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winter cover crop technique

 
pollinator
Posts: 377
Location: Central Texas zone 8a, 800 chill hours 28 blessed inches of rain
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Who has planted winter cover crops and what means was used (mechanical, manual, techniques...)?  I am wanting to get some life back into my soil this winter (Texas zone 8, frost to light freezes over night. Above freezing during the day.)  I am thinking mainly clover, rape, rye grain, and with some chicory and rye grass as a small percentage.  They can all be broadcast and rolled for soil contact, or so I hope.  I will start small this season with a few acres.  I have a tractor, box blade, and cultipacker.  Soil if mostly weeds and lot of bare earth showing.

I plan to mix the seeds, then soak over night to hydrate; and wait for rain.  I will lightly scratch the surface using scarifier and tooth harrow.  Broadcast and drag.  Then roll to finish before a rain.  First time doing something larger than a garden or using ag equipment.  Hoping for some insight or experience to gut check this plan.  

Thank you in advance.
 
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Jack,

What are your plans for the future of the ground you plan to seed?  Will it be pasture?  Are you simply looking for a ground cover to stop erosion?  Do you want to put crops on it?

The reason I ask is that if you plan to garden or plant other crops then I would aim for annuals in your seed mix.  I am a bit concerned about the use of clover.  Please don’t misunderstand me, clover can be a great cropping and is wonderful for soil, but once you have it, you have it for good.

As a possible replacement, I was thinking about Austrian Winter Peas.  These are annual legumes and will act much like clover will.  

I grow exclusively in wine cap mushroom inoculated woodchips.  In a very real sense I am building my soil from the ground up.  I am wanting to add nitrogen and smother weeds so I am thinking about spreading Austrian Winter Peas this fall and covering with a thin layer of grass clippings.

But for you, I think that either the box blade teeth or the harrow will sufficiently soften the soil surface.  I assume that you plan to broadcast the seeds and I think that cultipacker will cover the seeds nicely.  Overall I do generally like your seed mix and I think that you have the right tools to get them in.

Please let us know how things work out!

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Jack,

The reason I ask is that if you plan to garden or plant other crops then I would aim for annuals in your seed mix.  I am a bit concerned about the use of clover.  Please don’t misunderstand me, clover can be a great cropping and is wonderful for soil, but once you have it, you have it for good.

As a possible replacement, I was thinking about Austrian Winter Peas.  These are annual legumes and will act much like clover will.  


Eric



I got the impression he was talking about annual crimson clover, not perennial clover, that is usually the go-to for cover crop mixes.
But what you plan to do with the land after the cover crop is an important aspect that goes into planning your cover cropping.
This past year I (coastal zone 9) did clover, peas and wheat. (the wheat sprouted up from a light layer of straw mulch). I just broadcast seeded before a rain and did a very light layer of straw mulch. Everything came up wonderfully. I then just cut small holes in the clover where I wanted to plant. A nice string trimmer could make quick work of that. I had great poly culture going on with food plants growing in the cover crop. I just used a hand sickle, or sometimes hedge clippers, to chop a little bit of the cover clover around the food plants. worked great. but that's small scale.
As it warmed up, I used a string trimmer to mow down the clover crop.It has fully died back over a month ago and has been on its way out since may. I didn't have any issues with reseeding as the extension agency warned me, but I am hopeful to get some crimson clover sprouting up as the weather cools off in the fall.
Are your plans to regularly till? do one time till? no till?
if no-till or plant to go to no-till, we have the advantage of using the heat. So you could mow the cool weather cover crops low to the ground and mulch in place, the heat will make sure they don't come back in full force and become a problem
 
Eric Hanson
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Bill,

Thanks for the clarification.  Whenever I hear clover I automatically think either Dutch White Clover or Red Clover, both of which, once established, are with you for the long run.

But you are right, Crimson Clover is an excellent annual cover crop.

Eric
 
Jack Edmondson
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Eric Hanson wrote:What are your plans for the future of the ground you plan to seed?  Will it be pasture?  Are you simply looking for a ground cover to stop erosion?  Do you want to put crops on it?

Eric



Eric, thank you for the reply. The land will ultimately be silvopasture with the primary species being pecan trees.  It will be grazed.  It currently has cattle and that will likely continue.  The problem lies in poor soil quality.  Before the property came to me, someone bulldozed to bear earth.  Now it is mesquite trees and weeds.  Nature is slowly rebuilding the land, by way of pioneer plants; but they are poor quality feed and sparse.  I can still see too much bear earth all through the fields.  When I plant trees they struggle.  i assume, at least in part, it is due to the biome being decimated and still recovering.  As a steward, I am trying to help the process along.

