Here in the Bay states and across the temperate zone of the world farmers are busy planting cover crops on fields that were used to produce their summer crops such as corn. The purpose of a cover crop is to “cover” or protect the land during the winter so that the farmer’s most precious resource – the soil, doesn’t wash away. Farmers have been planting cover crops since early September and will continue through about mid-October. Cover crops include all those plants that thrive in cooler temperatures such as crimson clover, sweet clover, vetch, radishes, turnips, wheat, barley and rye. These are often referred to “winter annuals”.
Cover crops are one of the most important practices in farming. Soil should always have a cover – especially through the winter. There are many combinations of cover crops but the important thing is have the cover crop seeds in the ground early enough to have the soil completely covered with living plants by December the 1st.A crop field that is bare through the winter will erode at phenomenal rates, creating gullies in the field and disaster in nearby streams. Sediment is the largest pollutant by volume in any stream.
Even home gardeners should plant a cover crop. Living roots in your garden or crop field is a carbon pump into the soil which helps create healthier soils. My favorite cover crop is crimson clover. It can germinate in four days and completely cover the soil in twenty days. In the spring it has awesome red blooms that attract thousands of pollinators and best of all it can provide at least 80 pounds of available nitrogen for my tomatoes next year.That’s 80 pounds of fertilizer per acre the farmer doesn’t have to buy.
No doubt about it, planting cover crops is a must for improving the health of your soil, protecting our streams from pollution and for improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.