Greenlander! Expanding the Use of Cover Crops in Organic Vegetable Farming

Though it may seem laborious to grow plants that will never be harvested, cover crops can bring many benefits to Canadian farmers. These include:

  • Improving soil structure and soil organic matter by keeping life in the soil at all times (even in the winter) 
  • Breaking up pest, weed and disease cycling  
  • Combating erosion 
  • Meeting crop nutritional needs with fewer inputs 
  • Reducing the ecological footprint of off-farm inputs 

Cover crops can be a worthwhile investment for any farm system. At the EFAO’s conference’s webinar: Greenlander! Expanding the use of cover crops in organic vegetable farming, sponsored by the Organic Council of Ontario, cover crop farmers and experts Jeff Boesch from Cedar Down Farm and Reid Allaway from Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm shared insights drawn from years of experience with cover cropping.

During the event, Reid and Jeff discussed the importance of cover crop diversification, where a farmer plants multiple species of  cover crops in the same field at the same time. This is done to ensure the survival of at least one of the crops should adverse weather conditions cause one species to fail. The added biodiversity boosts activity both above and below the soil and occupies every layer of the foliage canopy to maximize weed suppression. Cover crop diversification works especially well when a fast- and tall-growing cover crop like cereals is paired with a low-growing cover crop that likes germinating in the shade, like red clover. When the cereal grows tall it can be cut down to allow the clover to flourish, keeping the soil covered at all times and cutting total soil disturbance in half. For Reid and Jeff, this practice yields  limited weeds and fewer diseases or pests. 

Reid shared a few crop rotations and green manure schedules Tourne-Sol’s has tested for those wishing to experiment with their cover crop rotation.  

1-3 year Green Manuring, modestly contributes to SOM 

2-4 years Green Manuring- lots of contribution to SOM 

3-7 years Green Manuring profitable 

This panel included a discussion of proper equipment necessary for successful cover cropping. These ranged from the practical and inexpensive (hand-spinners cost roughly $50) to tools best suited to medium-sized business models (flail mowers cost anywhere from $1,000-$2,000) all the way up to large-scale operations (no-till seed drills are excellent but can cost as much as $20,000). 

For more information on climate-friendly agricultural practises, you can check out our new Organic Climate Solutions campaign.

This is just one of the amazing discussions that took place at the 2021 EFAO Conference. Eager for more? You can now buy a bundle of the all the 2021 EFAO session recordings here!

OCO would like to acknowledge our appreciation for the financial support provided by the Prairie Organic Development Fund and Agriculture and AgriFood Canada for this session as part of a ten part series of producer trainings!

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