Cover Crops and Jumping Worms, Hmm…!
Time has flown by this summer!! Labor Day weekend is fast approaching…the unofficial start of fall. For many it means the end of vacation and the return to school. Gardens both flower and vegetable are pretty much at their highpoint in production (although more sun this year would have helped!), and I suspect many of you aren’t quite thinking about next year’s gardens yet. 😊 And yes, the mums, asters, grasses and kales are here for that classic fall look. There are also a whole LOT of other plants (including fall veggies crops like cabbages and lettuces) just waiting for your attention…
But, let’s chat about Cover Crops…a large topic that I’m just skating the surface on here, but hopefully you’ll get an understanding of how it might work to solve some of the problems on your property, whether large or small. We should have the seed in the store by the end of the week.
What are cover crops and why do they matter?
You’ve seen and heard that you should always have mulch on gardens. Well, cover cropping is another way of protecting open soil once the gardens are put to bed for the season. As with mulch, its purpose is not to be harvested, but to help manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife. Cover crops help with poor soil structure and with compaction. That’s a lot of help no matter how you look at it!
Evidence is mounting that cover crops help to improve moisture availability in the face of our increasingly erratic weather (drought last year, floods this year). Is it too wet in the spring? Non-winter kill cover crops take up water and usually allow work in the garden earlier than if you did not have a cover crop growing. Alternatively, if facing drought, cover crops still help boost yields while being very efficient with water use. This is because different kinds of root systems build different kinds of soil structure. If you use no-till methods, the cover crop mulch increases water infiltration and conserves moisture into the summer. Added carbon and root channels, in addition to increased soil pore space, help improve soil water-holding capacity in any garden setting. I know, I know – that’s a lot of words to say that the soil system gets easier to work with!
For an in-depth look at Cover Cropping check out _ in Acres USA (great magazine that I’ve subscribed to for over 30 years). For more information on using cover crops to address erratic weather events, visit this link Water Management . Also, see this link Ecosystem Services from CoverCrops for information on how cover crops protect water quality.
Here are the basics of what cover crop seeds to pick to do a job for you
COMPACTION – everyone has it! – construction misery, solid plow pan - grasses and radishes ORGANIC MATTER to boost microbe populations, to add nutrients, to generally improve soil structure and for water retention - legumes, grasses/grains – this is the place for the widest mix of seeds – up to six different species makes a real difference. Much over six and the gains diminish CONTROL WEEDS - grasses/grains GROW MULCH - annual rye/oats/barley/annual clovers POLLINATORS - buckwheat and clovers
And there are two types of cover crops
Ones you need to kill in the spring (solarizing, herbicide, tilling)
Takes 3-5 weeks between killing off crop residue and planting the new crop. When soil microbes are in break down mode the soil is not “organized” for germination and root growth.
Ones you plant into (winter killed) or can use in garden gaps
These are planted with the goal of creating a mulch that persists through the winter, cushioning the effects of weather and providing food for the microbes in the old root systems.
I know that this is a lot of information! And a bit technical – but we’re happy to answer questions at the store and to help you walk through the best options for your particular garden site.
Now, let’s slide sideways in to another garden topic that may be coming to a noticeable head in your yard – the Jumping, Crazy or Snake worm – Amynthas ssp. This is an earthworm accidentally brought in from where else?? Eastern Asia – China!!! It’s a surface feeding worm that moves aggressively through the upper soil edges and has a very snake like movement pattern. All worms in the Northeast are introduced – either from Europe or the Orient – but the European worms are largely more beneficial, especially in managed settings (still bad for woodlots). The Jumping worms turn the top layer of soil to hard aggregates that look like coffee grounds. The aggregates don’t hold together (wash in heavy rains), have too much air and no essential soil structure to hold water. The worms LOVE bark mulch!! I mean LOVE it! And there are no research-based solutions (lots of worry -no luck with chemical solutions that don’t do more damage than good). Experience has taught me to skip a year of bark mulch and hand weed – and bring in the ducks for June and July… Why, you ask??? Because this is an annual worm! The adults die off over the winter and only the egg capsules survive in the soil. The egg capsules don’t hatch until the soil temps reach about 50 degrees (late spring). That means that the damage that’s seen at this time of year is the result of all of those young worms reaching maturity, feeding, mating, shedding egg capsules and eating some more. I found out quite by accident that ducks will clean out almost all of the young worms if allowed to hunt them in early summer. They love the worms and the duck eggs are superb with all of that protein! And ducks are MUCH kinder to a garden than chickens – paddle feet and rounded bill (no beaks and claws!). Got to find the positive somewhere… If you’re unsure about what kind of worms you have, bring one in (in a SEALED!!! Container!!!) and we’ll tell you what you have. Then you can plan on ducks in your future…
One quick note before outlining the next workshops… We have a whole line of livestock herbal support tonics and feed amendments created by a local herbal crafter and horse owner coming in to the store in the next week. There are a lot of challenges to our animals and herbal support can be a critical part of the answer to health concerns. I’ll be trying the ones for goats on our herd (we already use herbal supports from an on-line source) and wish I had chickens to try the chicken ones on. There are also great supports for horses and other livestock. Come in and check out what the options are. We think you’ll be impressed.
Now to the workshops:
Fall is THE time to rehab a lawn. Cool nights, warm days – just what a grass seed wants to thrive. Overseeding, reseeding, fertilizing are the tools needed to bring your lawn to life. Many lawns fight with compaction, lack of soil depth and poor-quality seed. We have a wide range of top-quality Jonathan Green grass seed and all of the fertilizers and other amendments needed to help green up any yard. Join us on 9/16, 1-2:30pm as we walk everyone through how to rehab a lawn. Call the store, 978-632-0991 – to reserve your space (space is limited!)
Fall Mineral Mixing
If you have a yard or garden then you probably know that gardens don’t always perform the way they’re supposed to. Most soils are damaged and are non-functional or intermittently functional. Poor nutrient cycling is inherent in how these damaged soils operate, but fall is THE time to fix this! Join us for a mineral mixing day at the store on 9/30, 1-2:30pm as we walk everyone through how to mix different minerals together to wake up and strengthen soil systems. Call the store, 978-632-0991 – to reserve your space (space is limited!)
So, here we are, off and running into the fall. My favorite time of year with its colorful gardens, brilliant skies and excellent (usually!!) working weather. Here’s hoping everyone’s fall gets off to a good start…watch out for those Jumping Worms in your path!