Have you ever wondered how your cover crops would overwinter? Or, if you have ever wanted to plant green in the spring, how do you know what your field might look like before getting out the planter? The Ohio State University set out to find out the answer.

At the 2020 Farm Science Review earlier this August, a team of Extension educators planted multiple cover crop species, including forage turnips, clover, ryegrass, hairy vetch, radish, canola, regular turnips, balansa clover, sorghum, and oats. The team will be monitoring the cover crops over the winter to see how each species, except for the clovers, breaks down.

The first segment of this series discusses the benefits of cover crops. For geographies like Ohio with varying climate and frequently wet springs, soil erosion control is an excellent reason to consider using cover crops. Covers scavenge for nutrients and take up excess nitrogen (N), while legumes as a cover crop release small amounts of N.

Clover is one example of legumes used as a cover — in particular, red clover. This adaptive cover crop is an excellent weed suppressor that works well in different soil types while attracting beneficial insects, according to information from Michigan State University Extension.

Despite being interseeded during dry summer conditions, the clover cover crop came up quite well for the Ohio State University team, so they anticipate it will fix N over the winter and into the spring. Data from Michigan State University showed that red clover produces 70-150 pounds of N per acre. Clover yields up to 2-3 tons of dry matter per acre, so it also makes an excellent forage for livestock.

For those growers who are just starting to dabble in using covers, cereal rye is recommended as a great beginning cover crop species. This winter-hardy cover crop that also works well in various climate and soil conditions. A substantial amount of cereal rye biomass can be grown by spring, and it can be used for pasture, green chopping, silage or hay.

Radish is also suggested as a good cover crop to help break up soil compaction, earning the nickname “biodrills”. The crop can be used as forage for livestock or allowed to winterkill, so the radishes can contribute to a store of N for spring planted cash crops.

Keep checking back to see how these covers look over the winter months as future video segments are posted.