As we all know, soils need nutrients to support the growth of healthy plants. The plants take up these nutrients and convert them into the food that we eat.
The process of continually withdrawing nutrients from the soil, however, makes crops perform poorly after several cycles.
Henry Ssekyewa, an agronomist, says soils, like people, need to rest periodically to restore fertility. But farmers often find themselves unable to let their fields stay fallow because of economic pressures.
Ssekyewa says it is true that soil fertility can be restored with the use of artificial fertilisers purchased from shops, though many farmers find these fertilisers very expensive, so they end up doing nothing about improving the status of their soil.
In some instances, where farmers are encouraged to make compost, they find it too cumbersome and abandon the practice after a few trials.
According to Ssekyewa farmers should not lose hope, “As a farmer you can improve your soil and increase yields by growing cover crops. The cover crop, also known as green manure, can fertilise, prevent weeds and add organic matter all at the same time.
It does not matter whether the garden is in the backyard or covers several acres of land-the benefits will be the same.”
Isaac Malinga, a famous farmer in Kapchorwa, says cover crops grow fast and develop in thick stands. He says they provide nutrients to the soil and improve soil structure.
At the appropriate time, cover crops are ploughed back into the soil while the plant is still green.
This is when the crop becomes “green manure”.
Cover crops are also good for the environment; legumes quickly cover the ground and protect the most fertile part of your soil from erosion caused by assailing winds and pounding storms.
According to Ssekyewa cover crops regulate soil temperature and provide conditions that allow important soil life to thrive, especially earthworms.
Ssekyewa also says earthworms are good at creating channels to break up and aerate the soil. When the blanket of green is ploughed back into the soil, it returns to the earth an abundance of organic matter essential to earthworms and other soil creatures.
These make the soils healthy and productive.
Legumes are unique because they transport nitrogen right out of the air we breathe into the soil. In the soil, bacteria convert it into a form that can be of benefit to all plants.
Farmers are encouraged to grow common legumes like ground nuts and common beans which are good for restoring soil fertility. It is a ‘win-win’ situation for the farmer.
Peas, which are highly nutritious, are very good for replenishing soils. Harvesting money in the following weeks will focus on the different peas that farmers can grow to earn a hearty profit and enrich their soils into the bargain.