Archive for the ‘vetch’ Category

Winter Cover Crop Cocktail – January 2013 Update in Pictures

Here’s an update on the winter cocktail we planted in mid-September 2012.  All pictures are from our six-acre east field.  This field was in ailing pasture grasses since fall 2008.  Before we planted the cocktail, we lightly rotovated the grass while spraying beneficial microbes, seaweed extract, fish, and molasses.  Before 2008, this field was farmed in roundup ready soybeans for about a decade.  This is a very old farm field with burned out, very sandy soil.    On the bright side, organic matter has increased by more than 1% (now 2.8%) since 2008.  Based on the success we’ve seen with cover crops in other fields, we decided to super-charge this one with a winter cocktail.

The cocktail:  tillage radishes, oats, cereal rye, Austrian winter peas, hairy vetch, crimson clover, and sweet blue lupine.

Catch Crops:  A Source of Pride and Embarrassment!

All seed varieties germinated really well in September, but the tillage radishes and oats grew extremely fast.  These two catch crops (they catch and hold a lot of nutrients) are designed to grow very quickly in the fall and then winter-kill (die) in very cold temperatures.   Because they catch a lot of nutrients and grow really fast, they loudly display the best and worst parts of field.

Check out these two pictures from late December.  These were in a far corner of the field, where I believe the soybean farmer never planted.  The oats grew to three feet tall, and many radishes reached 3 inches in diameter.  (Big radishes are growing in good soil with plenty of nutrients available for catching.)

Winter cover crop cocktail in best part of field.  Thigh-high oats and radishes dominating other plants with lush, thick foliage.  East field 12.31.2012

Winter cover crop cocktail in best part of field. Thigh-high oats and radishes dominating other plants with lush, thick foliage. East field 12.31.2012

Close-up of lush oats and radishes with under growth of peas, rye, crimson clover.  Some radishes are 3" in diameter.  East field 12.31.2012

Close-up of lush oats and radishes with under growth of peas, rye, crimson clover. Some radishes are 3″ in diameter. East field 12.31.2012

The embarrassing part is captured in this next picture, the poor part of the field.  The oats grew to only one foot tall and started turning red in December.  I believe red leaves indicate phosphorus deficiency, made worse by cold weather.  Most radishes did not reach one inch in diameter.  This is our “you gotta start somewhere” picture.  We know from our previous cover crops that this is typical for our farm, and the next cover crop will do much better because this current cover crop is making big improvements for the soil even though it looks pretty bad!

Winter cocktail in poor part of field.  All plants are small with lots of red leaves.  East field 12.31.2012

Winter cocktail in poor part of field. All plants are small with lots of red leaves. East field 12.31.2012

Winter-Kill:  Change is Good

Our farm got the Arctic blast that much of the eastern U.S. experienced in mid-January 2013.  The oats are now totally dead, and the radishes are dying due to multiple nights with temperatures in the teens.  This is great!  Winter-kill knocks back the domineering oats and radishes, allowing more sunlight for the other cocktail plants as they rush into their late winter/early spring growth cycle.  This is one of the benefits of planting a cocktail – different plants flourish at different times, which extends the growth season.

Winter cover crop cocktail after deep freeze.  Oats (brown leaves) and tillage radishes are dying.  East field 1.26.2013

Winter cover crop cocktail after deep freeze. Oats (brown leaves) and tillage radishes are dying. East field 1.26.2013

Dead oats and radishes with growing cereal rye and austrian winter peas.  East field cover crop cocktail 1.26.2013

Dead oats and radishes with growing cereal rye and austrian winter peas. East field cover crop cocktail 1.26.2013

Winter cover crop cocktail after severe freeze.  Oats and radishes are dead, but peas, vetch, crimson clover and cereal rye are growing and getting ready for spring.  East field 1.26.2013

Winter cover crop cocktail after severe freeze. Oats and radishes are dead, but peas, vetch, crimson clover and cereal rye are growing and getting ready for spring. East field 1.26.2013

What We Hope to See in May 2013

Hopefully this field will be chock-full of tall cereal rye with blooming peas and vetch climbing up the rye.  The crimson clover should be blooming too.  I’m not sure if the lupines survived the Arctic blast, but if they did, I hope they bloom with everything else in May.  It sounds like max prettiness!

We hope all the belowground action is just as dynamite.  It would be great if all the legumes produce nitrogen and all the plants release their signature root exudates to stimulate their preferred part of soil biology.  If all this happens, then this field’s soil health will be well on its way to becoming healthy and productive.

