It is not too late to plant a fall cover crop. Keeping the ground covered and alive over winter is one of the top soil health priorities for the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer. The recent spell of warm weather last week has kept soil temperatures fairly high for this time of year. Soil temperatures in central Ohio were around 63 degrees as of 10/14/18.
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There are several species of cover crops that can still be planted in central Ohio. What you want to plant depends on what outcome you are looking for. Cover crops are tools in your soil health toolbox, you use what is needed for the task and what will accomplish your goals.
A seedbed was created via tillage. This tillage can cause a loss of organic matter and disruption of the soil in the root zone but was done to create a seed bed to improve germination of cover crops seed. This is common for a backyard grower, community gardener or urban farmer. In agronomic systems, a no-till drill could be used to minimize soil disturbance.
Some cover crops will achieve a modest amount of growth and then will die when winter temperatures go below freezing. These still provide many soil health benefits, but do not provide as much organic matter in terms of biomass.
This cover crop mix contains Austrian winter peas and oats. It is not cold tolerant and will winter kill with deep freezes. It is a good choice for a grower who cannot manage a cover crop with implements or when an early season seedbed is desired for planting. These species could still be planted, but they might not achieve the level of biomass production to justify their expense at this late time in the season.
Some cover crops are cold tolerant and will persist through winter’s cold, starting regrowth once temperatures and sunlight increase in early spring. These have their own management challenges.
Species that do well in the cold and will likely over winter include winter rye, crimson clover, hairy vetch, and most brassicas.
It is important for the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer to prioritize soil health. Soil Health = Plant Health = People Health.
This mix has excellent biodiversity and will grow over the winter with excellent cold tolerance. It will have management challenges in the spring due to fast regrowth when warmer temperatures return.
Planting a cover crop now will increase your soil health, add organic matter, prevent erosion of nutrients and give your 2019 garden a jump start that will pay off with increased fresh, local produce.