The Glory Has Departed


Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Explaining a Bit about Cover Crops


I knew about - but never considered the energy - added to the soil with cover crops. Let's look at it solely from the perspective of gardening, since I am not going to have a real farm.

Clover, grass, and dandelions have different root systems in the lawn. Clover builds usable nitrogen while harboring beneficial insects that need the nectar and pollen generated. Grass is a nitrogen user. Dandelions do not compete with shallow roots but sends down taproots so embedded in the soil that American Indians called them lawn nails.

My neighbor has  only grass and a few flowers in his front yard, with many bare areas eroded by heavy rains.

Our main rose garden has:

  1. Roses
  2. Mints - Mountain, Cat, and Beel Balm
  3. Dandelions
  4. Thistle - being dug out
  5. Buckwheat
  6. Burmuda grass - being dug out
  7. Spirea
  8. Crepe Myrtle
  9. Wild Strawberries galore
  10. Trumpet Vine
  11. Calladiums
  12. Lily-of-the-Valley
  13. Some hardy bulbs, like Daffodils, Giant Garlic
  14. Grape Hyacinth, and 
  15. Several years of mulch and pine needles.
The blooms never stop, so insects are plentiful. The soil is completely covered, so water erosion is slight, even on a downward slanting yard in heavy rains - the last one 12 inches.

If we look at one plant, the value of cover crops, crop residue, and mulch are obvious. Living plants, even humble ones, absorb and hold rain. The roots burrow into the soil and create networks with the fungi. That means the increase of plants and diversity will expand the fungal network and increase the soil creature activity.

That is akin to the earthworm bonus. Earthworms multiply faster in good soil, and worms make good soil even better. Like plants, they help while living and when dying.

In dry weather, which Springdale typically experiences at the end of summer, the clay soil turns white when exposed to sunlight. Mulch and plant life hold water and the roots reach down in the soil for more moisture.

Plants, roots, and soil creature hold much more rain and snow in the yard, compared to those who only like grass - and kill the bugs, weeds, and soil microbes.

In massive rains, the run-off should be clear rather than muddy. Taproots open the clay soil - with earthworm help - to take the water deep and draw it up in roots from lower levels. Shallow roots hold the soil in place, like a net. Every combination of roots will help in some way.

My mother asked why I left sunflower stalks up for the winter. I pointed out the birds perching on them, especially when the snow was deep. But the hollow stalks also provide a bed for solo bees and wasps during the winter, plus room for other bugs. Besides that, I like having big root systems rot away into the soil all winter and into the spring. 

Catmint stays in place (I hope) and
provides another hang-out for beneficial bugs.