In last week’s blog I kept jumping the fence about cover crops. First I extolled their benefits. Then I wrote that they’re probably unnecessary in my heavily composted ground and possibly to blame for poor growth of some corn and tomatoes. Finally, I wound up stating that I do grow some cover crops anyway. No wonder I caused some confusion.
All this prompted one reader, Peter, to comment with some specific questions that might also be of interest to some of you. I will now try to answer them.
His first question was: “How is percentage of organic matter in the soil determined.” “Organic matter” is carbon compounds; as such they can be oxidized, and when this happens they are lost from the soil as carbon dioxide and water. Microorganisms do this naturally in any soil as they feed on organic matter, in so doing releasing minerals associated …
Soil has been called “the skin of the earth.” That “skin” nourishes much of life here, so let’s take care of it. Which is one reason for cover crops, that is, plants grown not directly for us, but specifically to maintain or improve soil health. Typical cover crops include rye, oats, buckwheat, clovers, and other mostly grains or legumes.
The most obvious benefit of a cover crop is the protection it affords the soil from wind and rain, either of which can carry away the most fertile surface layer. Also protection from temperature extremes. Another benefit is that cover crops can suppress weeds. Less obvious is cover crop plants’ ability to grab onto and bring back up to the surface layers nutrients that rain might otherwise wash beyond roots into the groundwater.
Buckwheat cover crop at Chanticleer
Some effects are even more subtle. Substances oozing from plant …
Compost and/or Living or Dead Organic Material = Sustainable Fertility
Maple leaves already dapple the ground in red and yellow (early this year), one morning showed off what was to come with frost on the windshield, and each day the sun each hangs lower in the sky, yet I’m getting ready for spring planting. Really! Yes, I’d rather do it now than in spring.
Beds of spent vegetables have been cleared. Okra plants, in this cool weather, just sat in place, hardly producing any new pods. So out went the plants. I severed the main roots with my hori-hori knife (www.oescoinc.com) and yanked out each stem. When corn is finished, it’s finished. Beds of early corn got replanted with endive, lettuce, and other late vegetables, but the latest beds of corn were harvested too late for replanting. Clearing away old vegetable plants not only clears the deck for next spring but also …