Working with Nature to Build Organic Soil, Part 2: Cover Crops

| 3/31/2016 10:40:00 AM

Tags: cover crops, soil health, weed management, soil building, Mary Lou Shaw, Ohio,

In the previous article on Working with Nature, we saw how plants take carbon from the air to create sugars. These carbon-based sugars are feed to soil microbes through root exudates. The microbes then transform the carbons of sugar into organic topsoil. This and the next article discuss how we can work with nature to facilitate this carbon-sequestering and as a result get more nutritious and tasty food.

Prioritize Cover Crops

When we purchased our 13 acre homestead, it included a large potato and tomato garden whose clay soil had been plowed annually by a tractor. Insecticides and fungicides were used routinely and the soil was left bare during the long Ohio winters. As a result of these farming methods, the soil had become compacted and could not absorb much rain during downpours or hold water during hot, dry summers. We saw few earthworms and probably were correct in assuming that the soil’s microbes were largely depleted.

As is often the case, I wish I knew then what I’m learning now! We’ve composted the garden routinely, but I now believe we should have consistently coupled composting with cover crops to bring the garden soil more rapidly back to life. Since using cover crops year-round for the past three years, we’ve seen amazing improvement in the soil’s tilth, an increased number of earthworms, less disease in crops and better control of weeds.

Role of Cover Crops

Keeping soil covered with living plants rapidly improves the health of all soil life and ameliorates climate change. Cover crops;

1. Protect the soil surface from sun and heavy rains, thus serving as mulch

2. Smother weeds

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