As the summer growing season slips away, farmers are looking ahead. Even when pumpkin vines wither in the field and farmers pull out the last of their tomato plants, the growing season is never truly over.
One of the last jobs before winter frost is to plant cover crops. Some farmers who grow during the spring, summer, and fall don’t let their fields lay fallow all winter. Instead, they plant cover crops to build the soil.
Clover, barley, oats, winter peas, and buckwheat are just a few cover crops that farmers can plant in late fall. As the plants grow, they prevent erosion and add nutrients to the soil where the main crops will be planted in the spring.
Cover crops are particularly popular with farmers who produce food organically. Replenishing nitrogen after the growing season is especially important for farms that don’t use conventional fertilizers. In early spring, some farms use a roller-crimper to kill the cover crop, then leave it on the soil to conserve water. Or the crops can be incorporated into the soil, which is sometimes called “green manure.”
Farmers work 13 months a year, jokes one Madison County grower. And it’s true: the work is never really done. Cover crops work hard all winter so farmers can plan for next year. When the soil warms in the spring and the cover crops are worked into the ground, a farmer’s job begins again.
Hear stories from local farmers all fall and winter at www.soundcloud.com/growinglocal