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Michigan Soil before planting a cover crop.

Another great spring of gardening is upon us for growing a vegetable garden,  if we took the crucial step before winter that will benefit our next growing season we are thinking about ways to till cover crops into the garden soil. Remember when planting your vegetable garden that soil will eat first. Lets get our fields and vegetable gardens ready for biological activity by having cover crops in our programs to help improve soil fertility.  Growing vegetables for nutrition is the quest but our garden soil is a limiting factor if we do not manage it properly. So many cover crops, what do I grow?

We cant tell you what to grow, but here is a few things you should know:

1. You need to take into consideration what crops are going to be planted in the spring. How early do you plan on putting them in? Growing the wrong cover crop can make things challenging for growers, especially midwest growers who are planting early in the spring. If the wrong cover crop is grown or has not been properly managed, access growth and root structure will play a factor in decomposition. The garden soil will have large chucks of root structure and organic matter to break down before the nutrients in the  garden soil will be available to the plants.

2. Most cover crops are legumes with nitrogen-fixing bacteria living in root nodules. After these plants are tilled into the ground the fixed nitrogen will begin to release. Tilling cover crops at the proper time will help growers achieve maximum benefits. Environmental conditions will play an important role on decomposition.Higher levels of nitrogen will increase the speed of decomposition, turning the organic matter into soil organic matter. Soil organic matter (SOM) is decomposition beyond the point of recogniton. To achieve this the organic matter should be worked into the top 6-7 inches of the soil. Soil moisture, temperature will determine the rate of decomposition so plan accordingly.

3. Cover crops will slow down the rate and quantity of water that will drain from our fields and help with soil erosion. The major factor being the cover crop roots are anchored into the ground, this environment is ideal for water infiltration. In many instances soils have conditions of hydrophobia, which is the tendency to not absorb water. Cover crop roots can grow many feet deep into the ground creating room for water holding capacity. This deep penetration of the roots growing in the garden soil will help create a soil environment with oxygen, essential if you want your soil to be alive. With Bare fields we let our valuable nutrients wash away without having the chance to put up a fight to stay around for our next growing season.

4. Depending on crop rotations, cover crops can be a beneficial environment for wildlife. Cover crops will bloom and attract our lovely pollinators. Weed suppression can be a benefit from planting cover crops and make for a better scenery than a field full of weeds. Once the weeds reach full maturity they have been given the chance to spread seeds for reproduction, cover crops can help suppress the germination of weed seeds. After lowering the population of weed seeds in our field by using cover crops, we are not giving weeds a chance at germinating and reproducing. Growing cover crops takes management and planning but it will help garden soil. Most commonly in the midwest rye is planted as a cover crop because many  farmers harvest into fall.