How Does a Multi-Species Cover Crop Enhance Soil?
At The Chef’s Garden—and, by extension, at Farmer Jones Farm—we have a passion for regenerative farming. At the heart of the philosophy, of course, is the cover crop with the multi-species cover crop maximizing the benefits.
What is a Cover Crop?
First, here’s a definition. Cover crops include grasses, legumes, and related plants. At The Chef’s Garden, we use ones like oats, rye, buckwheat, alfalfa, and sorghum.
Benefits of Cover Crops
Cover crops can improve the health of the soil. When grown and then tilled into the soil, important organic matter is introduced into the soil and broken down by microorganisms to serve as food for the plants.
As Bob Jones, Jr. explains it, “It’s kind of a composting process when you look at cover crops. It’s the flow of energy from the sun to the cover crop, from the cover crop to the soil, and from the soil to the microorganisms, from the organisms to the vegetables. The organisms are feeding off of the root exudates that are a product of photosynthesis, converting soil chemistry to a form that the plant can take back up. We’re putting a diversity of plant organic matter back into the soil to be decomposed by the organisms that are in the soil naturally, as long as you haven’t put something on the soil to kill those.”
Other benefits of cover crops include erosion control, weed suppression, providing habitat for beneficial insects, and more.
Benefits of Multi-Species Cover Crops
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you should “Implement a multi-species cover crop to add diversity and increase biomass production to improve soil health and increase soil organic matter.” For these benefits to take place, the USDA notes that the “Cover crop mix must include a minimum of 4 different species.”
At The Chef’s Garden, we plant a strategic mix of cover crops in a field, letting them grow for a relatively short period of time. If oats are included, for example, they might reach a height of six to eight inches before we harvest the plants and gently work them into the field’s soil. We repeat this process as many times as necessary.
While the soil is benefiting from the organic matter provided by the multiple species of cover crops, the farm team is laying out what’s called stale seed beds. We monitor those beds to allow weeds to germinate but not emerge. Then, the team will shallowly till the soil, which disturbs the weed hairs.
For success, the farm team must be masters of timing and connoisseurs of knowing how deeply to dig. If they wait too long, allowing weeds to emerge, it becomes much more challenging to kill them. Instead, they must be addressed when they are simply white root hairs that can be softly tilled and allowed to desiccate in the wind. If dug too deeply, a whole new set of weed seeds would emerge. So, handled with a delicate touch, this process is also repeated multiple times.
The results of this time intensive process and the farm team’s discerning touch: farm fresh seasonal vegetables, herbs, and microgreens. We believe you can truly taste the difference, and we invite you to order the box of your choice to find out!