With cover crops, there's no "one size fits all.” Three on-line resources—one revised and two brand new—can help you find a cover to fit your crop rotation, solve agronomic problems and improve soil health.
Managing Cover Crops Profitably is the standard reference guide on the subject. The third edition includes new chapters on brassicas and mustards, a comprehensive chapter on using cover crops in conservation-tillage systems and six new farm profiles.
Updates throughout the 244-page book are based on more than 100 literature citations and consultations with researchers and farmers throughout the country. There also are lists of seed sources and cover crop experts. The book is published by the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.
Go to www.sare.org/publications/covercrops.htm to download the book for free or to order a hard copy for $19.
Among the growing number of cover crops, buckwheat remains a staple. Information in the Buckwheat Cover Crop Handbook, published by Cornell University, will fit growers throughout the northern half of the U.S., says Cornell horticulture specialist Thomas Björkman, who wrote the guide with colleagues Robin Bellinder, Russell Hahn and Joseph W. Shail Jr.
The information might be helpful to growers farther south, also, Björkman says; but with longer summers, those growers have additional cover crop options.
"Buckwheat is excellent for suppressing weeds, following crops such as vegetables or small grains that are harvested in the summer,” Björkman explains.
Information in the handbook came from surveys of growers, research publications and original research that were designed to answer new questions. "There is a lot of experience behind every one of the recommendations,” Björkman says.
The 18-page booklet fits in a pocket, and some instructions are printed on waterproof cards that can be kept handy throughout the growing season.
Order a copy of the handbook for $2.50 at https://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ store/catalog/; scroll down to "Featured Products.” Or you can download the handbook for free from Björkman's Web site, www.nysaes.cornell.edu/hort/faculty/bjorkman
. Scroll down to
"Information for Growers,” and click on "Buckwheat production guide and growers association.”
More specialized still is the Cover Crop Decision Tool, which Björkman created for New York vegetable growers. The information also should fit vegetable producers in northern Ohio, northern Michigan and southern Wisconsin, where conditions are similar.
"The tool provides cover crop choices for specific needs,” Björkman says. "For example, typing in ‘reducing surface hardness in a field to be harvested in mid-August' would result in hits for forage turnip and hairy vetch.
"The grower then describes his rotation. If the field were in cabbage the previous year, the tool would rule out planting turnips because it's too soon for another crucifer crop. So hairy vetch would be the grower's choice.”
The tool includes planting instructions and, for New York growers, seed sources and prices. It can be accessed at http://tinyurl.com/NYccTool.
You can e-mail Darrell Smith at