Two Cheshire County farms are among about a dozen around the state who have volunteered to serve as guinea pigs in the development of specialized cover crop seed blends. Windyhurst Dairy Farm in Westmoreland and Pete’s Stand in Walpole are trying out blends of cover crops that will serve specific needs of different types of farms and crops.
Cover crops are planted during parts of the year when a main crop is not growing. As their name implies, they keep the soil covered, but they also provide a number of other benefits, including:
Preventing erosion by rain and wind
Feeding the living organisms in the soil that help make nutrients available to the next crop
Harvesting and storing nutrients from the soil and air
Increasing the amount of rainfall that’s absorbed into the farm’s soil, reducing runoff to nearby streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds
The most widely used cover crop is winter rye, a cereal grain that grows vigorously in the fall and early spring. While it’s a great general purpose cover crop, its benefits can be enhanced by mixing it with other crops, such as:
Crimson clover, to harvest nitrogen from the air and make it available to crops
Daikon radish, to create channels deep in the soil to allow water to penetrate
Brassicas such as turnips and rape to hold onto soil nutrients over the winter
Oats, winter wheat, and barley to hold the soil in place through rains, wind, and snow melt.
Windyhurst and Pete’s Stand have set aside parts of their production fields to test specialized blends of cover crops that are intended to target the specific needs of dairies that grow silage corn, and for vegetable producers who harvest some of their crops a little earlier in the season. The New Hampshire Soil Health Working Group, with representatives of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA, UNH Cooperative Extension, the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts, Granite State Graziers, and agricultural professionals, will monitor the plots and get feedback from these operations about how these blends worked for them. That feedback will help the group develop better cover crop blends, which in turn will New Hampshire farmers build better soils. Thanks to Pete’s Stand and Windyhurst for cooperating with this effort!
Caption: Teresa Janiszyn’s hand spans nearly 8 inches of a daikon radish that was pulled from a test plot at Pete’s Stand where a special cover crop blend is being tested. These enormous roots -- which grew in less than two months -- leave pathways into the soil where water can infiltrate so it doesn’t run off into streams and rivers.
Caption: Less than a month after being planted, this cover crop mix is helping to hold soil in place during the heavy rainstorms at the end of October. This field is at the Cheshire County Farm where Windyhurst Dairy is testing a new blend of cover crops.