Originally published November 26 2014
Plant this tasty winter cover crop to increase next year's vegetable yields with no chemicals
by Julie Wilson staff writer
(NaturalNews) Maintaining your fruitful garden, especially an organic one, can be a lot of work, but implementing this easy trick can help make it a success! With the season change comes colder temperatures accompanied by early morning frosts, and while the gardening work is beginning to die down, there's one important thing you can do before winter arrives to ensure a healthy growing season next year.
New research suggests that planting forage radish in the fall can result in a better yield next season, reduce unwanted weeds and even help revitalize the soil come spring. Scientists from the University of Maryland found that in "no-till, no fertilizer, and no herbicide farms, plots that grew forage radishes in the fall had a better yield of spinach in the spring versus plots that used an oat cover crop or had no cover crop," according to a report by Rodale News.
In a trial funded by Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE), organic spinach planted after the use of forage radish yielded 17,000 pounds per acre -- worth $34,000 at $2 per pound. Raised without tilling or fertilizer, the crop was "Not a whole lot of work," according to University of Maryland soil scientist Ray Weil, who conducted the research with graduate student Natalie Lounsbury.
"I don't usually think of silver bullets, but for planting early spinach I think we have one."
The yield wasn't quite as plentiful during the second year of experimental trials, presumably due to wetter weather, but the spinach still outperformed plots that used either an oat cover crop or no cover crop, reports SARE.org.
Forage radish fights weeds and increases plant's ability to extract nutrients from deep within the ground, study finds
Based on the study's results, scientists conclude that forage radish could be a promising alternative to tillage, a time-consuming weed control process that involves loosening compacted soil to prepare beds before planting. Tillage has also been known to damage soil.
"Too many tiller turns around the garden pulverizes the soil and destroys its structure," said Deborah L. Martin, author of Rodale's Basic Organic Gardening. "Tilling also reduces the organic matter content of your soil by speeding up decomposition of the soil's organic reserves. Tilling is also hard on earthworms--the whirling tines chop up some worms and leave others exposed to drying sun and wind."
Thick, broad leaves and quick growth allows forage radish to fend off weeds. Its white tap roots, which sometimes grow 8-14 inches underground, loosen the soil and help plants capture nutrients from deep in the ground. This prevents precious nutrients from washing away, instead allowing spring crops to absorb them.
Another advantage to using forage radish is that it dies during the winter, leaving little residue behind for the spring growing season. The channels created by the aggressive tap roots allow the soil to dry out and warm up after the plant decomposes, scientists say.
"Right now, forage radish seems to be the only cover crop that does all these things we need it to do," said Lounsbury.
Dave Liker, a diversified organic farmer who participated in the study, said he usually relies on tillage to manage his heavy, wet soils, particularly struggling with high-biomass crops like rye and vetch because of the time that it takes to germinate them, SARE.org reports.
"Cover cropping is really difficult to manage organically," explained Liker. "The following season, when we need to work the ground, we need to work the ground."
However, after using forage radish as a cover crop before planting spring no-till peas, he was quite pleased, adding, "It was the best crop of peas I've ever had."
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