After you say it a few times, “erraticization” starts to roll off the tongue, and I think it’s a pretty good word to describe the weather patterns we’ve been experiencing. Long Island had record-setting rains last week (>13″ in 24 hours), and here in Maine we’ve been getting a 4″ rain event just about every week, it seems.
These extreme rain events can lead to really bad erosion when precipitation rates exceed infiltration rates. In the long-term, we need to think about management strategies to deal with erratic and extreme weather. In the short-term, what about finding some niches on the farm where cover crops can lessen the damage?
Cover crops between rows and under standing cash crops
By this point in the season, many crops are well enough established that a cover crop between the rows or into the standing crop will not compete significantly. Plasticulture (or non-plasticulture) strawberries are a perfect crop for interseeding a winterkilled cover crop. Many late brassica cash crops are ideal candidates for undersowing or interseeding cover crops as well. Waiting until the cash crop comes out of the field might leave you with only one choice of cover crop: winter rye. Undersowing a cover crop now increases your cover crop options and the fall biomass production of the cover crop, and lessens the possible erosion damage from intense rain events.
Interseeding can increase beneficial insect populations. Check out SARE’s publication on intercropping for pest reduction. Effects on pests are only one consideration when deciding when, how, and what to intercrop/interseed. For more information on all the factors to consider before interseeding, read Chapter 7 (starts on p. 95) of this book (a free download).
Interseeding can raise all the management issues of cover cropping systems in general (plus more!), but as the weather gets more erratic and more extreme, it may become an essential soil-conserving tool.