The educational materials listed on this page are about Cover Crops.
What is a cover crop? A common definition of a cover crop is a plant that is used as part of a crop rotation to improve the soil, scavenge or add nutrients, smother weeds and as a tool for erosion control. Cover crops are not harvested, but are left in place in no-till farming or turned under, especially in organic farming. Another term for cover crops is green manures, especially when the crop residue is incorporated into the soil.
Cover crops can improve soil fertility by adding organic matter, and they help in nutrient management planning by adding nitrogen to soil or by taking up nutrients in soil after cash crop harvest. Winter cover crops are most common in corn and soybean grain production systems, while spring cover crops or summer cover crops can fit many vegetable production systems. Cover crops improve soil moisture, especially over time as soil organic matter and soil tilth are improved.
Cover crop cocktails are used by many farmers as a way to improve soil health. Cocktails or cover crop mixes usually include a grass cover crop such as cereal rye or annual ryegrass, a legume cover crop like crimson clover or hairy vetch, and sometimes a brassica cover crop like forage radish, sometimes called “tillage radish.” Cover crop benefits from cocktails are often greater than seeding a single cover crop species. Cover crop mixes contribute to pest control by attracting beneficial insects and they may increase weed control by providing more ground cover and leaving more crop residue on the soil surface. Some cover crops can mitigate plant disease by suppression soil pathogens. Cover crop cocktails also attract pollinators, including native pollinators.
Cover crop seed is increasingly available from seed companies. They may also be able to help you with information about cover crop selection as well as best timing and methods of planting cover crops.
Some SARE books will help you decide how and when to grow cover crops. Managing Cover Crops Profitably, Crop Rotation on Organic Farms, and Building Soils for Better Crops are comprehensive guides or manuals. Another useful resource is the SARE topic brief Cover Crops for Sustainable Crop Rotations, which summarizes the usefulness of rotating cover crops in any cropping system. For organic farming, see the Organic Transitions business planning guide.
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Cover Crops for Soil Health Workshop
All session recordings and slide presentations from this three-day professional development workshop are available online. Hosted by Northeast SARE and Delaware State University in March 2016, this event addressed the latest research on the benefits and successful management of cover crops in grain, vegetable and animal production systems.
Cornell Soil Health Assessment
The Cornell soil health assessment was created to help farmers develop appropriate management solutions to build healthy soils. Focusing on soil health helps improve productivity, reduces the need for external inputs, and increases a farm's resilience to extreme weather events.
Successful Farming Practices in the Face of Climate Change
This article was reprinted with permission from Green Energy Times, a periodical that advances the opportunities at the intersection of business, technology and sustainability. When farmers and growers throughout the Northeast go to work, they know they will face unpredictable weather. After all, Mark Twain’s adage, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, […]
A Practical Guide to No-Till and Cover Crops in the Mid-Atlantic
No-till and cover crops are among the most cost effective tools to reverse soil and carbon loss and improve soil health; the economic, agronomic and environmental benefits of these practices are well known within the farming community. Transitioning from conventional farming to no-till, and incorporating the use of cover crops, requires a higher level of […]
New York Cover Crops Decision Tool
This is an online tool to help you quickly narrow the choices of cover crop for your situation. In a few seconds, you will have growing instructions for the cover crop that will do the job you need. Access the Cover Crops Decision Tool now. It is designed for the soil, climate, cropping practices and […]
New Online Tool Helps Farmers Make Cover Crop Decisions
The Northeast Cover Crops Council (NECCC) recently released an online tool designed to support farm decision-making around cover crops. The Cover Crop Decision Support Tool is available at no cost at: http://covercrop.tools/. It includes a Cover Crop Explorer that provides in-depth information on more than 35 cover crop species. It also has a Species Selector […]
Northeast Cover Crop Decision Support Tool
The Northeast Cover Crops Council (NECCC) has created an online tool designed to support farm decision-making around cover crops. The tool includes a Cover Crop Explorer that provides in-depth information on more than 35 cover crop species. It also has a Species Selector that assists users in selecting individual cover crops based on plant hardiness […]
Crediting Cover Crops and Soil Organic Matter in a Variable Rate Nitrogen Fertilizer Prescription
Crop growth depends on available nitrogen (N) in the soil, much of which comes from mineralization of soil organic matter and other organic residues, such as cover crops. The amount of mineralized N available to a crop depends on several biological and environmental factors such as temperature, moisture, soil texture, the total quantity of organic […]
Cover Cropping on Vegetable Farms in Northern New England
This bulletin, authored by Heather Darby and her staff at the University of Vermont Extension Crops and Soils Team, provides basic information on cover crop strategies for vegetable farms based in northern New England. It addresses cover crop benefits and challenges; cover crop selection, seeding option planting dates, termination options; and additional resources. The bulletin […]
Cornell team digs into cover crops as livestock feed
Cornell University agronomist Quirine Ketterings conducted her Northeast SARE Research and Education project to better understand the incorporation of winter cereal cover crops— triticale, winter rye and wheat—into silage corn rotations. This double crop system enables farmers to provide both corn and cover crops as livestock feed. Because growing cover crops as dairy forages means […]
Beyond Black Plastic
This publication explores sustainable, organic mulches such as cover crops and no-till and reduced tillage systems as alternatives to black plastic mulch for weed control. The booklet includes a discussion of the impact of organic mulches on soil quality and fertility, weed control, yields and waste production, and profitability for small to mid-size vegetable operations.
Native bees and flowering cover crops
While managed colonies of European honey bees are most frequently used for crop pollination, wild or native bees commonly provide the same pollination services for ‘free’ without the costs of renting or maintaining honey bee hives.
Buckwheat Cover Crop Handbook
Buckwheat has been used to suppress weeds on Northeastern farms for 400 years. This handbook outlines how to use buckwheat as an economical weed-control tool, with recommendations based on extensive grower surveys, original research and on-farm trials.
A series of eight handbooks for new farmers or established producers seeking to transition to organic or improve their current practices. Print only; order from Chelsea Green.