INDIANAPOLIS – There are several practices farmers can use to keep soils healthy this winter.
Eliana Blaine, soil health outreach coordinator at Marion and Hendricks County Soil and Water Conservation Districts, shared five ways to manage soils.
1. Capture and grow nutrients. “Grow cover crops in the fall and winter to scavenge nutrients from the growing season and make more nutrients accessible for the next vegetable crops,” Blaine said.
“Some cover crops are killed by winter temperatures, and require no spring management. Legume cover crops fix nitrogen from atmosphere and make it usable for the next crop.”
2. Know and manage nutrients. Perform an annual soil test of your farm or garden to help plan for spring management.
“Late fall is a great time to do a soil test, in order to get consistent readings that aren’t affected by growing crops,” Blaine said.
3. Reduce erosion. Cover the soils in your garden or farm to prevent fall and winter rains from eroding precious topsoil.
“There are many options for covers – living cover crops, hay and straw mulch, grass clippings, and leaf mulch,” Blaine said. “Each provides different benefits.”
4. Build and feed life underground. Feed microorganisms by growing diverse types of crops and cover crops.
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“The living plants and roots will give the organisms sugars and carbohydrates — and in turn the organisms will give your next crop more nutrients,” Blaine said. “Reduce fall tillage in order not to disrupt soils and kill underground life.”
5. Build organic matter. Building organic matter will help your garden thrive in the long term.
“It takes time and patience, and there isn’t just one way to increase organic matter,” Blaine said. “Mulch, cover crops, compost and feeding underground life all add organic matter, which in turn increases microorganisms and available nutrients.”
For more information, visit www.MarionSWCD.org.