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Plant cover crops for improved soil health you can smell

It is late winter and you are driving down some old back road, sing along to the radio, “Ooooh that smell, Can’t you smell that smell, Ooooh that smell, The smell of death surrounds you,” when suddenly the song takes on a new meaning.

What is that smell you wonder? Rotten eggs, a gas leak, your vehicle companion?

The answer might surprise you. It is radishes, and the smell of death does surround you, but don’t worry, it is not as grim as it sounds.

Every fall more and more farmers are reaping the benefits of planting cover crops, including radishes, and the unpleasant odor comes from the decomposition of the radish as it dies.

The benefits of planting radishes are both economical and environmental.

One reason farmers, especially organic and no-till famers, have grown to like radishes so much is for their ability to perform “bio-tillage.” When planted early enough in the fall, the radishes produce a root long enough to actually disturb or break up the soil as much as 12 inches deep, with finer roots extending as deep as 3 feet.

This is a great way for farmers to deal with compaction issues while taking advantage of numerous other soil health benefits the radishes provide. Other benefits include increased water infiltration and improved drainage from all the holes left behind, resulting in reduced soil erosion and runoff leading to improved water quality of our streams and rivers.

Radishes are also great scavengers of nutrients, especially residual nitrogen leftover from summer crops. Phosphorus and potassium are also taken up by the radish, and as the radish decays from winter kill, it releases these nutrients in a useable form for next year’s crop, saving the farmer money in fertilizer costs and also increasing crop yields.

Radishes are also a great form of weed suppression, which results in reduced herbicide use by the farmer, boding well for both the farmers’ bottom line and the environment.

As you are driving down the road this winter or early spring and you “smell that smell,” remember things are not as bad as they smell.

You can also take comfort in knowing that the smell usually only lasts about three days or so.

For more information on cover crops, contact Josh Hannah, agricultural resource conservation supervisor with the Berks County Conservation District, at 610-372-4657, ext. 202

 


Source: Berkshire mont

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