Farm Focus: Cover Crops

This winter we are continuing our work with Natural ResourceConservation Service (NRCS) which has provided funding for us to purchase seed to plant cover crops in one of our orchards. Frog Hollow has long been a proponent of keeping the soil in our orchard covered. Throughout the summer, we let wild grasses grow in our inter-rows. This helps the soil retain moisture and creates habitat for beneficial insects. When the grass gets tall, our ground team cruises through with weed whackers. The cut grasses become a thick blanket of green mulch which will decompose into the soil, generating more organic matter and helping our soil regenerate and remain vital. Purchasing seeds which are ideally suited for a cover crop will confer all the benefits the wild grasses do, but with far more efficacy. The seed mix we chose is a mix of legumes, barley, oats, and wheat. The legumes will fix nitrogen into the soil. The grains have very deep tap roots which are beneficial in multiple ways. Roots help create better soil structure allowing pockets for aeration which increase the soil's water holding capacity. So, the deeper the roots, the better the soil is able to filter and retain water below the surface level of the soil profile. Taproots also help feed the microbes that live in the soil. When the plant is alive, the roots are making sugars which the soil microbes eat. Those microbes are a key component to soil fertility. In addition to feeding microbes, those deep roots bring nutrients up from lower levels of the soil profile and into the foliar part of the plant. Once we mow those grasses, those minerals will decompose and fertilize the top levels of the soil. This is nature’s beautiful circle of nurturing itself with a little help from us. This winter, we’ve planted our cover crop in an additional 20 acres of our orchard. We hope to continue converting more acreage from wild grasses to optimized cover crops in season's to come. We’ll keep you posted!