A Fantastic Short-Duration Summer Cover Crop

Three of our fields have improved to the point where we can stop growing cover crops and plant our final pasture grass mix for our future livestock!  These fields have more than 3% organic matter (still not a great %, but pretty good for our very sandy soil), and they consistently produce very lush & healthy cover crops.

Our last cover crop was mature and dying in mid-May.  I want to plant the final pasture grass mix sometime this August so it can grow well this fall before winter sets in.  For summer weed suppression and other benefits, I want to plant something for the summer, but I don’t want to till or apply herbicides to kill it in August before planting the grass mix.   What to do?  How about a short-season cover crop?  Yes!

Many plants make wonderful summer cover crops, but only a few of them (to my knowledge) are short season, meaning they grow, mature, flower & produce seeds within a short timeframe.  Annual plants that are mature will die by mowing.  No tillage or herbicides needed!

I chose buckwheat, sunflowers and oats.  (See my previous post on summer oats.)  Buckwheat matures in seven weeks!  And the sunflowers I chose (Terraza) were 70-day, meaning they flower at 70 days after planting, well within my August deadline.

Bonus:  the sunflowers and buckwheat are beautiful together!  The pic below does not do them justice.  Both have reached over 5 feet tall in some places.   Other benefits include:  great weed suppression, soil texture improvement through buckwheat’s abundant, fine roots, and phosphorus scavenging (getting hard-to-get phosphorus from the soil and putting it into plant available form).  I’m not sure what sunflowers uniquely do for soil health, but I heard they scavenge zinc.

I’m glad the last cover crop for these fields is so pretty!

Buckwheat, sunflowers, oats.  Planted June 1, 2013.  McCarthy field (7/31/2013)

Buckwheat, sunflowers, oats. Planted June 1, 2013. McCarthy field (7/31/2013)

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rich on August 3, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    I’ve read all that I can find about people like Gabe Brown and their cover crop cocktails and was a little skeptical about their results, but after following your blog and seeing your “real world” results I’m a little more confident that it might work on my fields.

    I’ve finally reached the point where I can put in a cover crop cocktail this fall (trying to survive two years of drought doesn’t leave much room for experimenting), but I haven’t found any consistent info about how to figure out how much of each seed type needs to be included in the mix.

    The best explanation I’ve found is to take the typical seeding rate of each plant and divide it by the number of different plants in the mix. I might be over-thinking it, but it seems like there should be more to it than that.

    It seems like you wrote something about the reasoning behind some of your mixes somewhere on your blog, but I either can’t seem to find it or I’m remembering it wrong.

    Reply

    • Hello Rich! Good question – I’ve learned that my seeding rates have been way too high. I’ve put down 60 to 70 pounds per acre for some of the mixes! Unnecessary.

      Check out this page from Cover Crop Solutions. http://covercropsolutions.com/planting-tips/planting-tips.php They show several mixes with seeding rates. Most mixes are below 20 lbs/a, and the highest is 40 lbs/a. We seeded their Homestead mix on our poor fields this summer. Their recommended rate was 15 lbs/a. I was skeptical, but it turned out to be perfect. I think 40 lbs/a is a good maximum for any mix. Go closer to 40 if you’re including lots of winter grasses (rye, oats) and/or big seeds like austrian winter peas. Use 20 as a max if your mix is heavy on the small seeded legumes and/or small seeded grasses (annual ryegrass). Good luck!

      Reply

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