See What a Cover Crop Cocktail Did to Our Farm Soil!

Sorry for the drought in blog posts!  Hubby and I have been working extra long hours sprucing up a rental house to put on the market.  If it sells this time, our dream of leaving our DC jobs and farming full time will become a reality.  Fingers crossed!

I took these pics on May 19, 2013, a couple days after mowing down our stupendous winter cover crop cocktail.  By May it was hugely tall – everything at least 5 feet tall, and some was up to 7 feet in places.  Hubby and I kept talking about the roots – I wonder how deep the roots grew?  I wonder if the soil structure improved?  We got a shovel and went out to the field to see.

McCarthy field, May 2013.

McCarthy field, May 2013.

Here’s the most telling picture (above).  This is a chunk from our best field.  I labeled the healthy soil evidence:  earthworm tunnel holes, fungi threads (fungi are soil’s “network” and give nutrients to plants plus probably many other things we don’t know yet), and many soil animals.  It’s hard to make out the tiny soil bugs from the coarse sand particles, but this soil chunk was crawling with tiny critters!  This demonstrates a huge improvement from where this soil started in 2008.  Back then it was tight and crusty with no signs of soil life.  A shovel-full would not break apart into nice fluffy chunks like it does now.  Porous structure is crucial for letting air and water through the profile and for giving soil life nice homes so they can do their jobs.

McCarthy field, mid-May 2013.

McCarthy field, mid-May 2013.

And earthworms!  I cannot believe three of these dudes were in one shovel-full of soil!  Until this spring, I’ve been unable to find adult earthworms, so three is a great excuse to break out some champagne!

McCarthy field.  Mowed mulch 14 inches thick.  May 2013.

McCarthy field. Mowed mulch 14 inches thick. May 2013.

Here’s a rather boring pic of what our bushhog left behind.  MULCH!  Soil life loves this stuff on top so don’t till it in!  A thick mulch layer keeps soil temperature and moisture steady during weather extremes.  Mulch keeps soil life comfortable.  It is soil’s protective cover and the key for our soil’s improving health.

Thanks for reading!  And leave a comment if you have any questions or want to say anything.  I’d love to hear from you!


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Edmund Brown on October 23, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Hi Kelly,
    I check your blog every once in a while since I “met” you posting on soilandhealth. I wonder, did you cover crop all your acres you own and rent? Or did you keep a small control patch to see what volunteer grasses and “weeds” could do in the same timeframe as year on year covercrop cocktails?


  2. Posted by Brian on February 11, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Hi, Kelly.
    We are cover cropping a bit differently than you since we are a row crop farm and have no pasture. I can’t say I’ve seen an absence of earthworms in our tilled ground (especially when it rains there will be countless worms crossing the roads), but last spring right before we killed off our cereal rye cover crop that field was lousy with earthworms! I was surprised at how fast the dead rye decomposed as the soybeans grew. I bet those extra worms played a part!


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