The Importance of Cover Cropping
At Wozupi, we strive to grow sustainably and organically. Our success in these areas comes from our ability to recognize and undertake different strategies that can help an organic farm flourish. As we near another Minnesota winter, we do our best to maintain and improve our soil through cover crops.
Q. What are cover crops?
A. Simply put, cover crops are planted and grown to protect and improve a farm or garden’s soil. These plants are not grown as food but rather to benefit the soil’s future. There are many different cover crops that farmers plant, including clovers, beans, oats, barley, brassicas, and much more. Each cover crop has its own unique advantage—legumes produce a lot of nitrogen, grasses produce organic material and resist cold weather and clay soil, and some cover crops can improve drainage. At Wozupi, we plant rye for erosion control and soil microbe diversity, buckwheat for weed suppression, pea and oats to maintain soil microbe diversity and fix our nitrogen levels, and clovers to fix nitrogen levels after heavy-feeding crops (like brassicas).
Q. Why should farmers plant cover crops?
A. Cover crops benefit farms in a number of different ways. Cover crops can:
- Add organic material to the soil
- Attract pollinators
- Improve yields and cut fertilizer costs
- Prevent erosion
- Suppress weeds
- Fight pests and disease
Q. How are cover crops planted?
A. Although it’s too late to plant them for this winter, cover crops are usually seeded one month before the projected first frost. However, the planting date can depend on the chosen cover crop, so be sure to check the seed packaging for more information. To plant the seeds, just remove any existing vegetation, loosen up the soil, make an even bed, and scatter the seeds throughout. Once scattered, rake the soil to then cover the seeds. Cover crops should take minimal irrigation to grow.
Whether you’re a farmer or a hobby gardener, cover crops can benefit your annual yield in many ways! They aren’t expensive, they’re easy to plant, and they’re good for your soil. Take notice of the cover crops you see this fall throughout Minnesota fields—in the future, your farm can certainly benefit from this sustainable farming practice.