Introducing multi species cover crops into citrus production is the most efficient and economical way to provide carbon, promote the biology and feed it in the soil.
We have been taught that weeds and plants in our groves compete with trees for water and nutrients. Science has proven that this is not always the case. In a healthy soil, with a diverse species of cover crops, these plants are exchanging and sharing nutrients with each other and our citrus trees. They are also mining lost minerals that have leached beneath the rhizosphere of our trees and bringing them back to the surface to be recycled. A sunflower root system can grow to more than six feet deep and recover minerals. Cover crops not only recycle by depth, but also have the ability to mine and recycle specific minerals. Some examples include:
This list could go on and on. In short, this is how it works. Plants including cover crops are photosynthesis machines. This process converts carbon dioxide and sunlight into organic acids and carbohydrates that the plant utilizes for its own energy. As part of this process, it also sends these organic compounds and carbohydrates out through the roots as exudates. These exudates are specific to each plant and change composition at every stage of root growth and development. This changing food source summons and stimulates specific microbiology to perform certain tasks such as solubilizing a needed mineral. The result is an increase in specific minerals available or in some cases the sequestering of excess minerals. Ultimately, these exudates serve as a food source for the biological community.
Unwanted weeds are simply plants that have adapted to the soil environment provided them. These soil environments can range from lacking certain biology, lacking specific mineral balance or mineral availability. As the soil profile changes to a healthier condition by implementing diverse beneficial cover crops, these unwanted “weeds” will recede. These multi species plantings will increase and diversify the microbial activity in the soil, all while lessening weed pressure by way of competition, shading, and releasing allelopathic chemicals.
Benefits of implementing multi-species cover crops at the research farm have included reducing weed pressures, building organic matter and shielding soil from excessive heat and evaporation. The most obvious benefit however has been attracting beneficial insects. This has kept rust mites, spider mites, greasy spot, sooty mold, scale, orange dogs, aphids, root weevils, and psyllids at extremely low populations.
Many people ask should we be striving for non-existent populations of these pests. The answer is NO! There needs to be some of these pests in the system as a food source to attract and promote the beneficial insects. The small percentage of damage caused by the pests will be offset by reducing the inputs needed to control them. The added benefit is that the beneficial foliar biology that will be spared is helping to keep many pests and diseases in check. For example, there are many different species of Hirsutella fungi. One species familiar to many growers controls citrus rust mite. There is also a species that attacks and mummifies the adult stage of the Asian Citrus Psyllid.
The ever-changing varieties and ratios of the cover crop plantings brings in an abundance of diverse beneficial insect species.
For every harmful insect, there are at least 1700 insects that are either neutral, beneficial, or necessary.