What is a cover crop?
“When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” – Daniel Webster
We are asked many questions about the Native Hill Farm at Montava. We thought it would be fun to ask our farmer partner Nic Koontz with Native Hill Farm to describe what we are doing on the Montava farm right now. It's a process called "cover cropping".
Cover Cropping is the act of planting and tending a crop solely for the beneficial effects on the soil. For us at Native Hill Farm we know that planting and tending cover crop as part of our rotations benefits the farm in many ways. Cover crops are central to the
fertility and health of the farm and thus the health of the community eating the food from the farm. The heath of the soil is inseparable from the health of people. We are at the same time giving back to the soil for what it gives to us as well as paying it forward and planning for the future resiliency of the farm. The general goal of cover cropping is to keep the soil covered with something green and growing as much of the time as possible. Obviously, this is very hard to do when we need a perfect seedbed to plant millions of super tiny carrot seeds.
The Farm at Montava is designed specifically around long term and larger scale cover cropping in order to benefit soil health. With 40 acres under cultivation we plan to not grow more than 20 acres of vegetable crops at a time while giving the remaining 20 acres a year or two off from intensive vegetable production. We will be planting various
grains, legumes, forbs, and other plants which will be irrigated, mowed, and grazed so that we can replenish soil microorganisms, rebuild soil structure, increase soil organic matter, break pest and disease cycles, and much more. Subsequent vegetable crops grown on this resilient soil will be healthier, more nutrient dense, less weedy, and better able to withstand diseases and pests.
Cover cropping can be done on any farm of any scale but takes dedication of resources, time, and attention hence the higher cost for organically produced food. Currently the farm at Montava looks absolutely great and healthy and is seeded to annual grain called triticale, a cross of wheat and rye. Triticale is great for germinating quickly to cover the soil, outcompete weeds and add tons of organic matter. The planting mix also includes a variety of perennial clovers and grasses which will come back every year and adds diversity to the mix of plants at work.
In the end the health of the soil is the health of the community.