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Organic Cover Crops - Growing and Seed Saving Info


Cover Crops

Cover crops have the capacity to improve soil conditions by increasing organic matter, fixing nitrogen, breaking up compaction through root penetration, suppressing weed growth and preventing erosion of fallow ground. Most cover crops are either legumes or grasses; sometimes they are used as a mix.

  • Leguminous crops, such as peas, vetch and clover, fix nitrogen by means of a symbiotic relationship between the plant’s roots and bacteria living in the soil. In order to ensure that adequate populations of the nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria exist in the soil, leguminous cover crop seeds are often inoculated immediately prior to planting. A different inoculant is required to treat alfalfa and clover than the one that treats peas, beans and vetch.
  • Grasses, such as Oats, Rye, and Sorghum-Sudan Grass, are useful as nurse crops, for weed suppression, erosion control and adding organic matter to the soil.
  • Buckwheat is a warm season crop which grows extremely quickly and is useful for smothering weeds.

Soil Requirements

Prepare the soil by tilling to make a loose seedbed.

Position

Full sun is best.

Seeding Instructions

Sow cover crops by broadcasting seed over the desired plot. Ideally, seed should spread evenly, about 1 square inch from each other. The ”whirligig” and hand-pushed drop spreader (broadcast seeder) are very simple, efficient tools to achieve the same purpose. Raking or discing the grain 1”-3” into the soil is recommended. Some larger growers use either hand or tractor pulled grain drills. This involves a hand-pushed single-wheeled seeder. This is the preferred method for those who wish to keep their food grain weeded in nice clean rows.

Seeding Rates:

  • BMR Sorghum-Sudangrass F1 Hybrid: 35 lbs/acre drilled, 40-50 lbs/acre broadcast
  • Buckwheat: 35-135 lbs/acre, 2-3 lbs/1000 sq ft
  • Crimson Clover: 20 lbs/acre, 1/2 lb/1000 sq ft
  • Field Peas: 200 lbs/acre, 6-8 lbs/1000 sq ft
  • Hairy Vetch: 30-40 lbs/acre, 1 lb/1000 sq ft
  • Improved White Clover: 5-9 lbs/acre drilled, 7-14 lbs/acre broadcast
  • Medium Red Clover: 20 lbs/acre, 1/2 lb/1000 sq ft
  • Oats: 90 lbs/acre, 3-4 lbs/1000 sq ft
  • Ryegrass, Annual: 10-20 lbs/acre, 1/2 lb/1000 sq ft
  • Rye, Winter: 100 lbs/acre, 3-4 lbs/1000 sq ft
  • Yellow Sweet Clover: 15 lbs/acre, 1/2 lb/1000 sq ft
  • Field Peas/Oats Mix: 180 lbs/acre, 5-6 lbs/1000 sq ft
  • Winter Rye/Hairy Vetch Mix: 90 lbs/acre, 3-4 lbs/1000 sq ft
  • Field Peas/Oats/Vetch Mix: 210 lbs/acre, 6-8 lbs/1000 sq ft


Seed Saving Instructions

Harvest when seeds are nearly mature, but not fully dry. Using a hand sickle or scythe, cut stalks low to the ground laying in swaths. Tie small bundles with twine or fresh straw. These must be allowed to completely dry. We suggest either bringing under cover or harvest when there is no threat of rain for several days. Once dry, thresh with a hand flail to separate grain from straw. (Note: Buckwheat can easily be destroyed with this method. Be gentle.) Wait for a windy day or set up a fan outside to winnow the grain. Pour dirty grain over a bin so that chaff blows away and clean grain is collected. Combines are used for small scale grain harvesting and processing.

 




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