Showing posts from July, 2020

Late Summer Early Fall Cover Crops

Late summer and early fall are great opportunites to plant cover crops and improve soil health. Days are shorter, but with ample sunshine left and a little rain, cover crops grow quickly. Both summer annuals which die with the first frost and winter annuals can be grown. Legumes and clover which add soil nitrogen, all types of grasses for carbon, and brassicas to reduce soil compaction and reduce weeds all grow well at this time. After wheat, either bale or chop the straw and spray the weeds. Baling straw makes you more money than chopping straw. The high carbon content in wheat straw can reduce cover crop establishment and the by-products upon decomposition may be toxic to germinating cover crop seedlings. If possible, spray weeds with gramoxone (a dessicant) rather than glyphosate. Glyphosate reduces soil health and biology for several weeks and causes oxidizing microbes to make manganese unavailable while promoting Fusarium root diseases and weed resistance. Oats do the opposite, pr

What is Soil Health

Soil Health is a term that everyone seems to be confused about or have their own opinion. Soil health is about three things: soil organic matter (SOM), soil microbes and organisms, and plants. Good soil and soil health are dependent upon the interaction of these three things. Active shortterm organic matter are the root exudates, root carbohydrates (sugars) and microbial bi-products which produces good soil structure and is missing from most of our tilled soils. Soil microbes process nutrients to make them plant available and produce humus which is the long-term SOM. Plants and live roots supply the carbon, nitrogen and energy from sunlight to feed the microbes and to produce SOM. The end result is a rich fully functioning soil producing healthy dense food to feed livestock, humans and wildlife. What is the difference between good soil health and degraded soil health? I saw a dramatic difference at my father’s house. My father’s lawn gradually grew into the neighbor’s field. This year,

Phases of Water

Rainfall has been quite variable with some crops looking good while other areas still need rain. Corn yields will vary this year depending upon emergence, corn stands, and the weather. As Joe Nester says: “Do not over estimate your corn yields. Corn has had 10 darts thrown at it this year which may reduce yields!” Rain at pollination will be critical. New research shows that atmospheric bacteria (originating from plants leaf surfaces) allows water vapor in the clouds to freeze and the water droplets form ice crystals to generate rain, snow, and hail. Over 67 bacteria species have been found with 12 species forming ice crystals. In the tropics, it rains a little each day. Healthy soils improve the water cycle by keeping water circulating through the atmosphere and back through our soils and plants. In school, we were taught that there were three phases of water: gas (vapor), liquid, and ice. However, there are over 60 anomalies that these three phases of water can not explain. Look up M

Improving Soil Moisture

Soils are water reservoirs for crop production . Dr. Elwyn Taylor, Iowa State University climatologist reports that 200-bushel corn needs 19-23 inches of water during the growing season. For 200-bushel corn at 75O F (soil temperature), corn needs 1-acre inch of water per week, doubling to 2 inches at 85O F, and doubling again to 4 inches at 95O F. As soil temperature increases every 10O F, the corn plant’s water needs double. Keeping soil covered with crop residue and creating a good crop canopy greatly reduce soil temperatures. On a bare soil, soil temperatures may reach over 100O F, which has negative impacts on water needs, microbial populations, and nutrient cycling. Dr. Taylor reports that every 1 inch of fully and effectively used water is worth about 8 bushels corn, 3.5 bushels soybeans, and 6 bushels wheat. Effective rainfall is an extremely important concept. Imagine a slow steady 2-inch rain over several hours versus the same amount in 5 minutes. Soil has the ability to store