What the heck is a cover crop?

What the heck is a cover crop?

Soon, the olive grove at Capay Valley Lavender will come alive with brilliant green sprouts of oats, field peas, bell beans and the curly plant known as vetch. We use this beneficial cover crop to protect the soil from pests and erosion and to replenish it with nitrogen and other important elements. This week, Farm Engineer Richard and I planted 1,500 pounds of seed through our 10-acre olive grove. Yesterday’s vigorous rain storm means we can expect lovely green sprouts any day!

Over the years, I have learned quite a lot about beneficial cover crops through UC Davis, CSU Chico, and Sara Lipschutz, our very “own” soil conservationist from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Our goal? Create soil that produces a good yield of truly organic olives. Over the next five years, the exact mix of crops will change, of course. Our plants will tell us just what they need.

It’s an important part of the “circle of life” at the Farm. In Fall, we plant cover crops; in Spring, we cut and mulch them in place. Then, in early Summer, we disc them into the top soil as green “manure” and protection against the dry Summer heat. 

Another important part? Keeping our cover crop moist and growing. Every night, we think of changing a childhood chant to bring us good luck: “Rain, rain, come our way! Stay right here, another day.” We’ve done our part. Now, to be patient and see what Mother Nature provides. 

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