The Rodale Institute has conducted extensive research on organic farming systems and have proven over 30 years that sustainable farming practices are superior in every way. One of the technologies that they have perfected is the use of cover crops. Unlike the farmer’s cash crops, which are grown for sale, these are plants that are cultivated with the express purpose of improving the soil. Whether by fixing nitrogen, providing protection from the elements, used to add organic matter or all of the above, cover cropping can be a versatile and useful tool for the sustainable farmer. Here are some of the benefits that cover crops provide:
- They protect soil from erosion and nutrient loss between seasons.
- Cover crops foster biodiversity, attracting predators that help manage pest populations.
- Certain cover crops have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil, increasing fertility for the next cash cropping.
- They help to suppress weeds by shading them out.
- Some cover crops can provide the farmers with income, sometimes in half the time it takes for cash crops to reach maturity.
- Cover crops do a good job of sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change.
- They provide a natural, healthy alternative to toxic chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides, and synthetic fertilizers which are pollutants when manufactured and also when used.
Check out the full article written by the Rodale Institute here.
Local Cover Crops
The article suggest cover crops such as alfalfa, rye and more. Here in the Philippines, we find that pulses are very effective cover crops. Legumes such as Monggo grow quickly, smothering weeds and fix nitrogen into the soil. They are also valuable crops that can be harvested for sale or food.
One way of applying a cover crop is by soaking the seeds overnight before tilling the field. You can then broadcast these into the soil as it is tilled or afterwards. About 10g per square meter is plenty. Irrigate the soil for best results. Within days, the cover crop will begin sprouting. When it is time for planting, you can pull the cover crops out or cultivate them into the soil (you need to wait two weeks before planting if you do this). The cover crops between rows can be left as they will control weeds and will eventually provide a crop as well.