Tag: Cover Crops

Cover Crop Decision Tool
The Farm

Cover Crop Decision Tool

Cover Crop Decision ToolLooking for the right cover crop? Give this Cover Crop Decision Tool from the Midwest Cover Crop Council a try.

First select from one of the following states:

  • Iowa.
  • Illinois.
  • Indiana.
  • Kansas.
  • Michigan.
  • Minnesota.
  • Missouri.
  • Ohio.
  • Ontario.
  • Wisconsin.

Then choose options that take into account your growing conditions:

  • County (for frost/freeze date estimate).
  • Planting and harvest dates.
  • Drainage situation.

Finally, fine-tune your choices by noting your goals:

  • Increasing nitrogen levels.
  • Building soil.
  • Fighting erosion.
  • Fighting weeds.
  • Creating a new source of forage for grazing or harvest.
  • And more!

Once you’ve found a cover crop or two that meets your needs, click on the name of the crop to learn more about about its pros and cons, as well as its planting and termination requirements.

An easy-to-use way to choose the right cover crop for your unique growing conditions!

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers
The Garden

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers

Cover Crops for Vegetable GrowersCornell University has put together an excellent online guide called Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers.  While the seasonal information is tailored to conditions in New York, this site is still an excellent resource for Kansas country families.

Some useful general information comes first:

  • Reasons to consider planting a cover crop.
  • How to use cover crops to promote soil health.
  • Selecting the right cover crop for the season.

A handy decision tool helps you easily select and compare the cover crops that will work best for you based on management goals, planting time, and length of time the crop can stay in the field (remember to adjust the information to fit your frost dates).

But the centerpiece of the site is the guide to 17 cover crops useful to vegetable growers.  Each entry contains tips on planting, maintaining, and controlling the crops.

The information is concise and the site easy to use.  Kansas growers will have to make some adjustments, but Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers is still a highly recommended resource.

The Farm


HardpanHardpan can be the bane of a farmer’s existence.

Once a layer of hardpan forms, no water can penetrate the soil beyond that level.  Any moisture that reaches the hardpan layer will simply run off.

Furthermore, roots cannot enter the hardpan, either.  Once a probing root tip feels the hardpan, it will turn aside, directing root growth horizontally.  Or, worse yet, the plant will give up growing roots altogether.

This phenomenon can have two very detrimental effects:

  1. Shallow-rooted plants with poor drought tolerance.
  2. Wet fields that collect water on the surface, drowning plants.


Causes of Hardpan

Hardpan can form in a number of ways.  Sometimes it is a natural occurrence, while other times it is a manmade event.

Deposits are a major cause of hardpan in some areas.  Hardpan-forming deposits can include:

  • Sodium.
  • Dissolved silica.
  • Rust/limestone combinations.

Clay soils are particularly prone to hardpan problems because their particles carry strong negative charges, thus inviting bonding with other substances.  Acidic soils, which have a positive charge, have similar problems.

Any factor which tends to promote soil compaction can also help create hardpan.  Two common factors include:

  • Heavy machinery or livestock traffic.
  • Repeated plowing, particularly at the same depth every year.

However, soils can form hardpan without help from compaction.


Now What?

If you have discovered that hardpan is a problem in your soils, never fear.  The solution will take time, but there is hope nevertheless.

Your goal is to restore a capillary structure to the soil.  This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Break up the hardpan layer.  On a small scale, this is typically done with a broadfork.  On a larger scale, a variety of animal- or tractor-powered tools are available, such as rippers and subsoilers.
  • Plant a strong-rooted cover crop.  The ideal crop for this job will have the strength to force its roots into the hardpan and start to break it up.  Good choices for deep compaction include chicory, tillage radishes, sweet clover, medium red clover, and fall mustard crops.  For hardpan closer to the surface, consider annual ryegrass, hairy vetch, white clover, and forage turnips.
  • Work to build the level of organic matter in the soil.  Organic matter separates soil particles, preventing compaction.

Again, curing soils of hardpan takes time.  The more aggressively you pursue your soil improvement program, the faster you will begin to see results.


An Ounce of Prevention…

The key to avoiding hardpan is to preserve a lighter soil structure, and the key to preserving a lighter soil structure is to maintain soil health.

Healthy soils are well aerated.  Plant roots burrow through the soil, keeping it loose and setting up a flow of nutrients.  Organic matter keeps soil particles apart and retains just the right amount of moisture.  Earthworms build tunnels, improving aeration still further.

The soil is a wonderful ecosystem.  Fortunately, there are many ways that farmers can maintain that ecosystem:

  • Grow cover crops to keep soil particles spaced with roots.
  • Spread manure to add bulk to the soil and promote earthworm activity.
  • Keep livestock and vehicles out of soggy fields to prevent soil compaction.
  • Practice no-till farming to avoid disrupting the existing soil capillary structure.


Preventing and dealing with hardpan doesn’t have to be complicated.  The same principles that apply to maintaining soil health in any other situation apply here.

Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
The Garden

Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic GardeningThis old classic just keeps on going! Fruits, vegetables, herbs, ornamental plants—it’s all here, along with a diverse array of natural gardening tips and techniques.

The current edition of Rodale’s well-known work is Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, and it still contains a wealth of knowledge.

Handy growing advice for a wide range of plants is included. Equally helpful is the A-to-Z discussion of key natural gardening topics:

  • Butterfly gardening.
  • Companion planting.
  • Crop rotation.
  • Greenhouse gardening.
  • Kitchen gardens.
  • Landscaping.
  • Seed saving.
  • Weather lore.

While the some of the old content has been pared back to make room for new information, gardeners will still find this edition to be a handy addition to the bookshelf. It can serve either as a go-to reference for beginning gardeners or a problem-solving help for somewhat more experienced green thumbs.

Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening places concise answers to your gardening questions right at your fingertips. It is a book you are sure to refer to over and over again. A must-have for every organic gardener!