Breaking new land- pasture to cover cropping

Hi there,

I’m about to break 1/2 acre of new land (hasn’t been touched in about 20 years)- from what I can see there’s a natural mixture of vetch, alfalfa, grasses, some mullein and thistle (but not much) etc. etc.-- main ultimate goal is to turn it into a market garden for next season, but looking to do some cover cropping first-

any advice for the transition- ? I’ve put tarps on some of it, but not all- wondering if it’s wise to plough + disk first, then go through with a bcs, then plant cover crops when the residue is incorporated? I really want to do a good job in preventing perennial grasses for the future.

any help would be awesome indeed!!! thanks

You have a tough decision to make.Your alfalfa and vetch are very good at keeping the soil open and they add nitrogen to the soil but the grasses will be a problem next year if not dealt with soon.A good job of plowing can turn everything under and if you cultivate it as it greens up you can eliminate much of the grass.However plowing may turn up old seeds [mustard] which can stay in the soil for many years just waiting for the right conditions to germinate.Also I do not like a disc as they can really break op the soil and help burn up organic matter.A cultivator can shake out the roots and level the ground without getting the soil too fine and are friendlier to earthworms.You mentioned a bcs which I am not familiar with.I think the tarp idea can work well if you leave them long enough and then seed cereal rye as a fall and winter cover crop.Dave…

From personal experience, I have had expectations that were too high in the past where I wanted to go into a new patch too quickly, and in retrospect I should have worked that patch for at least 2 years prior to trying to cultivate it. So my advice, as disappointing as it may be, would be to wait another year and take your time in making it just right for your subsequent crops. It’s tempting to go in quickly, but the weed pressure (both annual from the seed bank and perennial from remaining residue/roots) will make you regret that somewhat. Also, the longer you manage cover crops on that patch the better your fertility, soil structure and resiliency will be.

Having said that, if you do intend to get into it next year, tarping over doesn’t kill all perennials (I’ve also had that experience), but does a great job on annuals. However, as soon as you disturb the ground other seeds will come up and you’ll have to tarp it over again. I would cover crop quickly after disturbing the soil and make sure to smother out anything that germinates.

Let us know if you need advice that is more specific.

Good luck!!