So, we have explored many reasons as to why we have living things growing in fields during the winter. We have talked about improving soil biology, water infiltration, helping reduce erosion, and most importantly, helping provide clean water. All of these reasons apply to any crop, commercial or personal garden. Remember, that with water infiltration, we reduce erosion, and decrease flooding. Both certainly help our rivers and streams stay cleaner and healthier. If water is going into the ground, instead of over it, we have less flooding. We need to get water into the ground, not concentrating it and sending it to the ocean. It doesn’t do us any good there. Try to capture it and keep it on your land where you can utilize it.
I have heard of people taking infiltration rates from ½”/hr. to over 8”/hr. or more. Think about not having any water leave your property. Now think about not having any water leave anyone else’s property. How much help would that be to our flooding issues?
To hit on some other benefits; growing plants greatly reduces compaction, holds vehicles and machinery up on top of the ground better, can greatly enhance weed control, holds more moisture in the soil, supplies tons of nutrients to the next crop, and can even be used for feed.
Now we can produce a crop in the winter time that we can use as a forage. Who would have “thunk” it? Most of these benefits are more exclusive to commercial crops, but not all. Gardeners, think about this. You plant a cover crop in the fall, you let it continue to grow up to the last minute before planting the garden, you can now roll the crop down (which done at the right time will kill it) and the heavy mulch will not only act as a barrier for weed control, but it will also feed your garden as it decays by releasing nutrients back into the soil for crops to use.
It will help you with moisture control/retention, weed control, and nutrients. We have farmers actually planting “green” into 5 and 6 feet tall cover crops to gain these advantages. Also, if you plant the right cover crop, you can produce nitrogen (which is vital to all plant growth) with the cover crop, and then release that back into the soil for the crop to use. This will either reduce your fertilizer bill, or grow better crops.
If you have a minute, next time you head to the field/garden, try to find an area that has not been tilled in forever (like a lawn) and a place that has been. Dig a large chunk out of the ground. What do you see? There should be a huge difference. The tilled soil will be a solid block of compacted particles. It will be hard enough to use as a hammer! It is that solid.
The no-till ground will have a lot of structure. It will be loose, look like cottage cheese, have roots and worms and insects crawling around in it. It will be firm, but not solid like the tilled ground. Take a metal cylinder to the field/garden with you. Hammer it in the ground 2” deep. Pour 2” of water into it and see how fast (or slow) it disappears. This is how fast your ground infiltrates water. You may be blown away by the difference. I have seen it take 5 seconds, and I have seen it take more than one hour. Think about that for a while, and you will begin to see why farmers, gardeners and watershed residents like soil with growing plants all year. Yes, even in the winter!
The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.