Saturday, 15 June 2013

All Covered Up?

Well this year is certainly making me think long and hard about the long term benefits of cover cropping when there is no other crop planted in the ground.  It is also making me think about leaving ground bare and I'm coming to the conclusion that we should be having crops growing all the time.  The soil microbes, fungi and bacteria all need to be fed to keep them healthy, this would seem logical wouldn't it?  Keeping the soil microbes healthy recycles nutrients within the system, keeps the soil structure maintained reduces soil erosion and increases water quality. It can also dry the land out faster and more evenly.  It also provides a great habitat for  our wildlife, I see an abundance of brown hare; we have skylarks serenading me as I walk the fields and lapwing swooping down to ward of visitors from their nests and young fledglings.
The field above is a mixture of Phacelia, Fodder Radish and a mixture of winter and spring beans.  The beans can, with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria, turn atmospheric nitrogen into a form that the plants can use later in the season or it should be available for the next crop.
This is a fodder radish plant that has a tap root very similar to a parsnip by the looks of things.  It is penetrating the soil with the equivalent force of 400lb/square inch.  The picture above shows the root development 5 weeks since the crop was planted in a very cold and difficult spring (aren't they all these days).  I am hopeful that where the crop has established well there will be no need to subsoil this year.
As the cover crop plants die; the following crop, in this case winter wheat, their roots will be able to follow these roots down to the moisture in tracks already provided.  This means the wheat will use less energy to produce their roots enabling more efficient use of energy.  All in all there is no immediate financial return for doing this but the long term benefits will pay back with better yields and we'll have a farming system that is more resilient to the challenges of climate change that are all to obvious.  There will also be opportunities for moving livestock around the farm, returning more organic manure, I just have to work out how!

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