from the subsoil while, at the same time, breaking up the compact clay.

What plants will fix clay soil? ›

The following clay-busting plants can heal soil in existing vegetable gardens and perennial food forests!
...
Perennial Clay-Busting Plants for the Food Forest
  • Alfalfa.
  • Chicory (One of my favorite wild herbs to grow in my backyard pharmacy.)
  • Comfrey.
  • Dandelion.
  • Yarrow.
13 Jun 2022

Videos

1. Cover Cropping in Orchards: Seed Selection webinar
(CAFFflix)
2. The Power of Cover Crops and What They Mean for Farmers with Christos Miliotis
(Soil Learning Center by Farming Secrets)
3. How Not to Cover Crop
(No-Till Growers)
4. FALL COVER CROPS WISH I KNEW This 10 Years Ago
(I AM ORGANIC GARDENING)
5. 10 Advantages Of Cover Crops And How You Can Make The Best Use Of Green Manure
(My Family Garden)
6. Summer Cover Cropping Guide
(No-Till Growers)

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