Winter pea is a great idea.  I chose the mix I proposed based mostly on seed size.  The clover, brassica, and small grain will (I have read) take readily to a no till broadcast planting, with a firming of the surface under a roller.  

You make an interesting point on the clover variety.  Bill is correct.  My first choice would be Crimson Clover, as it seems to do well in the area.  The State's Highway department uses it frequently for right of ways in the area.  I would like to discuss clover varieties further; but will do more reading and open another thread if necessary.

Thank you again for your thoughts.
 
Jack Edmondson
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Bill,

It sounds like you have success similar to what I would like.  As stated, it will be silvopasture; but I am striving for a polyculture and hoping the clover will give a 'carpet to cover the ground' under and around other plantings.  I was initially leaning towards a dutch white as it would not shade out everything else; but will have to do more research.  The crimson will give me what I need for this season with no downside risk.  

I plan to no till.  I want to experiment using equipment to lightly scratch the surface no deeper than an inch to plant pasture crops.  For now, I will stick with small seed that can be incorporated on the surface to a half an inch.  In the spring I plan to let the heat terminate the crop.  In the fall, I will likely broadcast and cultipack so the residue helps set the next crop.  

When you planted peas what depth did you plant.  From what I can gather "too deep" seems to be the most common mistake.  Since I am not working the ground, that should not be a problem for me.  However in the spring I plan to try larger seeds, like Sunn Hemp and Cow Pea.  I want to make sure I am not too shallow.  Thoughts or experiences?

Thank you for your input.  Great idea on the polyculture
 
Bill Waters
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Jack Edmondson wrote:Bill,

It sounds like you have success similar to what I would like.  As stated, it will be silvopasture; but I am striving for a polyculture and hoping the clover will give a 'carpet to cover the ground' under and around other plantings.  I was initially leaning towards a dutch white as it would not shade out everything else; but will have to do more research.  The crimson will give me what I need for this season with no downside risk.  

I plan to no till.  I want to experiment using equipment to lightly scratch the surface no deeper than an inch to plant pasture crops.  For now, I will stick with small seed that can be incorporated on the surface to a half an inch.  In the spring I plan to let the heat terminate the crop.  In the fall, I will likely broadcast and cultipack so the residue helps set the next crop.  

When you planted peas what depth did you plant.  From what I can gather "too deep" seems to be the most common mistake.  Since I am not working the ground, that should not be a problem for me.  However in the spring I plan to try larger seeds, like Sunn Hemp and Cow Pea.  I want to make sure I am not too shallow.  Thoughts or experiences?

Thank you for your input.  Great idea on the polyculture



before I planted peas I just roughed up the surface a little (with a hoe and a cobra head type tool) and just broadcast. My goal was to make divots and shallow furrows. I didn't worry about pushing them into the soil... that might have decrease germination rates but enough came up to make it worth it. I do this for hugelkultur building as well, sometimes I will literally throw the larger seeds at the soil to get them to stay in place.

So Eric was right in thinking white clover. I guess I usually think white clover as well but crimson clover was fresh on my mind for other reasons. I guess for silvo pasture white perennial clover would be appropriate. Does it go dormant where you are? here it usually goes dormant for maybe two months when it gets really hot, just something to consider.

no experience with this- but I would chop the established white clover back, let it start to regrow then sow your warm season crops... the cover of the white clover should be enough to get them to germinate if you coincide with the rain. Cutting it back will give warm crops a chance to rise above quickly before the white clover has a chance to over take the young seedlings.
So some perennial clover seeds into the cover crop mix would be beneficial. You definitely get more biomass off the jump with crimson clover, but it's basically gone by end of May. Possibly don't go as heavy with the crimson clover so it won't shade out the white clover.
 
Eric Hanson
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Bill, Jack,

I had just a thought about white clover.  I live in Southern Illinois which is sort of the interface between the Midwest and South.  Our summers get plenty hot here.  Around me, white clover NEVER seems to go dormant.  It grows in winter and the heat of summer alike.  

Bill has a really good point about mowing down white clover.  WC is a creeping, crawling plant.  It tolerates, thrives even, when mowed low.  Some consider it a lawn weed because in summer, the grass goes dormant but the clover still grows and even outcompetes the grass.  And no matter how low one mows the grass, WC is ALWAYS nice and lush underneath.

So I say go for that WC, it is a really good, perennial, bulletproof soil builder.

Eric
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