Rye: The Benefits of Cover Crops
Cover crops are an important part of the agricultural industry. They have been used for hundreds of years as a natural way to maintain and protect soil. Cover crops, also referred to as, “green manure,” are hardy plants that are planted to cover and protect bare soil, usually after the fall harvest or before crops are grown in the spring. Bare soil is vulnerable to elements such as wind and rain, weeds, pests, and loss of nutrients.
Benefits of Cover Crops
Cover crops offer a variety of benefits when it comes to the maintenance and protection of soil. These crops help protect against erosion, weeds, diseases, and pests and help increase organic matter, soil quality, and soil fertility.
Cover crops can help prevent erosion from rain, snow, snowmelt, and wind. These crops provide shelter for the soil greatly reducing the impact of water. The roots of these plants help to stabilize soil and ultimately help control water runoff which can be can detrimental to both your soil and the surrounding environment.
Cover crops that grow quickly will compete with weeds for light, space, and nutrients making it very difficult for weeds to survive. Some cover crops release certain compounds from their roots and leaves that act as a natural herbicide killing seeds and small plants, and best of all, weeds.
Cover crops increase organic matter which helps improve soil stability, structure, and fertility as well as aiding in the soils ability to hold nutrients and moisture. Organic matter also helps reduce diseases by stimulating microorganisms.
Cover Crop Options
There are a number of different options when it comes cover crops depending on your environment and needs.
One of greatest benefits of using legumes as cover crops is the fact that they can fix nitrogen from the air and add it into the soil. Popular legumes include red clover, berseem clover, peas, alfalfa, and hairy vetch. Berseem clover is a good choice for warmer seasons because it is drought tolerant, it grows quickly, and it’s dense allowing for good weed suppression. If you are looking for a cover crop that can withstand a harsh winter, hairy vetch is extremely cold hardy.
The root systems of grasses are great for stabilizing soil and improving the overall structure. While they can’t fix nitrogen from the air, they are able to collect it from the soil. Popular grasses include winter rye, ryegrass, sudan grass, winter wheat, and oats. Sudan grass does well in warm weather, loosens soil, and is thought to help control pests as they produce toxic compounds. Winter rye is great for colder climates as it grows quickly and can withstand hard freezes enabling it to be planted well into the fall.
Cover crops are a great, natural option for maintaining and protecting soil during times when the soil would usually be bare. They are beneficial for a number of reasons including; increased soil stability and fertility, increased organic matter, and protection against erosion, weeds, and pests.