We plan to wait until most of the crop matures so when we mow it, the clippings will be carbon-rich and supply mulch for a long time.   Next up for this field is a primo soil-building summer cover crop.  We’re leaning towards sorghum sudangrass, cowpeas, and buckwheat.  Thanks for reading!

Mow-Killing Rye and Vetch – Will This Stuff Ever Die?

Oh, dear Roundup, you are so enticing!
We planted about 23 acres of a cereal rye and hairy vetch cover crop in September 2011.  It’s now late May 2012, and this stuff is still not dead!  We’re trying to kill it organically by mowing it at the right time (at flowering).  We mowed all 23 acres twice, and the vetch just keeps on coming back!  My go-to cover crop manual, page 71 says vetch does not bear traffic.  Not true, at least for this variety.  The vetch that got ran over by the tractor tires and therefore lay too low to be cut by the bush hog came right back with shock & awe gusto in a few days.  Vetch is a wonderful soil builder and nitrogen producer.  It’s a stellar cover crop, but it’s very aggressive in the spring and livestock don’t like to eat it.  So, we don’t want it producing seed and growing again in our future pastures.

Vetch mat in neighbor’s field. No rye germinated.

Another reason we want to kill it is so we can plant our summer cover crop mixture.   The new seeds need a good start with no vetch competition.  After mowing twice, we shrugged our shoulders and went ahead and planted.  We think the no-till drill (planter) we rented from our county helped with killing the vetch.  The drill has sharp discs that slice the soil surface like a pizza cutter to make a tiny furrow for seed placement.  So far, it looks like the pizza cutter action cut a lot of the vetch at ground level, which is probably what it needed to finally die.  Our bush hog mower won’t go lower than six inches.  We’ll wait and see if the vetch comes roaring back.

Mowing Would’ve Worked Better If…

…If the cereal rye germinated, dang it!  Cereal rye grows strong and tall, up to 6 feet high, and vetch loves to climb it.  Mow-killing vetch and rye is successful when the rye is holding up the vetch.  We know because the rye germinated and grew really well in parts of our 3-acre field.  The bush hog decimated the vetch where it was supported by rye stems, no need to mow a second time.  In our neighbor’s 20 acres, however, virtually no rye germinated, and the vetch just grew in a 3-foot tall dense jungle mat.  The bush hog has a hard time getting under the vetch mat to cut it off close to the ground and kill it good.

Rye Failure

Rye and vetch both grew well in our 3-acre field.

Why didn’t the rye germinate in our neighbor’s 20 acres?  The rye seed could’ve rotted by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee’s 15 + inches of rain (vetch is a harder seed than rye).  Another possibility is nitrogen.  I’ve read that legumes will flourish in nitrogen-deficient soil because their symbiotic root bacteria fix nitrogen from the air.  Grasses (rye) are nitrogen hogs and don’t do well when soil N is lacking.  Our 3-acre field had been in pasture for 3 years and had quite a bit of clover.  Perhaps soil N was sufficient there.

Encouraging Signs

I love the sound the bush hog makes when it hits really dense cover crops!  VROOOM!  That means the clippings will make wonderful mulch to armor the soil from weather extremes and entice the beneficial tiny soil animals and microbes to make their homes in our fields.  The fields now feel like a big fat cushion when I walk on them, which is a great feeling and a sign of returning soil health.   The vetch also attracted some birds and insects that I’ve never seen in that high of numbers on our farm before.  The ladybug numbers on the vetch were amazing, and red-winged blackbirds seemed to be very attracted to the vetch as well.  I didn’t find either of these two in our grass pastures, which were right next door to the rye & vetch fields.

Another encouraging sign is nitrogen.  I’m super excited about this, because soil has to be at a decent level of health in order to provide nitrogen to plants naturally.  The soybean farmer that farmed our fields planted annual ryegrass as a cover crop for several winters.  Like vetch, annual ryegrass is notorious for producing lots of seed.  We have lots of volunteer annual ryegrass coming up after we mowed the vetch, and it’s dark, dark green and super healthy looking!  I’ve never seen grasses on our fields look this healthy.  I’m assuming it’s due to the big nitrogen contribution from the beneficial vetch root bacteria (Rhizobium).  Decomposing vetch vines also contribute some N.

