Improving Soil Quality & Cover Crops

Even though different soils have some properties that cannot be changed, such as texture, soil quality can be improved by implementing good management strategies. Soils can be improved for water holding capacity, drainage, structure, and even the ability for plant roots to penetrate through the soil.

Improving Garden Soils with Organic Matter - This publication will help you understand the importance of soil organic matter levels to good plant performance. It contains suggestions for suitable soil amendments. Any soil, no matter how compacted, can be improved through the addition of organic matter. The result will be a better environment for almost any kind of plant.

Willamette Valley Soil Quality Score Card Guide  &  Score Card  - Farmers and other land managers need reliable methods to assess soil quality so they can make management decisions that maintain long-term soil productivity. A group of Oregon farmers has identified 10 soil quality indicators for the Willamette Valley that can assess the impact of soil management. The indicators are specific to the cropping systems of the Willamette Valley. Take a look at the guide’s preview and decide if it may be a good resource for you.

Building Soils for Better Crops - This publication is a practical guide to ecological soil management, now expanded and in full color. It provides step-by-step information on soil-improving practices as well as in-depth background—from what soil is to the importance of organic matter.

Cover Crops

Using Cover Crops in Oregon - Learn about the benefits and drawbacks of cover cropping and how to choose the right cover crop. Covers planting, relay interplanting, herbicide and pesticide considerations, conservation tillage, mowing, allelopathy, pests, and cover crop suppression and incorporation. Describes a method for estimating the nitrogen (N) contribution of cover crops to a following crop. Provides information on the varieties, environmental range, uses, dry matter and N accumulation, pest interactions, and management of 15 Oregon cover crops.

- Annyal Ryegrass
- Barley, Oats, and Triticale
- Buckwheat
- Cereal Rye
- Common Vetch
- Crimson Clover
- Fava Bean
- Field Pea
- Hairy Vetch
- Rapeseed
- Red Clover
- Subterranean Clovers
- Sudangrass and Sorghum- Sudangrass Hybrids
- Wheat

Cover Crops for Home Gardens - Cover crops planted in late summer are an inexpensive way to build better soil for gardening. Cover crops often are called green manure crops. They are grains, grasses, or legumes that will grow during fall and winter and that you can plow, spade, or till under in the spring.

Cover Crop Weed Suppression in Annual Rotations - Cover crops usually are not grown for harvest, but they serve many other functions in crop production systems. For example, they enrich soil with organic matter, they cycle nutrients, and they protect soil from water and wind erosion.

Nitrogen Scavenging: Using Cover Crops to Reduce Nitrate Leaching in W. Oregon - Willamette Valley field trials have shown that properly managed cover crops can reduce the amount of nitrate leached from soil to the aquifer below. Grass, cereal, and brassica cover crops that grow rapidly in fall and early winter extract nitrate from the soil and incorporate it into plant biomass before winter rains leach it below the root zone.

Cover Crop Dry Matter and Nitrogen Accumulation in Western Oregon - Cover crop selection and management depend on many factors, among them the cover crop's ability to accumulate dry matter and nitrogen. Dry matter provides energy for soil organisms, contributes to soil organic matter, improves tilth, and acts as a sink for nutrients.

Organic Cover Crops in Vegetable Systems - Cover crops are a locally grown source of organic matter and nitrogen and a weed management tool. Despite these benefits, many organic farmers have not adopted cover crops. This publication is an evaluation of different cover cropping systems, to help organic farmers determine how to best use cover crops.

Managing Cover Crops Profitably - This publication explores how and why cover crops work, and provides all the information needed to build cover crops into any farming operation. Along with detailed management information on the most commonly used species—including grasses, grains, brassicas and mustards, and legumes.

Northeast Cover Crop Handbook - This workbook will help you match your needs for soil-improvements with the best crops and management schemes for your particular situation. Two chapters help you identify the most appropriate application for your situation and how to assess the N effects from a cover crop, and Chapter 3 is a troubleshooting guide.

Farmers and their Innovative Cover Cropping Techniques - A 70-minute educational video featuring 10 farms from 5 northeastern states

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers - This production guide is intended for organic vegetable growers that rely on alternative fertilizer sources and soil improvement systems; however, all vegetable growers can implement soil improvement potential from the use of cover crops.

UC Cover Crop Resource Page - The report includes summaries of research projects related to cover cropping.

Midwest Cover Crops Council - Cover crops are plants seeded into agricultural fields, either within or outside of the regular growing season, with the primary purpose of improving or maintaining ecosystem quality. The goal of the Midwest Cover Crops Council is to facilitate widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest, to improve ecological, economic, and social sustainability.

Composting

Soils & Compost - Healthy soils can improve crop and livestock production. Check out the ATTRA website for several valuable resources.

Backyard composting - Gardeners have long made and used compost because of the way it improves garden soil. Today, home composting is a cornerstone of sustainable living. We transform yard debris and food scraps into a valuable soil amendment and close the recycling loop in our own backyard.

Oregon DEQ Compost Information - Composting contributes to Oregon’s waste recovery goals thanks to the efforts of commercial and agricultural composting operations and citizens who compost in their back yards. On this page you will find information on permits and permit applications, recent studies on quality issues, updates on the Department’s policy work, and links to lots of useful information on how to make and use compost.

The Compost Connection - Washington State University – Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources

Soil Quality Network

An information and resource network for soil quality activists!

Funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Professional Development Program, the Soil Quality Network is a three-year project to create a database, develop a website, and train agricultural professionals in soil quality assessment, education program development and strategies to support farmers.