Cover cropping in Molino’s orchards

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Well established cover crop- peas, vetch, barley, and oats. Planted more than a month ago with our low-till harrow, then irrigated to germinate while the days were longer, warmer. Now, we’re getting good growth.ccrop sm

They say the trick to maintaining soil fertility is to get the cover crop in early enough to have established root systems to capture nutrients that would otherwise get leached out by the heavy winter rains…helps to keep the streams and ground water cleaner, too!

Now, we’ve got 18″ grasses with pea and vetch tendrils grabbing blades, headed skyward. The thick carpet of growth is protecting the soil, keeping the winds from drying out the soil and the sun from the earth- cooler, moister ground making for excellent soil ecosystem conservation- closer to the natural condition of our soils. After 7 years of early cover cropping, this is the first year that we’ve seen deeper green cover crop than the surrounding fields: wow, this is a long term experiment!

Come spring, we sickle bar mow the cover crop, twice. The first cutting gets raked into the understory of the trees. In the photos, you’ll see big islands of mulch under the avocados, long mulch rows in the understory of the cherries. This light mulch rides up high on piles of brush placed in those same places all winter- woodsy mulch for the fungal mats we are cultivating to feed the trees.

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The second cutting gets left in place, covering the ground and waiting to be the mulch that covers the cover crop seeds in the fall.


Mulch Hypothesis

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The many hundreds of loads of long-cut grass mulch we are hauling will last the rest of the summer under the trees, slowly breaking down with misty microsprinkler irrigation to feed the ‘shredders’ whose frass litters the soil surface then earthworm food, worms incorporating it deeper through macropores lubricated with their slime, roots intertwined with wormholes and decomposing grass parts shrouded by fungal threads a white net through the soil, connected to roots, the web of food and moisture retrieval weaving together Earth’s air, water, and soil. A rich mushroom smell wafts through the orchards as the trees grow green and strong. We are a mulch farm and fruit is our reward.