A cover crop is a crop of a specific plant that is grown primarily for the benefit of the soil and its health. Cover crops are commonly used to suppress weeds, manage soil erosion, help build and improve soil fertility and soil quality, control diseases and pests, maintain leachable nutrients and promote biodiversity.
Cover crops are typically grasses or legumes but may be comprised of other green plants. In essence, a cover crop readies the land for an upcoming crop. Peninsula Pride Farm members are even working with multispecies cover crop mixes that promote biodiversity and greater soil health benefits.
Cover crops have a surprisingly wide array of benefits and no serious drawbacks. A cover crop can improve the health of your soil, resulting in a significantly larger, healthier crops for the next growing season.
Cover crops can:
- Improve biodiversity by increasing the variety of species in a given area. The greater the species in an area provides a home to more species of beneficial species.
- Reduce the amount of water that drains off a field, protecting waterways and downstream ecosystems from erosion. As a result, a cover crop can help conserve water and prevent soil erosion.
- Help break disease cycles by reducing the amount of bacterial and fungal diseases in the soil. Rotation and cover crops promote beneficial insects to help heal the soil system.
- Provide nutrients to the soil, much like manure can by leaving a mulch effect. Mulch is a layer of organic material, such as crop residue, that is left on the surface of the soil to prevent water runoff and protect the soil from the damaging effects of heavy rainfall.
Examples of highly used cover crops include: turnips, radishes, barley, clovers (red, crimson, berseem, mammoth), winter rye, winter barley, spring barley, peas, lentils, winter wheat, peas, faba beans, oats, sunflowers, annual and perennial grasses and various other species.