The stand of rye into soybean stubble on Mike Andrew's farm near Rising Sun was nearly perfect. He had no-tilled it, and the stand was even and well-spaced. The only problem was that it seemed a bit small.
"He must have seeded it late," says Duane Drockelman, watershed coordinator for the South Laughery Creek Watershed in southeast Indiana. "It's an excellent stand, but it's just not very big yet."
As it turns out, Andrew seeded it several weeks ago. Cereal rye has one of the widest planting windows of any of the cover crops. Most experts say it can be seeded up until November 1, and still survive most winters.
"It just didn't take off very fast, but the stand is good," Andrew says. This is his first year to try cover crops, and he used various mixes and methods of application, depending upon the field and his purpose.
Drockelman believes the rye will likely be big enough with enough root growth to survive winter easily. Sometimes the rye barely emerges and still survives. The key is how well it grows and how quickly it grows next spring.
Usually the problem in spring is catching it before it gets too big and knocking it down by killing it, Drockelman observes. It is a crop that can be a foot tall one week and seemingly four feet tall the next. Left unchecked it will grow even taller. Fortunately it is relatively easy to kill. Some people choose to plant into it and then kill it.
"I want to knock it down early," Andrew says. "Since I haven't done this before, the next big hurdle with my cover crops is killing them in a timely manner this spring."
The trick is to let them get big enough to grow enough roots to provide soil tilth and help improve soil health, while not getting so big that they create problems either with killing them, or interfering in the planter operation.
Drockelman suggests going after the rye when it's not much more than a foot tall. He says he would lean on the early side, especially since the farmer doesn't have experience in knocking down cover crops.