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Cover Crop question

 
Jeremy Stevens
Posts: 37
Location: Tenaha, TX
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So I am just about a complete newbie, and here in a few months I will be stateside again and I will have some time to go home for a bit. Home for me 5 acres in deep east Texas, which used to be farmland; but hasn't been worked in at least a few decades (been in my family for close to ten years now). I'd say at least a good solid 1.5 - 2 acres of it is cleared land. In about 3 ish years time, it's where i'll be moving back to, permanently.

The ground is fairly well compacted, and consists of about 1.5 inches of good, dark soil. Under that is about 8 inches of sand, followed by clay. While im home this next time, i'd like to spread a cover crop or crops that will, ideally, A. help improves the soil structure and fertility, B. draw up any deeper nutrient, and C. give me a continuous supply of mulch and compost material over the next couple years; till I move home.

Any suggestions for a good cover crop, or succession of cover crops that would accomplish this?

Attached is a picture, for reference, which also includes a rough overlay I drew up one day.
Filename: overlay.pdf
Description: 5 acres of heaven
File size: 198 Kbytes
[Download overlay.pdf] Download Attachment
 
David Miller
Posts: 280
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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What do you expect as far as rainfall for the season and when does your winter kick in, if at all?
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1250
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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forest garden hugelkultur
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When in doubt, use a little bit of everything. I know nothing about TX so I may be off with this thought but I've had pretty good luck with a mix of cover crops. I used buckwheat, clovers, vetch, dandelion, burdock, beans and wildflowers. I mixed up a few pounds of seeds together and after roughing up the top 3 inches of soil and covering the surface with dried, molded hay, I threw the seeds down and let it be. After a week and some rain things began growing. Within a month I couldn't see the soil surface. I'm just going to let it go through the winter and work it in in the spring next year. I'll mulch it all again with dried molded hay and plant my food crops next spring.

I'm not sure about the sand you have (I'm in clay and rock) but if it's only 8 inches of sand before the clay, perhaps you could double dig some areas to mix the clay and sand to get a little more consistency to hold water a little closer to the surface for seedlings. Though that would be a lot of work to do on acres of land unless you run a tractor on it.
Just my 2 cents. Best of luck.
 
Jeremy Stevens
Posts: 37
Location: Tenaha, TX
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Thanks for the input, first off! In my neck of the woods, we normally get at least 25, to upwards of 35 inches of rain per year. While we have almost a year round growing season (all depends on what you want to grow) winter normally creeps in between mid November to mid December; average low temperature is about 15 degrees F.

While I do have a tractor on the property, the only attachment I have so far is a bush hog. She's an old ford ferguson; 40's I think, and needs some TLC before I'd risk much more than the mowing. Other than that, I think a few days work with the spade fork and stiff garden rake might be enough to let the seeds set in, though I do plan on shaping the entire open space into double-dug plots eventually.

Dont have any straw, and if it can be avoided, id rather not buy any since I wont be living there to do anything with it for a few years. Mainly I just want to enrich the soil as much as possible in the years till I can move home again.

Thanks again, for the advice!
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1250
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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forest garden hugelkultur
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Being that you have a few years, perhaps cover cropping and then just chop it, drop it, dry it and reseed it when you have a free weekend while home. That should help add a nice layer of organic matter to the surface and then there will be that much more when you dig it in. I only suggested the straw/hay as a means to hold some moisture near the surface while things get established, figuring that things could dry out pretty fast in the TX heat. If there is already something growing there that will accomplish that task if chopped and dropped, then forget the hay.

 
Jeremy Stevens
Posts: 37
Location: Tenaha, TX
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Yeah that sounds like a good idea. Now I just have to convince my dad (who still lives there) to mow a little less often, since thats about all the exercise he or the old tractor can get.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1250
Location: Maine (zone 5)
65
forest garden hugelkultur
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Jeremy Stevens wrote:Yeah that sounds like a good idea. Now I just have to convince my dad (who still lives there) to mow a little less often, since thats about all the exercise he or the old tractor can get.


I hear that. None of my family understands why I let my grass get 3ft tall before I cut it. I keep saying that I'm using the dried grass to kill the lawn and they are shocked. It makes no sense to them. In their eyes grass should be all one kind and kept short and neat, free of weeds, bugs and fungus. In other words: sterile monocrop and "only for looking at". To hell with that! I want something I can eat and enjoy. Not something that takes up every weekend and cost me money. I've taken over almost an acre of lawn/pasture and have nearly 60 different edibles growing in it already. There is equally as many wild edibles that just show up in random places. I keep about one acre for garden, one acre for grass/hay/mulch production, one acre for small trees to grow up for wood and a few acres that just go wild and produce wild berries and flowers. It's a lot easier to manage once you can convince yourself to let nature do it's thing. It may be messy, but it's effective.
 
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