There was a break in the rain in early December and we took the opportunity to plant some cover crops in the moist soil.
At Frog Hollow Farm, we let whatever is in the seedbed flourish as cover crops. But we also intentionally put seeds in the ground that will work alongside the wild grasses.
As humble as cover crops appear to be, they play a major role in our regenerative farming practices and our work to offset the effects of climate change:
- Reduce runoff and erosion
- Combat soil compaction
- Add organic matter to the soil
- Keep nutrients, such as carbon and nitrogen, in the soil
- Foster the microbes that feed our trees
- Keep the soil porous and trap water in the soil
- Attract beneficial insects and wildlife
In December, we used a seed drill to plant a fast-growing mix of beans, peas, oats, barley and vetch in our orchards. Each of these plants serves a different purpose. Beans, peas and vetch bring atmospheric nitrogen into the soil in a form that trees can easily take up. This is called nitrogen fixation. Beans, peas and vetch also produce flowers that attract pollinators. And barley and oats have deep roots to prevent soil erosion. The root hairs of all of these plants encourage microbial growth that keeps our soil healthy.
New and distracting flowers
In farming, we’re always taking lessons from nature. Last season, the Dapple Dandy pluots were overrun with aphids. The yield was 70 percent less than in 2021. And some of the Warren pears’ leaves were turning yellow early in the season. We think it’s nitrogen deficiency. So, this year, we’re trying something new:
- In the Dapple Dandy orchards, our agronomist Gregg Young suggested we plant sweet alyssum under the trees to distract the aphids and keep them on the ground. The alyssum will also attract insects that prey on the aphids. We seeded the alyssum by hand on the orchard berms.
- In one of our Warren pear orchards, Gregg suggested we plant burr clover. This plant fixes nitrogen (draws nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil), so we’re hoping to add more N to the soil and hopefully see a change in the Warrens’ yellowing leaves. We also seeded the burr clover by hand on Warren berms, and plan to drill it into the orchard middles this week.
Nature will take it from here!
Helping hand from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
We work with the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service – our local office is in Concord – to apply for conservation dollars that help us buy and plant cover crops on 54 acres. We focus on orchards planted after 2017 because these younger orchards had been worked using conventional methods in the past. Heavy tillage and use of chemical inputs may have degraded the soil. Now that the acreage is part of our farm, it’s our job to regenerate the soil and bring it to optimum health.
When we intentionally plant cover crops, we’re investing in soil health and the long-term benefits that these plants will bring. Cover crops don’t produce fruit, or anything we can eat, but they help our soil feed our trees. It’s a regenerative cycle. Healthy soil feeds our trees. Healthy trees produce legendary fruit. And regenerative farming makes our orchards a better place for the people working the land.