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Choosing A Cover Crop Species
The whole job of a cover crop is to get living roots in the soil for more of the year. They add fertility, retain nutrients needed to grow your crops, and hold the soil in place. However, there is no such thing as a “perfect” cover crop. All species have their pros and cons.
Jean Eells is a natural resource specialist and consultant. She says the three major categories of cover crops are grasses, brassicas, and legumes. Make the choice based on your goal for its use.
"The grasses are really super at getting a network of roots out quickly and holding onto the nitrogen. Brassicas are things like the turnips and radishes. Those are really good at sending out a taproot, and that little taproot is going way down in there and helping to break up compaction," says Eells. "The legumes, we kind of know what legumes do. They help fix nitrogen, take it from the air and fix it."
Cover crops are seeded onto the crop ground in the fall, and then killed in some way.
"Some of them will die when the winter comes. And at least you’ve had living roots until they’re winter-killed, they don’t have to do anything else and next spring they just plant right into it," she says. "The other group is cover crops that are going to live through the winter. And next spring, those need to be killed before or right after you’ve planted your cash crop."
She says to think of cover crop adoption as a journey. You start with one and can add to it for more benefits, depending on what your needs are.