Cover cropping is an important part of sustainable farming. We aim to keep bare soil to a minimum. On our farm we try to have two cover crops and one harvested crop on each garden each year. So 2/3 of what we grow is intended to be plowed back into the soil.
Ideally we’ll get a cover crop seeded in the fall. Sometimes that’s not possible with later crops. If necessary we can try to plant a quick maturing cover crop in the early spring. We follow spring gardens (and precede fall gardens) with summer cover crops like buckwheat, millet and milo. This year we’re planning to also try sunn hemp, a tropical legume. In the fall we plant a mixture of clover, winter peas, rye, and oats.
Cover cropping adds organic material to the soil, improves soil fertility and helps naturally suppress weeds. It helps ensure a healthy biotic community in the soil.
Rather than cover cropping, the industrial model uses chemicals and poisons to fertilize and suppress weeds.
But lately something interesting seems to be happening. Just as conventional farms are increasingly turning to non-GMO grains, there has also been an increase in the use of cover cropping as an alternative to chemical inputs. Farms using cover crops are finding that they can improve yields and decrease the amount they’re spending on inputs. They’re learning that it pays, literally, to take care of the soil.
These moves toward more sustainable practices are small now. By and large the industrial model is churning along as before. But as more and more industrial farms begin to peel away and take up more sustainable practices I’m reminded of Gandhi’s quote, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”