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One of the consequences of a prolonged, wet winter is that our cover crops can get out of hand. Because the soils are too wet to drive the tractor on, we simply have to wait while the cover crops get taller and taller before things are dry enough for us to mow them down. Such was the case on our back field this spring. By the time we got around to mowing it down, it had produced so much biomass that it was impossible to incorporate it all. We simply did the best we could and then put that field on the back burner, planting into other fields while the microbes did their part to break the residue down.
Even though we had done our best to incorporate it, on the lower flanks of the back hill there were still patches of cover crop residue laying about on the surface like cured hay, and last week I witnessed an amazing sight there. As I was working around our greenhouse, one of the bald eagles that are nesting on the other side of our slough suddenly descended onto our back slope. It landed in a place that I couldn’t quite see from where I was, so I anxiously waited for it to take off again. I was expecting it to arise with a ground squirrel or a cottontail in its talons, but was surprised to see it take flight with a large clump of our cover crop hay!
What it was using it for I am not quite sure, but I’ve seen it return several times since then for more. We have witnessed the eagles working on their nest for what seems like months now and had assumed they had moved on to the other steps in the procreation process. Maybe it is using the hay as a final, soft layer in the nest, or possibly as insulation around eggs that have already been laid. Whichever the case, it’s somewhat gratifying to know that our cover crops are serving such a noble cause. I would normally object to the removal of residue from the field, which, after all, defeats the very purpose of a cover crop. But in this case I will make an exception.
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