Monday, March 31, 2014

Frost Seeding A Cover Crop

As we learn more and more about farming organically and biologically, we start to realize the importance of cover crops. A cover crop is something you plant with no intention to harvest. This crop is tilled under before the next crop is planted.

The natural state of the earth is to be covered with some form of vegetation. It is unnatural to have bare earth, and it takes a lot of work to keep it bare until it's time to plant something. While you are waiting for winter to end, or for dry enough fields to drive on, the weeds come. Cover crops can help suppress the weeds.

Besides weed control, cover crops help make nutrients in the soil available to the plants (the crop planted later), and build much-needed organic matter.

Recently, I volunteered to frost seed last year's lost corn field. We planted our corn late, due to an extremely wet spring, and didn't have the summer heat to make up for lost time. A wet, busy fall kept us from harvesting the corn, and a generous snow pack all winter didn't allow us to harvest when the ground was frozen. The corn fed a lot of critters all winter long, and there is not much left in the field this spring. I think it's a total loss, unless we want to go out with sacks and mud boots and hand harvest.

Frost-seeding is done in late winter, when the ground is frozen. It works best on heavier clay soil. It does not work well with grass seed. We chose to frost seed radishes in light, sandy soil. We'll see if this works.

Here's the seeder--the type you wear while walking and cranking. The crank spins the fan at the bottom, flinging seed out quite a ways. It is my father's seeder, and it's seen a lot of use. We would have loved to put a seeder on the back of a tractor and just drive, but the conditions of the field did not allow for that this year.

Here is the corn field I seeded. One of the pros of seeding into a corn field is that you can just walk down a row and you are guaranteed not to wander off track. The cons of seeding into a corn field are that you are constantly tripping over downed corn stalks and getting stalks jammed in the fan of the seeder.

It's subtle, I know, but can you see the round seed or the holes where the seed fell into the snow? I tried to help with arrows.

The idea with frost seeding is that the ground is now freezing and thawing, causing it to open and close, heave and buckle. The seed gets swallowed by the process and hopefully germinates and comes up.

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