What’s Next
Our summer cover crop cocktail is planted.  We expect it to grow really well following all the rye and vetch benefits. We’re planting diverse cover crops to entice a diverse beneficial bug community to our fields to work with biology to pump carbon (organic matter) into the soil.  The healthier the cover crop is, the more likely it will be to provide max benefits to our soil.  We’re excited to see how our new summer cover crop grows.
UPDATE June 1st

Killed vetch in neighbor’s west field. No vetch, but lots of volunteer annual ryegrass! Mowing twice (3 wks and 1 week ago) made vetch residue to break down faster and negated vetch mulch’s weed suppression.

Rich and Jeff mention in the comments about the drill’s discs (they’re called coulters!) do a nice job of cutting and killing vetch.  They’re right and here’s proof!  This first picture shows a green field – I mowed this field twice.  The vetch is gone, but look what’s taken its place – annual ryegrass volunteers!  This must be from past cover crops.  I mowed this field the first time 3 weeks before planting the summer cover crop.  I suppose the time lapse and the second mowing broke down the vetch residue so much that plenty of sunlight got in and encouraged the annual ryegrass to germinate and grow.  This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not the best situation for the new summer seedlings.

The second pic shows what worked really well for vetch kill and weed suppression:  mow just once, then go ahead and plant using a no-till drill.  The drill’s coulters will finish off the vetch.  The vetch residue turns into a thick crunchy mat.  The new seedlings are coming up through it superbly.  Being not very high in carbon, the vetch mulch will probably not last through the summer, but it will provide good weed suppression while the new plants are getting started.  I’ll definitely use this method of one mow & drill coulter slicing to kill a viney cover crop like vetch again.  Saves time, fuel, and heavy tractor traffic on the field.

Killed vetch in neighbor’s east field. Killed by one mowing and then planting one week later with no-till drill. Drill’s coulters sliced and finished off the vetch.

Top Five Pros and Cons for Rye & Vetch Cover Crop in Veggie Gardens

Cereal rye and hairy vetch cover crop. Five feet tall 4/20/12

Not too long ago I was one of those people who knew a lot about plants but very little about soil.  I’d leave my veggie beds bare for the winter, not knowing what that meant.  After learning about soil’s needs, I started planting cover crops in 2011, and I’m so glad I did!

In late summer and fall of 2011, I planted cereal rye, a cool-season grass that makes rye grain, and vetch, a viney legume, in all of my veggie beds.  I inoculated the vetch seed with the nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria and then inoculated both with mycorrhizae.  Now it’s late April 2012, and it’s still alive and growing like crazy!

Here’s what I learned:

#1 Rye and Vetch Change Soil Drastically (PRO)

When I dug out bermuda grass (and a lot of trash) to make my veggie beds, the soil was dry, hard, and dusty.  I knew it would take a long time to reach the desired chocolate cake consistency – dark, moist, spongy, and smelling good and earthy.  With the rye and vetch cover crop, it’s almost there, and a huge difference from last summer!  The soil underneath the cover crop is very soft and spongy with beautiful aggregates.  This good structure will allow veggie roots to grow rapidly and air and water to percolate down into the root zone.

A great gardening goal is to always have something green and growing.  No bare soil!  Plants feed beneficial microbial soil life through root exudates.  As this cover crop was growing, it leaked a lot of sugary carbon compounds out of its roots to attract and feed microbes.  These bugs made the gums, glues, and gells that form soil into that chocolate cake consistency.  Bare soil has no living roots to maintain beneficial microbes at high populations through the winter.  Keeping soil life alive during the winter improves soil and ensures it’s ready to help veggie plants thrive in the spring.

#2 Plant-Available Nitrogen (PRO)

Nodules: Rhizobium bacteria fixing nitrogen on vetch roots. From http://ryansgarden.com

Instead of using synthetic nitrogen or expensive organic nitrogen inputs, why not grow vetch?  If inoculated with Rhizobium bacteria, the Rhizobium will fix nitrogen from the air and put it into nodules on vetch roots.  Isn’t that the coolest thing?  This handy cover crop reference says,

“Few legumes match hairy vetch for spring residue production or nitrogen contribution.  […] Hairy vetch delivers heavy contributions of mineralized N (readily available for the following cash crop).  It can provide sufficient N for many vegetable crops, partially replace N fertilizer for corn or cotton and increase cash crop efficiency for higher yield.”

That’s a whole lot of nitrogen!  And it comes at low expense with many other benefits.

