When I wrote my last blog, we were just starting to work up about 15 acres of older ag fields in Eastern Wake County at our Walnut Hill Nature Preserve. A lot of prep work went in to getting these old fields ready to plant a cover crop of vetch, clover, annual ryegrass, and winter pea.
At 7 AM on November 18th, the silence of the morning was interrupted out at Walnut Hill as the Deere came to life. I rumbled into the field as the sun was slowly rising above the trees. The perfectionist inside me wanted to plant the crops in the most perfect rows across the 3 separate fields designated for the cover. I must have learned plenty from watching my dad lay out fields of strawberries growing up because my rows ended up just like his, as wavy as a flag blowing in the wind. 3 chilly hours later, the seed drill ran empty almost perfectly on the 15th acre.
In a few weeks, there should be plenty growing out there in the fields. Scientifically, cover crops have so many excellent benefits to make an agriculture operation more sustainable. One of the most important jobs for cover crops is to put nitrogen back in the soil. If you take a trip back to science class, you may remember talking about nitrogen fixation which takes atmospheric nitrogen (N2) and converts it into ammonia (NH3). The “fixed nitrogen” becomes the principal source of nitrogen for future crops to grow well. It is a sustainable way to fertilize your soil and is a popular method in organic farming operations in our state. Furthermore, cover crops also help increase soil organic matter, increase soil porosity to promote better root growth, and will also encourage populations of soil microbes, micro- and macro-arthropods, and earthworms which all contribute to efficient nutrient cycling and soil structure improvements.
I’m super excited that this task has officially been checked off my to-do list and that the forecast for the future of farming at Walnut Hill is bright and sustainable! It’s a beautiful property, and be sure to stay in touch with us through our E-News so you don’t miss any special opportunities to hike or visit before it officially opens to the public. This is The Dirt- Tales from the Field. As always, feel free to send any questions my way at [email protected]!