One of the important principles of soil health is “keeping the soil covered”. You might hear this said a few different ways, such as “armor the soil”, “constant thatch”, etc. All in all, these are different variations of saying the same thing, and one of the big driving factors for no-till growing methods.
Keeping the soil covered allows the grower to slow rainfall down, reduce erosion risk (specifically when accompanied by a growing root), reduce soil surface temperature, increase water infiltration, and reduce water evaporation. Having this armor on the soil also will slowly break down, releasing nutrients to our growing plants (correct carbon to nitrogen ratios over cover crops and crop rotations play a big role here and with nutrient cycling, we can cover more of this in another blog).
So why does this matter?
As we keep our soil covered, and increase our duration of having a constant root growing in our soils, we increase our microbial (specifically fungal) networks in our soil structure. These fungal networks create biotic glues (glomalin) which further help to hold the soil together (aggregates). When you combine this with root structures in the soil, you have further created a porous soil structure for better water infiltration. You have also slowed down the raindrops before they are pounding into the top layer of the bare dirt (traditional deep tillage system) – this helps to heavily reduce erosion and even compaction! There have been studies that show rainfall on bare soil is a leading cause of compaction – mind-blowing!!
Now that we have the soil covered and we are taking advantage of all in the list above, we can increase water infiltration in our soils. This means that we are increasing water efficiency. So, in times of heavy rains, we are not having our water and soil runoff, as it is infiltrating which is allowing our plants to take full advantage of the available rainfall, far beyond the immediate time in which it fell. Likewise, in dry periods when having the soil covered we can reduce the soil temperature and reduce dew evaporation, allowing us to take advantage of even the smallest amounts of moisture that would otherwise be lost in a traditional system.
As we continue to increase the health of our system and soils through better microbial activity, we achieve better nutrient solubility, water efficiency, water infiltration, etc. We can continue to stimulate other microbial communications that further drive the synergistic nutrient cycling and symbiotic plant communications with the soils, making our soils and plants healthier.
Here at Vitalize Seed, we have come up with two mixes and plans for planting these mixes that help to drive all of these systems and soil health benefits. We fully believe in transparency and research and want to continue to share information about soil health, to allow our growers and customers to choose the best methods for their slice of heaven.
Thank you for considering Vitalize Seed as you cover crop seed source. We believe in diversity with a purpose.