#3 Weed Suppression and Free Straw Mulch (PRO)

Rye and vetch mulch drying down after cutting

No weeds here!  The cover crop’s outrageous growth in early spring smothers weeds by completely blocking sunlight.  I’m aiming for mostly no-till, so I’m cutting the rye and vetch off at its base.  This is generating a boatload of mulch!  Vetch mulch has a high nitrogen to carbon ratio, so it will decompose readily.  But rye straw at this late stage of growth (flowering seed head) has a lot of carbon, so it should last well into late summer.  This thick mulch will protect soil, keep soil temps cool in the summer so biology can thrive, hold in moisture, and prevent dirt splatter onto veggie plants.  And it’s free and organic!

#4 Beneficial Predators (PRO)

I’ve noticed a very big and diverse above-ground soil life community in the rye and vetch.  Loads of tiny mites, beetles, crickets, spiders, and ladybugs.  The diversity and populations are larger than I’ve ever seen in my garden.  The handy cover crop guide cited a study that showed a rye/hairy vetch mix sustained a population of aphid-eating predators that was six times that of unmowed volunteer weeds and 87 times that of mown grass and weeds.  I’ll take it!  Let’s get our predator populations really going and save ourselves loads of time this summer killing harmful bugs!

#5 Bad Timing for Early Veggies (CON)

Flowering cereal rye can be mow-killed.

Rye and vetch can be killed any time with herbicides, but organic gardeners must be patient.  Vetch can be killed organically when it flowers (late April/ early May in East Coast zone 7).  Cereal rye can be killed organically when it flowers around the same time.  (Flowering grain means the seed head is developing and the little stamens (anthers?) start to come out and drop pollen.)  Rye and vetch will die at this time by mowing or just knocking it down flat at its base.  No herbicides.

But you want to plant peas and lettuce and radishes in early March?  Whoops!  Not gonna happen unless you till in the cover crop or use herbicides, both of which I don’t want to do.  You can keep cutting it down at ground level, plant your peas, and then keep cutting the rye back, but rye REALLY wants to live at this stage and will stunt your early crops.  I tried it.  I did not try acetic acid sprays, which is another option.

This situation requires better planning in the fall.  I’ll need to designate beds for early spring veggies, and plant winter cover crops that will winter-kill (die on their own from hard freezes), such as oats and radishes.  But for later-planted summer crops like tomatoes and peppers, I’ll definitely plant rye and vetch again.

Seed Sources

If you don’t have a local source, search online for “rye and vetch seed for sale.”  High Mowing Seeds sells five pound batches for about $20, plenty for a 1,000 sq. ft. garden.  Think of all these benefits for such a low cost!  Thanks for reading!

Cost of Cereal Rye and Vetch Cover Crop

Even though our winter cover crop of rye and vetch did not germinate well, I figured I’d go ahead and lay out its cost so we could compare it with the cost of our summer cover crop of sorghum sudan and cowpeas.  Below is the cost for drilling rye and vetch seed into about 22 acres of our neighbor’s fields (where we grew sorghum sudan and cowpeas) plus about 3 acres of our own former grass pasture.  We bought enough seed for 27 acres just in case we ran out.  We planted on Labor Day weekend 2011.    

Seeding rate:  Rye at 40 lbs per acre; Vetch at 20 lbs per acre. 

Seed Cost = $1,284.  (20 – 55 lb. bags of rye at $17.30 per bag, 11 – 50 lb. bags of vetch at $83 per bag, vetch inoculant = $25)

Mycorrhizal Inoculant = $388 (11 lbs)

Drill Rental = $200

Diesel = $22 (~ 5 gallons)

Labor = $160 (8 hours at $20 per hour)

Total = $2,054 or about $82 per acre (25 acres total) Sorghum sudan & cowpeas cost $70 per acre, but did not have mycorrhizal inoculant.

New Seed Supplier

Myco inoculant (top), vetch inoculant (right), cereal rye seed (bottom), vetch seed (left)

We bought the seed from Sam Swarey, a seed rep for Pennsylvania-based King’s Agri Seeds.  Mr. Swarey is Amish and lives close to us.  We’re glad we found a knowledgeable seed salesman that can supply us with just about any seed we’d like.  King’s Agri Seeds is focused on grazing and cover crops, which fits us well.  Even though we can’t pick up the phone and call Mr. Swarey, we’re glad we found him and his fantastic customer service.   

Vetch’s Low Price

The vetch seed cost would have been much more expensive, closer to $200 per bag, but Mr. Swarey had bags of last year’s vetch left over and sold them to us at cost.  Yay!

