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Book Review: Managing Cover Crops Profitably

It's too early and too muddy to do much in the garden, but I can work on tending to those bare spots in our pasture. Working on that reminded me of a book I wanted to tell you about: Managing Cover Crops Profitably  published by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA.

I learned about this book from a video by regenerative agriculturist Gabe Brown. (I don't specifically recall which one, but if you are interested in soil building, head over to YouTube, search his name, and pick one - they're all that good). Those videos set us on a whole new approach to how we homestead. When he recommended this book I didn't hesitate to get a copy. It then became a valuable resource for the experiments Dan and I started late last summer:

The book is a collection of articles written by a panel of cover crop experts. It is geared toward farmers in the U.S. who are looking for alternatives for weed, pest, and erosion control on their farms. The techniques are applicable for anyone wanting to manage their land in ways that build healthy soil. The emphasis is on no-till, but also offers strategies for those either unwilling or unable to stop tilling altogether.

The first section is a series of articles spelling out the whys and how-tos of cover cropping. It introduces the reader to the specific benefits of cover crops, how to identify one's goals, and make a plan. For example, reducing pest or disease damage, increasing soil fertility and structure, improving crop yields, preventing soil erosion, conserving soil moisture, etc. Lot's of real-life examples are included in this section.

Charts come next. They are one of the strengths of the book, because they organize cover crop information visually. They include best cover crops by region, specific roles played by various cover crop plants, planting information, and charts listing their advantages and disadvantages.

Section two deals with specific information about many of the commonly used cover crops. It starts with nonlugumes: annual ryegrass, brassicas, mustards, sorghum-sudangrass, and small grains (barley, buckwheat, oats, rye, and winter wheat). Legumes are next with information specific for various clovers, cowpeas, field peas, vetches, and medics. Regional maps help the reader immediately decide if the plant is a good option for their location. Specifics include types and cultivars, best uses for forage and soil improvement, how to establish and manage (by region), and other species to mix with for good results.

Appendices tell how to test cover crops for chosen applications, a 3rd edition update on some of the newer cover crop species, plus resources for finding seeds, support organizations, and regional experts.

For me, the "profitably" isn't about money profit, but about success in reaching my goal of building healthy, productive soil. The more I study it, the more I realize how it isn't just dirt, it's the foundation of all living things.

The good news is that the book is a free download from the SARE website. You can choose online text, PDF, epub, or mobi (Kindle). It's also available for purchase as a paperback there. I took a look at the PDF and realized the information was useful enough to have a hard copy. It's been an excellent addition on my homestead library shelves. Highly recommended!

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