Since it's Valentine’s Day, I want you to know that this year, you have the opportunity to make an unforgettable statement to the one you love. I’m not just talking about the perennial gift of healthy soils, which I’m sure you know is a reward in itself, but something with a more immediate payback. I know, I know…ANOTHER blog about cover crops?! I promise it’s not the only thing I talk about, but you’ll have to wait a little bit longer for my blog about the conservation benefits of kombucha.
Imagine this: Instead of handing your sweetheart a bouquet that you barely remembered to purchase, how about a whole field of flowers that you lovingly dedicated to her? You don’t have to mention that sunflowers are good for weed suppression and scavenging nutrients, or that the beautiful clover is producing nitrogen that you won’t have to purchase next year…Or that the cows will be enjoying it in a few months…Of course, I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if you picked a few bouquets later on, and spread the love throughout the year. So today’s post is all about cover crops that work to make soils and hearts happy.
Look how happy this couple is!! The obvious reason these particular covers made today’s list is that they produce lovely flowers. But not only are they pretty, the flowers are also food for our beneficial insects, and of course, bees. Buckwheat is a great option for a quick growing crop that produces prolific flowers. As a broadleaf, the dense stand will shade the ground, keeping weeds suppressed, and will harvest leftover nutrients from the previous crop. Once it has been mowed and incorporated, it has lots of plant matter that will decompose, improving the soil organic matter content, which in turn helps absorb water and release nutrients to the next crop. Phacelia: This beauty produces unique lavender flowers that will definitely get the attention of the bees, and your “honey”.
Phacelia is a broadleaf that doesn’t need planted at high rates in order to achieve good weed suppression. It isn’t winter hardy, and it can be a good mix with oats to add diversity to a field where you want to get an early cover started, or be able to get into early in the spring for planting. It is also good at grabbing up nitrogen and calcium as it is growing, then releasing it for your cash crop as it decomposes. It has a shallow root system, but is very dense in the top few inches, which helps create desirable soil structure.
Flax is not really common around here, which you could use as a metaphor about how unique and lovely you find your Valentine. It’s the producer of flax seeds, which, like your sweetie, are good for your heart. It also creates delicate, lasting blue flowers, again adding to the diversity of your field to attract a greater variety of insects. Small leaves and skinny stems mean that it doesn’t create a large amount of biomass to deal with, but it will still hold on to nutrients for you, and can act as a nurse crop for small grains.
Really, most of the clovers will create a beautiful mass planting, but there is something about the blooms in a field of crimson clover that just speaks to the heart. I say a bouquet of these lovely blossoms rivals roses for scent, color, and beauty. And roses don’t pay for themselves!! Clover spends the season fixing nitrogen that your following crop will thank you for. And maybe the money you save on that nitrogen bill could pay for a nice dinner out…
Once again, the honey bees will be thrilled with your choice of cover crop. Clover honey is one of the most popular and widely available varieties, so you’re contributing to the local economy as well! And, clearly, this is a great lead-in for a romantic remark about how your love is sweeter than honey…
So, instead of just planning for the usual oats or rye this season, let’s expand our horizons, and try something that will get people talking…About what an innovative farmer you must be! And of course, all the points you’ll be chalking up with such a romantic gesture.
And guess what else is right around the corner? Signup for the 2017 MWCD Cover Crop cost share program! If all this talk about the benefits of cover crops has convinced you to give it a try, let our office know that you’re interested in the program. If you’re one of our previous participants, well, I’ll be giving you a call to let you know when to come in and sign up! Remember, we’ll need to have recent soil tests on hand, as well as an idea of what you’ll be planting, and if you want to plant it yourself or participate in the aerial program.
Karen is the most recent addition to the Holmes SWCD staff. Since joining the staff in January 2016, she has delved into the cover crop program, soil testing, nutrient recommendations, nutrient trading programs, and water sampling. A 2009 graduate of Miami University’s Western College program with a Bachelor of Philosophy in environmental studies, she has worked in a variety of fields in southern Ohio, California, and Colorado. She was most recently employed with the Farm Service Agency in Hamilton, Ohio, but is happy to return home and assist the Holmes community in agricultural and conservation pursuits. Karen can be reached at 330-674-2811 or firstname.lastname@example.org