Benefits of Establishing a Fall Cover Crop for Vegetable Growers
It is that time of the year when the leaves begin to change color, temperatures begin to lower, and the threat of the first frost is a constant. It will not be long before the field vegetable growing season comes to an end. As we get closer to the end of the season, consider a few reasons why it is important to establish a fall cover crop!
Save and Improve Soil
Soil is very precious. After all, it takes hundreds of years just to form the smallest amounts. It is awful to see our really good crop soils washing down streams and roads. An ideal cover crop mixture will cover bare soil, and the roots of cover crop plants will hold soil in place. Cover crops are great to use in order to make improvements to soil structure as well. For instance, cover crop radishes and purple top turnips are great to break up compacted soils. However, make sure they are planted with cereal rye, or wheat which serve the purpose to hold the soil in place. Allowing cover crop to grow long enough to accumulate above-ground plant foliage, below the soil line roots, and then plowing that under prior to the next crop is a great way to increase the organic matter content. Increasing organic matter content increases water and nutrient holding capacity of soil.
Minimize Disease Risk
Choosing a cover crop mix of plant species is also a great way to minimize the risk of disease for next year’s vegetable crop. The ideal cover crop will not be susceptible to, or harbor common disease pathogens that will impact the crop that is planned to be planted in the same area next year. For example, there are few, if any diseases that will impact cereal rye and sweet corn (which are both “grasses”). Since turnips/radishes planted with cereal rye are not closely related to tomatoes, there is very little risk that disease pathogens will over-winter in fields that are planted with turnips/radishes and cereal rye as a cover crop. Also, preparing the soil for planting the cover crop will destroy much of the crop debris from the crops grown in fields throughout the previous summer. This minimizes the potential for most disease pathogens to over-winter in the field as well.
Other Benefits for Next Year’s Crop
Cover crops can also be used to benefit the soils for next year’s crop in other ways. Crimson Clover, for example, is a great cover crop to “add” nitrogen back to the soil. Crimson Clover is a legume. Legumes can be used to “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere, adding nitrogen back into the soil. Some of this nitrogen can benefit next year’s crop. Another example of how cover crops could potentially benefit is their use as a bio-fumigant.
Cover Crops are a great option for many vegetable farmers. If you would like to discuss the potential to establish a cover crop on your vegetable farm this fall, contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Yancey County by calling (828) 682-6186.