Steve Quirt read Pam Scott's cover crop design to the class. It is probably too late in the season to start Phase I of her three-phase plan, but her idea is exemplary because it might provide the key erosion control and a multitude of other soil improvements. After hearing a numbers of ideas about how to approach cover cropping this area, we decided we will divide the plot into sections and experiment with various cover crops, including Daikon Radish and Mustards. (Experimentation is the essence of a teaching farm.)
Here is Pam's design.
There is a rather large, flat area in the southwest corner of the Indian Valley campus farm that needs a cover crop. It needs a cover crop to:
- Break up the soil which appears to be mostly hard-packed clay.
- Add nutrients and attract microbes to the soil which currently looks unable to support much plant life.
- Upon being tilted back into the soil, work to add organic matter.
- Lessen the rate and quantity of water that drains off the field, thereby reducing the affects of erosion during rainy season.
- Improve water and air penetration of soil, thereby supporting its overall fertility.
First, seed a cover crop of buckwheat. This crop won’t provide nitrogen to the soil but it matures quickly (in 30-40 days) and can break up the soil with its deep roots. Planted by early October, it can be tilted back into the soil later in the month.
Second, immediately after tilting in the ‘green manure’ of buckwheat, seed a hardy California native known for defending soil from the affects of water erosion. This might be Blue Wild Rye, California Diablo Brome, Molate Blue Fescue, Nodding Needlegrass or Purple Needlegrass. Let this crop protect the soil during most of the rainy season.
Third, after turning the California native back into the soil, seed a third cover crop – this time a legume rich with nitrogen. Should there still be a chill in the air, consider hairy vetch and rye which will thrive in the colder months. If there’s time before planting, repeat by spreading more seeds from yet another nitrogen-rich crop.
ps: Also consider something from the thistle family as it looks plants of that family are about the only thing thriving there now. These are great for breaking up soil and bringing nutrients to the surface.