Vetch Inoculant

This inoculant is bacteria that forms nodules on vetch roots and fixes nitrogen from the air.  When the vetch dies (we’ll kill it next spring), the nitrogen will be released into the soil and made available for the next crop.  Very healthy soil might already have the bacteria, but since our soil is so lacking in organic matter and soil life, we thought it was wise to spend $25 and coat the seeds with it.

Mycorrhizal Fungi Inoculant

We bought this from AgVerra and mixed it with the seeds with a little milk before filling the seed drill.  Mycorrhizal fungi are amazing creatures.  They colonize plant roots and make the area around the roots acidic so nutrients like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc will be attracted to the roots and will enter the plant for nourishment.  Cool, huh?  The fungi have a mutually beneficial relationship with plants because they help feed plants minerals, and the plants feed the fungi goodies made during photosysthesis.  These fungi are also responsible for making a soil component called glomalin.  As the fungi die, the glomalin is sloughed off into the soil.  We want more glomalin in our soil because it’s 40% carbon, and it gives the soil nice fluff and keeps stored soil carbon from escaping.  It’s tough stuff, and it’s exactly what our soil needs.  We decided to spend the money to repopulate our fields with these very beneficial fungi.  This should be a one-time cost.

Cost Comparison with Sorghum Sudan & Cowpeas

The Rye and Vetch cost was over $80 per acre, and the sorghum sudan and cowpeas cost was around $70 per acre.  The sorghum & cowpeas did not include the mycorrhizal inoculant, but we got a very good deal on the vetch price. With our poor rye and vetch germination, we estimate that half the seed did not germinate.  So, about $1,000 of this cover crop price was spent in vain.  We believe the cause of poor germination was the combination of planting into very fluffy soil right before a tropical storm dumped 10 inches of rain.  We learned our “grand” lesson and  for sure won’t make these mistakes again!

Growing Green Manure Crops – Practice on the Small Scale First

“Green manure” cover crops are grown and then plowed under, or incorporated, into the soil.  The green vegetation feeds soil critters, makes the soil nice and crumbly, and most of the roots become organic matter.  Green manure crops are a good, cheap fertilizer because 95% of the vegetation comes “free” from photosynthesis, and the 5% that contains minerals from the soil is returned to the soil, in even better plant form.  This post describes the benefits of practicing growing green manure crops on the small scale first… 

Rich made a good comment on my last blog post.  He grows small scale garden plots of green manure crops and takes note of their attributes, both good and bad.  After I read his comment, I realized this is the way to go.  Instead of spending hard-earned money on 25 acres’ worth of cover crop seed that I’ve never grown before (and risking crop failure), it’s wise to practice growing these crops on the small scale first.

My previous blog post explained our rotovator woes and our newbie farmer puzzlement over the poor germination of our rye & vetch winter cover crop.  In early September, I also planted some rye and vetch on the small scale – in our veggie garden beds.  Because these plants germinated wonderfully, I know the poor field germination is not the seed’s fault.  I’m also noticing different growth patterns of the rye and vetch that were planted at different dates– valuable info for how these two germinate and grow in our climate as winter approaches. 

Rye & vetch winter cover crop with dead buckwheat stems. Rye and vetch planted 9/9/11. Pic taken 11/20/11.

Rye and vetch’s interaction with buckwheat is another valuable piece of information I gained.  In the veggie beds this summer, as harvested produce left bare spots, I planted buckwheat to quickly cover the soil.  By mid-September, most of the veggie beds were full of buckwheat.  A lot of it had already made seed.  I decided to hoe it down into the topsoil so it could improve the soil’s texture and feed the critters.  I let the soil digest it for a couple of weeks, then planted rye and vetch.  Before the rye and vetch germinated, a lot of buckwheat from the hoed-in mature seeds started coming up.  I thought, “Ah oh, the buckwheat might out-compete the rye and vetch!”  This turned out to not be the case.  Check out the picture – the rye and vetch germinated with gusto, the buckwheat died quickly after frost, and the vetch started climbing up the buckwheat stems.  Yay, it worked!

So next year, I can use my buckwheat know-how to confidently plant it in the fields as a summer cover crop, then rotovate it into the soil, and then (after checking soil fluffiness) plant rye and vetch with no fear of it not germinating because of buckwheat competition.  Knock on wood, because this sounds like I’m setting myself up for another “lesson”!

Because we had trouble getting rye & vetch to germinate after rotovating sorghum sudan, I’m going to re-create this in a few veggie garden beds this summer and see what happens.  If the rye and vetch germinate just fine, I know it’s not the weed-killing attributes of sorghum sudan.  I can narrow the germination problem down to fluffy soil or the toad-strangler rains we got from Tropical Storm Lee. I also plan to practice growing other cover crops that look enticing to me, such as yellow blossom sweet clover and millets.  I’m looking forward to gaining this low-risk experience on the small scale next summer.  Thanks for reading!

