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Summer cover crop for sandy soil?

 
chip sanft
Posts: 331
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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We've got very sandy soil on the couple acres we're trying to improve for eventual vegetable garden and/or food forest use. I planted buckwheat and forage peas without tilling and although both germinated well and the peas are growing pretty nicely, the buckwheat is anemic. Instead of the fast growth it's supposed to yield, after three weeks we still have little more than pale and weak-looking seedlings.

Does anybody have ideas for sandy soil cover crops suited to no-till and that can be planted now in zone 4? I found a reference to pearl millet that makes it look like it might work (here: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-37.html) but haven't seen it in my other readings. Also, although the per-pound cost for pearl millet seed is low, the high planting rate the seed company gives means this would be a relatively expensive approach. Maybe there's something else.

Any suggestions? Ideally the cover crop should build up organic material and have the ability to re-seed itself, since I'm going to be away for work and would like it to spread if I can't get back to plant.
 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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One of the best books I have found on cover crops is a free PDF download here:

http://www.sare.org/publications/covercrops/covercrops.pdf

 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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prob need some fertilizer.

hate to add, but would spray down some zinc, nitrogen, and maybe a little phos, till the soil gets some bio built up.

look for some powdered rock fert if you can find it locally.

and try wildflowers !

http://www.floridawildflowers.com/categories/Seed-Packets/
 
philip Wick
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Try Sudan or sorghum Sudan grass. Grows great, enriches the soil and can be cut a couple of times during the season. With the first hard frost it dies and it is easy to work the ground in the spring. Adds tons of organic matter to the soil.
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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Pearl millet? Has the price gone back down? I used it for years as a summer grass for my horses on a 12 acre sandhill. This was back in 1990. Then everyone thought it was a good idea and the prices shot up. So I switched to brown top millet - everyone said not to feed it to horses but mine were just fine. Then the price on that shot up eventually as well. It was super easy - I just threw it out by hand and the next thing you know I horses up to thier bellies in green stuff. Very important as horses in this area are prone to sand colic and the best prevention is fresh food (root crops and green plants)

What do you pay for a 50lb sack these days?

My turkeys are quickly cleaning out the little wild area that I have set aside and your post reminded me that I could plant some patches of millet for them. My little property wouldn't need much.
 
chip sanft
Posts: 331
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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Thanks for the suggestions, everybody -- that makes me optimistic.

Jeanine Gurley wrote:Pearl millet? Has the price gone back down? ... What do you pay for a 50lb sack these days?


Jeanine, I've been ordering my seed from Welter Seed and they sell a 50lb sack of the pearl millet for $42. That is more expensive than some seed but much less than some of the other choices I had been looking at for covers (e.g., hairy vetch, clovers). I think what you suggested is what they call proso millet (correct me if I'm wrong) and it is indeed much cheaper -- less than half the price, definitely worth considering.


 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
pollinator
Posts: 1401
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
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Oh, I can't correct you. The last time I thought about millet until you brought it up was 1998 when I last had a farm and horses. But now I'm thinking about it again. It was SO prolifice in sandy poor soil that I'm picturing lots more good green stuff to use as mulch, maybe some seed left for me to use and, of course, plenty of food for the birds.
 
Will McGill
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Have you tried perennial peanut? It grows great in sandy soils and is an excellent nitrogen fixer. It does not actually produce a nut, but it can be great for the soil and apparently also for hay.
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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http://www.plantsofthesouthwest.com/Grasses/products/3/
 
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