Winter Cover Crop Cocktail – May 2013 Update in Pictures

Hello!  Here’s an update on our quest of planting series of cover crops to improve our burned-out soil.  We planted this latest cover crop in September 2012 on 29 acres.  It’s a “cocktail” mix of oats, radish, cereal rye, Austrian winter peas, sweet blue lupin, and crimson clover.  The oats, radishes, and lupines winter-killed in January 2013.  It’s now May, and the rest of the cover crop is blooming and breathtakingly beautiful (maybe I’m partial!)

Most of these pictures are of our six-acre east field.  This is the first cover crop for this particular field – we lightly rotovated the pasture grass before planting in September.  In addition to the cocktail mix, we threw in a 25-pound bag of turnip seed and a 50-pound bag of vetch for the east field.

Beautiful 5-foot tall Austrian winter pea flower.   Rye (looks like wheat) and crimson clover in the background.  Scott east field May 2013.

Beautiful 5-foot tall Austrian winter pea flower. Rye (looks like wheat) and crimson clover in the background. Scott east field May 2013.

Purple vetch flowers surrounded by 4-foot tall crimson clover with rye towering overhead.  White flower is a radish that survived winter.  Yellow flower is a turnip.  I didn’t know crimson clover would get this tall!  Scott east field May 2013.

Purple vetch flowers surrounded by 4-foot tall crimson clover with rye towering overhead. White flower is a radish that survived winter. Yellow flower is a turnip. I didn’t know crimson clover would get this tall! Scott east field May 2013.

My kind of field of dreams.  Scott east field May 2013.

My kind of field of dreams. Cheesy but true!  Scott east field May 2013.

McCarthy field.  This is our “best” field with the highest organic matter and only field to get compost so far.  Much of the old orchard grass has returned – see fluffy orchard grass seed heads in front.  All plants in this field are bigger and healthier.  Rye is over 6 feet tall.  Orchard grass is lush and 5 feet tall here, compared to 3 feet tall in our old pasture fields.  May 2013.

McCarthy field. This is our “best” field with the highest organic matter and only field to get compost so far. Much of the old orchard grass has returned – see fluffy orchard grass seed heads in front. All plants in this field are bigger and healthier. Rye is over 6 feet tall. Orchard grass is lush and 5 feet tall here, compared to 3 feet tall in our old pasture fields. May 2013.

Winter-killed lupin pic taken January 2013.  Six-inch tall plant with at least 8-inch tap root (I didn’t get the whole root) with great soil adhesion (evidence of good soil microbe activity).  Roots are the point of this cover crop cocktail.  Roots stimulate soil biology, improve soil structure, and turn into organic matter.   Even though lupines lived only 4 months, they contributed to soil health.

Winter-killed lupin pic taken January 2013. Six-inch tall plant with at least 8-inch tap root (I didn’t get the whole root) with great soil adhesion (evidence of good soil microbe activity). Roots are the point of this cover crop cocktail. Roots stimulate soil biology, improve soil structure, and turn into organic matter. Even though lupines lived only 4 months, they contributed to soil health.

Look closely – this pic is full of turnip seedpods.  Turnip lesson:  lower the seeding rate!  This is the “good” part of the east field profiled in a previous blog post.  Turnips’ bright yellow flowers dominated the east field two weeks ago and the bee activity was amazing!  Scott east field May 2013.

Look closely – this pic is full of turnip seedpods. Turnip lesson: lower the seeding rate! This is the “good” part of the east field. Turnips’ bright yellow flowers dominated the east field two weeks ago and the bee activity was amazing! Scott east field May 2013.

Turnip flowers turning into long, skinny seedpods.  If just 5% of the new seed germinates, I will have a major turnip problem!   Scott east field May 2013.

Turnip flowers turning into long, skinny seedpods. If just 5% of the new seed germinates, I will have a major turnip problem! Scott east field May 2013.

Turnips are great cover crops though.  They are high in sugar and attract the bacteria that worms love to eat.  Here’s a worm and some good-looking soil under a big turnip bulb.   I’ve previously had a very hard time finding worms in this field.  Scott east field May 2013.

Turnips are great cover crops though. They are high in sugar and attract the bacteria that worms love to eat. Here’s a worm and some good-looking soil under a big turnip bulb. I’ve previously had a very hard time finding worms in this field. Scott east field May 2013.

What’s next:  We’ll bush hog (mow) this cover crop in a couple of weeks.  Timing is key because plants can be mow-killed when they flower.  All plants are flowering en masse right now except for rye and vetch, and we want these two dead for sure.  We expect them to flower in the next 2 weeks or so.  This crop will make fantastic mulch and protect soil life against summer’s heat.  In late May, we’ll drill (plant) a summer cover crop.  Reduction in seed cost is our goal for the next cover crop.  We’ve been planting way too much seed at high cost and want to change this.  Stay tuned!

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4 responses to this post.

  1. awesome. been waiting to see an update.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Sharyn on June 30, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    Hi!
    Following your trials with interest – I have 10 acres to rehab starting soon. Need to get a tractor first.
    Would you mind listing the implements you are using? I’m guessing a mower and rotary hoe for starters – what do you use for sowing?

    Thanks, Sharyn

    Reply

    • Hello Sharyn! Good question. We use our tractor and bush hog. For planting, we rent our soil conservation district’s no-till drill. For tillage, we do have a rotovator, but really try to limit our use of it. We use tillage to take a field out of perennial grass and into cover crops, and after that, we do no-till cover crops. We see no-till methods (leaving all the mowed mulch on top) speeding up the healthy recovery of our soil, and the drill punches right through all the mulch at seeding time.

      If you live in a farming area with a lot of corn & soybean farmers, hiring their services or equipment is a viable option because cover crop planting & mowing times most often do not coincide with corn & bean planting and harvesting times – so their equipment is available when you would need it. Let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck!

      Reply

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