I don’t know about where you live, but here in Fairfield, Iowa, we have SNOW on the ground. Not much, mind you, but enough for us to know that winter is on the way!
Winter may not seem like the time when we turn our thoughts to the soil, but just because it ends up being covered by a blanket of snow, doesn’t mean it should be forgotten until the spring thaw. We prepare our homes for the chill of winter – we have our furnaces checked and maybe put plastic on some of our windows; we go through our closets and make sure they’re stocked with plenty of sweaters and long-johns. And, farmers, too, think about how to best prepare their land for this time in between when the current crop is harvested and the next one is planted.
I had an opportunity recently to listen to a few farmers share how they prepare their land for the winter months. It was a field day put on by an organization called “Practical Farmers of Iowa” and it was done in conjunction with Iowa State University Extension. The subject matter of the field day was the utilization of cover crops.
Now, I realize that cover crops aren’t necessarily suited to every region or climate. As a means to deal with issues of compaction, farmers in regions further north – such as Minnesota and northern Iowa – have the help of Jack Frost to bust up any compacted areas through the expansion of the frost in the subsoil.
But, cover crops are an interesting alternative for farmers who don’t have that little boost from Jack Frost. The cover crops are planted late in the fall, sometimes with the seeds actually being applied before the current crop is even harvested. Then, in the spring, depending on the crop that was planted, it is either harvested and sold or simply killed off prior to planting the spring crop.
Along with helping to deal with soil compaction, the root systems of cover crops help keep the soil in place when the snow melts in the spring. The root systems are also a great aid in nutrient reduction, providing a natural filter system beneath the soil.
There are so many ways that soil health can be preserved, and even enhanced, even during the winter months. It was exciting to listen to how some folks are using a time of year that we don’t typically think about “tending the land” and actually using that time to add value to their land.
It hearkens me back to a blog post from a few weeks ago about being Mindful, Aware, and Deliberate. That post had to do with my daughter’s safety as she makes the journey from home to school each morning. But, every aspect of life ought to be approached with the same kind of deliberation, including our approach to caring for the land even during a time when it seems to be dormant.
May you find sweaters to your liking in your closets as we enter this beautiful, and chilly!, season.