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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 5- Mixtures and Wrap-Up


Today is our final post for Cover Crops Week. Hopefully you've gotten a great introduction to this topic and can see potential for adopting in your operation or even in your backyard. Before we get to our wrap-up, let's talk about cover crop mixtures.

Cover crop mixtures are one of the newest topics within vegetable production for the last couple of years. It's quite common to combine the benefits of one with the benefits of another. For example, we might have a cover crop that is good for nitrogen scavenging planted with one that is good for nitrogen sequestration. Grown separately you lose a benefit. Most of the cover crop mixtures are a grass and a legume. Both have different height and root characteristics. There is also some thought that an increase in soil biological diversity can occur as the differing root systems will attract different populations. Of course, a mixture is only as good as what is in the mix and the seeding rate. If you go in with the same recommendation of seeding rates for both the cover crops if they were planted alone, chances are you are going to run into some problems. It's better to scale back to the recommended planting anywhere from 30-50% depending on the cover crop. It's also mindful to think about the growth characteristics as well. Is it a tall plant going to shade out a much shorter one? Is a cover crop with a vining characteristic going to "choke" another cover crop out? By having a reduced seeding, this can ensure that dominant characteristics…do not dominate so to speak. You'll note that so far I've only talked about growing 2 cover crops together. There are some recommendations for cover crop mixtures up to 4, 5, 6, and even 7 but I tend to be in the camp where I feel like it gets a little too crazy when you get above 3. You have to consider that these are plants and they are competing for sunlight, water, nutrients, space, etc. So if you have 7 different cover crops species even with reduced percentage of seeding rates, you may be sacrificing good benefits of one for the benefits of another. Start off with 2 cover crops in your mix and go from there.

Cover crop mixture of hairy vetch, crimson clover, and rye. Source: Extension.org

Now for some recommended cover crop mixtures. Rye and hairy vetch are a good combination. As are sorghum-sudangrass with cowpeas. Forage radish can be grown with other mustards like crimson clover as well. If you are planting oats for weed control in the spring, a clover could also be planted with it. Buckwheat as a summer cover can be planted with sorghum-sudangrass. Rye can also be planted with a number of other grasses and legumes in the fall too.

So that wraps up Cover Crops Week at the blog. Thanks for joining us this week and as always if you do have questions, feel free to email me (gmccarty@illinois) or call me. When you start thinking about cover crops, I highly recommend the SARE Book of Managing Cover Crops Profitably which was mentioned on the blog on the first day. This resource along with the cover crops calendar and Midwest Cover Crops Council website are the tools you need to get started.

Additionally, if you are interested in seeing planted cover crops there are two field days in Stephenson and Jo Daviess Counties in the next couple of weeks.

The Jo Daviess Cover Crops Tour is Thursday, October 30th from 9-12PM in Galena and is a collaboration with NRCS and SSWD. More information and registration can be found here (https://web.extension.illinois.edu/registration/?RegistrationID=11047).

The Stephenson County Cover Crops Tour is Thursday, November 6th from 1-3PM and is a collaboration with NRCS and SSWD. The map and flier can be found here (http://web.extension.illinois.edu/jsw/downloads/55783.pdf). There is no registration for the Stephenson County tour.



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