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Raise, Grow, Harvest, Eat, Repeat

A blog for growers, consumers, and backyard gardeners to grow, eat, and connect in the local food system.

Cover Crops Week: Day 2- Nonleguminous


Day 2 brings the overview on nonleguminous crops. When we think about the nonleguminous covers crops, their main quality is that they are not a nitrogen source. However, some grasses will sequester and "scavenge" for nitrogen at lower depths, bring up nitrogen that your next crop would not have been able to take up. Nonleguminous cover crops can be classified as grasses and brassicas. Let's talk more about both of these.

Grasses include ryegrass, barley, oats, rye, wheat, buckwheat, and sorghum-sudan. The main qualities we see with grasses are that they can provide varying degrees of quick growth, grazing, erosion control, weed control, nitrogen scavenging, and soil building. Some grasses are better than others for a particular trait. For instance, buckwheat, sorghum-sudan, and oats provide quick growth/germination in the spring and then into the summer compared to other grasses. There are also some grasses that are evenly matched for all of the qualities I've mentioned. Rye and wheat are considered old-standby covers because they can address all of these roles. Grasses are fairly skilled for soil building. Based on their fibrous roots, these provide soil microorganisms with food that they need to modify the soil community and aid in the nutrient cycle.

Sorghum-sudan Source: aces.nmsu.edu

The other group of nonleguminous cover crops are the brassicas. Mustards, radish, and canola are within the brassica. Brassicas have become very popular over the last couple of years due to their glucosinolate compounds which when the brassica plant is mowed and tilled into the soil can help manage soil borne plant pathogens and nematodes. At the same time, radish is a great cover crop for breaking up soil compaction. Radish has been the one I've seen newly adopted here in Northern Illinois. All three are fairly even when it comes to fighting erosion, providing good grazing, and establishing growth. Radish is better at controlling weeds then the others while radish and mustards are better at soil building then canola is. I've been struck at how fast the adoption of many brassicas species is occurring in the last couple of years and there is always new research coming out on them.

Radish. Source: extension.org

So as a review:

Best Cool Season Grass for N Scavenger, Soil Building, Erosion Control, Weed Control, and Quick Growth- Rye

Best Warm Season Grass for N Scavenger, Soil Building, Erosion Control, and Quick Growth-

Sorghum-Sudan

Best Spring Covers for quick growth and weed fighting- Buckwheat, Oats, and Sorghum-sudan

Best Brassica for compaction- Radish



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