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Very Deep-rooted Cover Crops

 
Kyrt Ryder
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Location: Graham, Washington [Zone 7b, 47.041 Latitude] 41inches average annual rainfall, cool summer drought
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So I'm here in the process of turning 5 acres of silty sandy loam into a productive homestead. We get more than enough rain here, but virtually none of it during the heat of summer.

What I'm looking to do is to repeatedly sink as many roots as deep into the soil as I possibly can, turning the entirety of the usable soil depth into a high OM content sponge to hold the water rather than let it seep down into the water table dozens- if not scores- of feet below the surface.

I recall Elaine Ingham mentioning Ryegrass [I'm presuming she meant Perennial Ryegrass, but in this particular talk she didn't specify] with roots over 20 feet deep. I've heard the same for Alfalfa, but based on everything I've ever heard of it I'm fairly confident my soil is too acidic for that option.

It takes a polyculture to properly fill the soil-space, the more options I can find that sink roots at least 8 feet deep the better.

I will note that I'm not at all opposed to mass-planting tree seeds and then chopping them down in a few years either.
 
jimmy gallop
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Let me surprise you with corn being a deep rooted cover crop for summer(a lot of fodder) with clover and beans/peas dikaon radish maybe some winter squash,sorghum
as for the rye,elbon rye in winter,with turnips,more dikaon radish,mustard's,rutabaga,collards
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Color me surprised indeed. I thought I had already looked corn up as not being deep enough, but perhaps that was sweet corn I was looking at. It barely meets my preference of at least 8 feet deep, but Field Corn does indeed meet the bar, with a nice bushy rootsystem at that.

Winter Squash is known for its sprawling rootsystem, but upon doublechecking the roots do apparently penetrate down to 6 feet or so. Not as deep as I'd prefer, but quite deep and with a lot of overall volume and spread.

Already knew about Daikon [Fukuoka spoke a lot about that method in his book] but it is true that the deep part of a Radish's root system is basically a single spike, with the bushy branching restricted to the upper few feet of soil. One more tool in the belt of course.

Can you elaborate on why you specify the Elbon Variety of Rye? This is the first time I've heard of it.
 
jimmy gallop
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Elbon rye a product of the noble foundation from what i understand.
it is planted in the fall and accumulates plant nutrients and minerals keeps them from washing away with winter rains

works to take care of the bad nematodes

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/earthkind/ekgarden26.html

produces a lot of biomass in the spring

http://www.netfc.com/general_fall_seed_planting_guide.html

I use It every year
you do want something with deep roots but your main soil building and water retention will lay in what is left on top
https://www.google.com/search?q=elbon+rye&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8
It was made for the south but I bet It works in the north also I have seen It frozen for days and comes out alive and well.
I hand pick and graze it with chickens for winter greenery along with Cole crops planted all togather
 
jimmy gallop
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another good sight
http://www.soilfoodweb.com/Cover_Plants.html
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Thanks for the links Jimmy, looks like its time for more research.

I would like to address one point you made though:

you do want something with deep roots but your main soil building and water retention will lay in what is left on top

I'm of the opinion this largely depends on the soil you're working with. In high clay-content soils miracles happen when large amounts of mulch breaks down on the surface.

In sandy soil, the broken down mulch captures what water it can... and then the rest of the water falls straight through to the water table.

My objective here is to stuff as much Organic Matter as deeply into the soil as I can to create a deep layer of Organic Soil, similar to what was found in the American Great Plains [and summarily destroyed.] Part of that was indeed top-up soil building from trampled plant material and fecal accumulation, but many prairie plants sink roots more than 10 feet deep, and every time the top gets eaten the bottom sloughs off root matter, and every time a plant dies the entire root mass turns into microbe food.

Top building is easy, I could even import that if I so chose. It's building from the surface down that I'm trying to focus on with my plant selection.
 
Lou Schultz
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Location: Zone 5a Upstate NY
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Harvey Ussery wrote an article for Mother Earth News about summer cover crops, and mentions that cowpeas reach 'almost' 8 feet deep. They seem to be heat lovers, so I don't know how well they'll perform in the northwest. I've never grown them myself. Here's the article:

http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/gardening-techniques/summer-cover-crops-zm0z14aszsto.aspx?PageId=1
 
R Ranson
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Cow peas don't usually perform as a crop in these parts. Something to do with the daylight hours being too long in the summer for the seeds to set. But good as a cover crop, I'm told. Carol Deppe talks about this crop also not doing well in Origin, so I'm guessing WA will have the same issues. There is, apparently, one cowpea that will grow in these parts, Deepe mentions it in her book Resilient Gardener (but I can't remember what it's called - early north southern lady?)

Have you thought about amaranth as an addition to your soil building programme? Deep roots, easy going with soil quality, if it can get a foothold in the spring, does great during the drought of summer. I have great success with it in my garden. A bit too successful as it self seeds easily. If you can get your hands on a red grain amaranth (like Burgundy Grain) then you can tell it apart from Amaranth like weeds. I don't know if it's true for all varieties; however, I've found that the amaranths grown mostly for their grain (opposed to ornamental) have the deeper roots. My amaranth roots reach deep into the hardpan, much further than anything else I grow.

Leaves of the amaranth are great cooked like spinach when young, with one like Burgundy Grain, the massive flower blooms make good money selling to florists. Seeds are delicious when popped in a dry pan.

If you were on this side of the 49th, I could send you some seed... but alas, there's something broken with sending seeds into the US at the moment...


Then again, re-reading this thread... corn, squash, pea/beans... sounds like you need a year growing the three sisters. Scarlet runner roots go almost as deep as my amaranth.
 
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