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Cover Crops
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Soil

Hairy vetch and rye cover crop
Upright stems of winter rye support the upward growth of hairy vetch. English photo for the Fall 2007 Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

Articles
Cereal rye used as a cover crop is planted in the fall, killed in the spring, and left to decompose in the same fields where soybeans and other cash crops are later planted. Instead of mowing rye, many farmers flatten it by attaching a rolling, paddlewheel-like cylinder with metal slats to a tractor and barreling over the rye, tamping and crimping it into a mat.

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The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has entered into licensing agreements with four seed distributors interested in marketing new hairy vetch varieties developed by an ARS scientist and cooperators.

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As a cover crop, the extra-long taproot of oilseed radish breaks up and aerates soil and draws up nutrients for following crops.

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FestuloliumFestulolium, a cross between festucas (meadow fescue/tall fescue) and lolium (Italian ryegrass), is one of the finest cover crops I have ever grown. It was easy to establish, aggressive enough to outcompete weeds in its early stages and tenacious enough to survive the winter.

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Rolling hay, rye and other cover crops with rolling machines that can quickly flatten mature, high-biomass cover crops could be the fastest way for some farmers to prepare fields for planting.

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Cover crop on a gardenThose who buy organic food often describe organic farming and gardening in the negative: as growing crops without using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. From its very beginning, however, organic growing has been far more:  It’s a system that is based on taking care of the soil.

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MOFGA’s 2006 Spring Growth Conference, titled “Cover Crop and Rotation Strategies for Organic Fertility and Weed Management,” attracted presenters from all over the Northeast and over 100 audience members. Presenters included Eric and Anne Nordell, who operate a horse-powered, mixed vegetable farm in Beech Grove, Penn., and contribute regularly to the Small Farmers Journal, a quarterly focusing on draft-powered agriculture; Eileen Droescher, who has used a permanent bed system to grow mixed vegetables in Easthampton, Mass., since 1999; and Eric Gallandt, an associate professor of weed ecology and management at the University of Maine in Orono.

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“Farmers and Their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques,” a video by Vern Grubinger, is available from the University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

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