More Lessons Learned with Rotovating Sorghum Sudangrass (and a Bright Side)

Our rotovator fought the cover crop, and the cover crop won!  We grew sorghum sudan this summer on our neighbor’s fields as a green manure crop.  We rotovated it in early August to incorporate most of the crop into the topsoil.  We wanted the crop to feed the soil life and turn into organic matter.  Our goal is to move this dusty, sandy soil toward crumbly, black, “chocolate cake” soil that makes plants and animals thrive.

Rotovator Failed to Kill Sorghum Sudan

We also wanted the rotovator to kill the crop so we could plant the next cover crop of cereal rye and vetch for the winter.  We had very limited success here and still can’t tell what we did wrong with the rotovator!

Frosted sorghum sudangrass, 3 feet tall after failed rotovating

You can see the sorghum sudan in this picture taken in mid-November, about two weeks after a killing frost.  The sorghum sudan completely re-grew from the roots after rotovating and is finally starting to die from a cold snap.  Finally!

Rotovating is supposed to easily kill a crop, so we obviously did something wrong.  Perhaps the blades were not set deeply enough.  Perhaps we went too fast.  These scenarios are both perplexing though, because on the last field we set the blades to the deepest possible level, and the crop still grew back just as thick.  And the speed – we were going so slowly, I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took us to cover 20 acres.  Let’s just say days, and I won’t say how many!

I have heard that sorghum sudan easily grows back from the roots, such as after animals eat it down to the ground.  So maybe we just have to take extra steps when rotovating this crop and disturb the roots more?  We rotovated two acres of old grass pasture, and the grass died completely, no problems there.

Fluffy Soil Not Good for Planting

Another problem we need to figure out is extra fluffy soil.  The soil that the rotovator left behind was fluffed up, so much so that our boots would sink down about an inch when we stepped on it.  Turns out this does

our 7-foot rotovator

not bode well for the next crop.  We rented our county’s seed drill to plant the winter cover crop of rye and vetch about three weeks after rotovating, and it germinated very poorly.  I asked our Extension Agent for his opinion, and he said seed with poor soil contact has trouble germinating, and the 10 inches of rain from Tropical Storm Lee that we got right after planting likely made things worse.

So how do we make a good strong seedbed after rotovating?  We had the rotovator’s backboard down most of the way; maybe it should be down all the way.  Also, we can use time.  All the extra air eventually leaves the soil.  The soil needs at least 4 weeks to fully digest plowed down vegetation anyway (especially with no spraying of microbes), so we’ll just wait longer.  Our Extension Agent said our boots shouldn’t sink more than ¼ inch.  Any more than that, and the soil is probably too fluffy for drilling seed.

So far, I’m far from in love with rotovating!  It takes forever, and its performance feels like false advertising, far from the praise rotovators receive for their ability to kill plants, incorporate them, and make a nice seedbed all in one pass.  Surely it’s not too good to be true!  Hopefully it’s something we’re just missing.

Bright Side

Okay, enough of the whining!  There is a bright side.  Sorghum sudan is unrivaled among cover crops it its ability to produce biomass.  It gave us three good growths on zero added nitrogen fertilizer, and the root system below ground probably came close to mirroring the plant above ground.  We mowed twice and rotovated once, so that’s a good sloughing off of roots times three.  As the roots die and break down and form organic matter, the empty spaces will make great tunnels for earthworms.

Sorghum sudan’s other significant contribution is its amazing allelopathic (natural weed killer) effect!  During the 2010 summer season, these soybean fields were inundated with roundup resistant weeds like marestail and water hemp.  I can’t find nary a one now!  When we converted our own fields from GMO soybeans to grass pastures, we had to beat back marestail for 2 years by mowing.  Sorghum sudan is extremely helpful in this area!

Moving On…

We mowed the sorghum sudan for the last time in mid-November, as it was dying from frost.  The clippings made a good mulch for the soil.  The rye and vetch cover crop is growing well here and there, and cool-season weeds, Italian ryegrass volunteers (from previous winter cover crops) and the mulch do a good enough job of covering the soil in the other spots.  For this reason, we’re not going to replant the rye and vetch.  We plan to mow-kill the winter covers in the spring and then plant another summer cover crop like buckwheat.