NORMAN — Picture a plant root that reaches 12 inches into the soil. What happens when it decomposes? Organic matter (beneficial composted materials) is increased. this, in turn, feeds billions of soil organisms.
In addition, these soil voids create an avenue for water, air and nutrients to infiltrate the soil. Soil is a living body that must be nurtured to be productive. Otherwise, water and nutrients run off, soil erodes and fertility is depleted.
Cover crops can add back to the soil after a season of use. Think of cover cropping as a vacation for the soil, a time to relax and recharge for the upcoming season. Now is the perfect time for a winter cover crop in a traditional or raised vegetable garden.
The surface of earth doesn’t like to be naked. Mother Nature prevents this from happening by covering herself with annual grasses and weeds, if exposed. If you usually strip the surface of your garden by tilling, I encourage you to think twice.
Frequent tillage not only exposes the soil surface and brings weed seeds to the surface for germination, but it also causes nutrients to be lost and degraded while destroying beneficial microorganisms. Tillage creates a human-dependent soil, prone to erosion, compaction, nutrient depletion and soil-borne organism reduction.
Cease tilling to prevent unwanted weeds and begin to build a functional, healthy soil. Intentionally planting a cover crop will outcompete weeds before taking hold, and I highly recommend that all gardeners keep something growing year-round.
Cover crops can be adapted for use in the garden and serve many beneficial functions, which I can only begin to cover here. Cover crops can be a trap crop for insect pests and reduce nematode numbers. But they also can attract beneficial insects and pollinators.
Covering the soil will cool and preserve it, decreasing the need for irrigation and weed management. Cover cropping also serves as a rotation to break the cycle of planting the same things year after year. Rotating the cover crops themselves is just as important as rotating your vegetable species from one year to the next.