The name of “cover crops” doesn’t sound very glamourous, we admit. Yet, these crops play a pivotal role in the regenerative farming techniques we use to provide you with the most flavorful and nutritious fresh vegetables possible. How? Through enriching our soil to create the ideal environment for the crops we grow.
As Bob Jones, Jr. puts it, “People want fresh vegetables that taste great, that are nutrient-rich and free of toxins. To achieve that, everything—and I mean everything—is predicated on the health of the soil, especially the top two inches where the vegetable roots will grow.”
Cover Crop Definition
Here is the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) definition, which also shares the benefits of cover crops:
“Cover crops are grasses, legumes, and other forbs that are planted for erosion control, improving soil structure, moisture, and nutrient content, increasing beneficial soil biota, suppressing weeds, providing habitat for beneficial predatory insects, facilitating crop pollinators, providing wildlife habitat, and as forage for farm animals. Furthermore, cover crops can provide energy savings both by adding nitrogen to the soil and making more soil nutrients available, thereby reducing the need to apply fertilizer.”
At the Farmer Jones Farm, we use oats, rye, buckwheat, and sorghum, as four examples. We plant the mixture of choice in a field, allowing them to grow for a relatively short amount of time. The oats, for example, might grow to six to eight inches before we harvest the crop and gently work it into the soil. This feeds the soil while also controlling the growth of weeds. This process is repeated as many times as needed before we prepare our stale seed beds.
What Are Stale Seed Beds?
At this stage, the farm team lays out beds for our vegetable crops—but we wait, giving weeds time to germinate but not emerge. Then, the soil is shallowly tilled to disturb the weed hairs. “If,” Bob, Jr. says, “we dug too deeply, we’d only be bringing up a whole new set of weed seeds. Or, on the other hand, if we waited until the weeds emerged, it’s much more difficult to kill them. So, we address the weeds when they are nothing more than white root hairs because we can gently till them, so they’ll quickly desiccate in the wind.”
This process is repeated a couple more times, and then—and only then—will we plant our crops.
Why So Many Steps?
This is a lot of prep, we agree. It also takes plenty of physical labor. But, using this process, we have much less competition from weeds, and this is what allows us to eliminate the need for chemicals.
In reality, we could just do a quick till and chemical pour, but that’s not what we’re about. Instead, we want to produce healthy, nutrient-dense products for you without harming the land for future use—and the more we do to keep the soil vibrant alive, including through the use of cover crops, the healthier the crops will be.
Best of the Season: Farm-Fresh Vegetables
To taste the difference and benefit from delicious nutrition, we invite you to order our Best of the Season box and have it delivered directly to your home.
Depending upon the season, our farmer’s market delivery box may contain a mix of fresh lettuce, mixed greens, spinach, summer or fall squash, asparagus, beans and/or peas, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, a mixture of fresh beets, carrots, and/or kohlrabi, cabbage, potatoes, and the best microgreens: which could include mustard, sage, sorrel, basil, bulls blood, cutting celery, radish greens and more.