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Cover Crops: Pro Tips for Best Results

Cover Crops: Pro Tips for Best Results
Thank you to Vail Dixon & our friends at Simple Soil Solutions for this awesome post! Make sure to see Vail present some great information at our upcoming Winter Conference! Make sure to check out the special offer below.

Your soil does NOT want to be bare through the winter! If there are spaces between your plants, think of them as holes in your sweater and rain jacket! Any system is only as good as its weakest link, so anywhere that the cold air, rain drops and wind can get to your soil without a carbon blanket (a cover of dead or living plant material) are areas where your system will shut down and cause you problems next year.

In my experience, the better-quality cover you grow, the better-quality feed for soil microbes, and also the better-quality cash crop you will have next season. And yet, all too often, despite best intentions, I see cover crops struggle and fail to provide the benefits they could, because they were not cared for like a cash crop.

 

 If you want WAY better results, I highly recommend giving your cover crop seed inoculant and bio-friendly fertility treatment to get it off to a good start. Unless you have amazing soil that needs no help, giving your cover crops a boost will minimize the risk of loss of all that time and money you took to plant them, as well as move you much closer to less 

barley and clover in rows

inputs for the next year. This helps ensure you a return on your investment!

Time is of the essence when you’re getting cover crops in at this time of year! The inoculant helps especially if you are planting a little behind schedule because it gives the small plant nutrition to grow up faster and hardier.

The good news is that there have been many technical advancements that make our job as farmers much easier than 10-15 years ago. Beneficial seed inoculants, like micronized minerals and protective diverse species of beneficial soil microbes are now like “secret weapon” tools in my toolbox that have launched our ability to progress land quickly and easily. I don’t want them to be secret; I want all farmers to know more about them and consider using them to help jumpstart soil and plants.

Based on years of success on thousands of acres with them, I recommend adding two specific products to your cover crop seed when you plant. The first is a cutting-edge soil conditioner and fertility treatment called Solu-PLKS that makes all 90+ minerals already present in the soil available, and gets seed off to a good start. It chelates the soil minerals you already have, making them more available immediately to both plants and your microbes. It also feeds beneficial microbes like crazy (especially the fungi and protozoa), which means more nutrient cycling for your plants, and helps get rid of salt imbalances in the soil. It is my go to product for seed inoculation - and for root and foliar feeding. Besides being a great way to get a plant out of a nutrient imbalance or disease state, it reduces the other fertility and minerals I need to use down to nothing or ⅓ of what would have been needed.

The second is Soil Biology Boost, a biological inoculant with micronized plant based minerals that increases beneficial microorganism populations and nutrient uptake. It has species for immunity, fungal disease control, nitrogen fixation for non-legume species, and mycorrhizal fungi.

Beautiful Pea Rye Flowers BEST 2

I have seen these products make germination happen faster and create better stand establishment and yield, which means getting the full benefit of the cover crop. They are available at Bio Minerals Technologies.

The seed treatments get the plant off to a good start, but will not make up for huge imbalances in the soil. If the cover crop starts looking lackluster early on, then you know you need to do a spray to help it out. Solu-PLKS with watered into the roots and/or sprayed on the leaves is a quick and easy treatment which usually sorts things out without requiring micromanagement. If your crop needs more than that, we recommend a sap or tissue analysis, and then using the Solu-PLKS to chelate and bind the minerals into less salty and acid forms that will go easily through the leaf like a plant IV drip - using 1/10 to ¼ of the amounts you would normally use.

As with any product, it’s a must to read and follow application instructions. We use a clean spray bottle to mist the Solu-PLKS liquid onto the seed and Soil Biology Boost powder and mix by hand until all of the seed is covered. There is also a powder dry form of the Solu-PLKS, so you can choose whether you like the liquid or the dry. They take about the same time to mix, but the dry is cheaper since you’re shipping less weight long distances. I prefer the liquid because it helps the inoculant stick to the seed, and you can still use the liquid for no-till drill planting, as it is just enough liquid to make it stick - but not wet. For a visual of how these products are applied, see our video "Give your SEEDS a BOOST with Inoculant."

Rye Pea Cover Crop 2

Seed coatings like clays for water absorption are usually OK. If you’re using a nitrogen fixing cover crop, you also want to make sure to ask if the clover/legume seed is already inoculated with the proper species of nitrogen fixing bacteria (“legume inoculant”) for that species; remember, peas are different than clover, and different peas are distinct. If not, BE SURE to purchase that inoculant from your seed dealer directly, and mix it onto the seed with the Soil Biology Boost, which is not a legume inoculant but does contain species that fix nitrogen from the air on non-legume species like grasses and cereal grains.

Our final cover cropping pro tip is to make sure the seed you buy is not treated with any fungicide, insecticide, etc.

Cover crops are one of the best ways to improve soil health, make the soil less friendly to weeds and more friendly to the plants you want to grow, and make your next growing season a better one! It takes time to learn but is well worth the investment.

Vail Dixon is a regenerative farmer who raises Grass Beef in Nelson, VA. She is a holistic grazing and soil rejuvenation mentor – to help people rebuild their soil’s productivity naturally. Check out GrazingPower.com and Grow-Your-Soil.com for upcoming workshops and trainings.

NOFA Special: Download a free copy of Nature’s Principles, Soil Health Matrix and other free resources today atGrow-Your-Soil.com/NOFA

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