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.

Estimating Nitrogen & Dry Matter from Cover Crops - Cover crops are used by many farmers, but very few know how much nitrogen (N) or dry matter they are getting from their cover crops. There are some methods in the literature for estimating cover crop contributions. We are evaluating these methods in on-farm WSARE-funded trials in the Northern Willamette Valley to find the most practical and accurate method for use on farms.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Keep the Compost Cooking -  Manure and bedding collects rapidly on most livestock farms, especially in the winter. Instead of pitching the waste out the back of the barn, consider turning the materials into a valuable, usable product. Compost. If an active compost pile is started now, by spring you may be pleasantly surprised with compost that may be incorporated into the vegetable garden or flower bed, applied to pastures or used as mulch.