Can you spot Farmer Allyson hiding in the 5 foot tall Sudax!?! This field of Sorghum-Sudan Grass (also known as Sudax) was planted just 30 days before! Farmer Jones was amazed at how fast it grew and established and is very excited for how it will improve the soil quality.
Sorghum-Sudan Grass is just one of the cover crops that we use at the farm as part of our crop rotations. Rather than planting each field year after year with the same crops (a practice that can lead to poor soil quality and unhealthy pests and diseases), cover crops are planted. While growing, cover crops reduce soil erosion from wind and rain, because the roots of the plants help to hold the soil in place. Once the cover crops are tilled into the soil, they help to increase the organic matter. Certain cover crops can also increase the nutrient content of the soil (for example, planting peas can help to increase nitrogen in the soil).
We use cover crops in all of our fields, but they are especially important in our no-till system of planting pumpkins. Each autumn the fields that will grow the following year’s pumpkins and squash are planted with winter rye. Winter rye gets established in the fall, but really begins to grow once the weather warms in the spring. It can grow to be 7-8 feet tall! Rather than tilling in the winter rye once it reaches maturity, we use a tractor attachment with a roller on the back that flattens the rye to the ground. This creates a protective layer on the soil that continues to reduce soil erosion, helps to maintain soil moisture (very helpful when we have dry weather in the summer!), and also reduces the pressure from weeds. When it comes time for planting the pumpkins in June, a small hole is cleared in the straw mat and several seeds are planted into a hole.
There are lots of great cover crops avaiable – including oats, peas, buckwheat, hairy vetch, and clovers (just to name a few).
As stewards of the land, soil is the most precious resource one can have. We go through great efforts to conserve the soil and enrich the soil nutrition so that it can continue to grow healthy food. As we always say, “Be Good to the Land, and the Land will Be Good to You.”