In this share: Mustard Greens, Kale, Frisee, Delicata Squash, Garlic, Celeriac, Yellow Onion, Carrots, Apples (bonus from our landlords )
It’s that time of year again when the field transforms, bed by bed, from a mosaic of lush greens into a growing blanket of brown. The summer crops have all been tilled in and the fall crops are quickly being whittled away. The work doesn’t end with the harvest however, as we still need to prepare our fields for their long, wet, winter hibernation. So, this past week we have been busy spreading cover crop seed. We purchased the Winter Rye, Oats, Tritacale, Peas, and Vetch from Osborne Seed Company, a great local source of certified organic cover crop seed. Why bother, you ask? Well, cover cropping plays a critical roles in maintenance of farmers’ fields, especially those that rely on organic methods for their fertility and weed management. Let us explain:
1) Cover cropping prevents erosion and leaching. The roots of cover crops, particularly the grasses, cling onto soil particles, protecting them from the onslaught of winter rains. Even mild precipitation can move large amounts of soil downhill and leach highly soluble nutrients, such as nitrogen and calcium, from our sandy soils.
2) Cover cropping suppresses weed growth. Weeds that get established in the fall can complete their life cycle and release seed before the fields are dry enough in the spring to till them in. Thus, it’s important to establish a good stand of cover crop before the weeds can get a foothold. It may not prevent total weed germination, but will slow their growth so that they can still be managed when spring comes around.
3) Cover cropping adds organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, increasing overall tilth and fertility. In the spring, all that cover crop plant material is tilled into the ground, becoming food for bacteria and other decomposes, who in turn help mineralize soil nutrients and make them available to plant roots. The grasses such as rye, aats and tritacle are heavy in carbon, which help to increase overall organic matter. Peas, vetch and favas are legumes, all of which have root nodules loaded with bacteria who suck nitrogen out of the air and make it available to plants and soil organisms. Carbon and Nitrogen are the two most critical building blocks of living organisms, thus grasses and legumes make a great cover crop team!
4) Other benefits include disrupting pest and disease cycles, providing habitat for animals, attracting pollinators and other the beneficial insects in the spring when the legumes are flowering, and providing overall beauty to the farm.