Dateline: 7 September 2016
That familiar saying, "out of sight, out of mind," applies to plant roots in the garden. But I'm persuaded that roots are something that a gardener should think about more often. After recently posting Oats After Onions I've been contemplating oat roots in particular.
The picture above comes from the 1926 book, Root Development of Field Crops, which is an agronomic classic (click the link to read the book online). Here's an excerpt from the book about oat roots...
"Oats have a system of profusely branched fibrous roots which are very similar to those of spring wheat. This is true not only at maturity but in all stages of their growth. The roots develop rapidly, those of the primary system reaching a depth of 6 to 8 inches by the time the second leaf begins to appear. A lateral spread of 6 to 11 inches, a working depth of 2.5 feet, and a maximum depth of 4 to 5 feet are usual. Great masses of profusely rebranched roots fill the surface 2 feet or more of soil. Root habit varies greatly with soil conditions. The whole root system is sometimes confined by lack of water to the surface 18 to 24 inches of soil, but in deep, mellow, fairly dry soil, some roots penetrate to depths of over 6 feet."
In Will Bonsall's Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening Will Bonsall says the following about oats:
"Many years ago we discovered that oats were a perfect catch-crop (a short-season filler crop) for us: something we could easily sow in a single row where a crop had been removed, or in a whole bed or block of beds. For quick lush growth during cool weather, oats are hard to beat. When we planted an oat crop in late summer, it would grow rampant, often reaching knee-high before freezing out. You see, as perennials, winter wheat and rye recognize the coming of winter and stoically hang it up until spring. But oats—an annual—knows it can only stand so much cold before it succumbs, and so it makes a desperate attempt to reach maturity..."
Interesting. And furthermore:
"For me the fact that oats eventually winter-kills is a big plus. It does what I need: makes lots of soil-building biomass right up to the coldest weather and then conveniently dies, covering the soil with its residues. Come spring it's barely there, having significantly decayed during the winter. Few people appreciate how much life happens under that blanket of snow, more fungal than bacterial. Pity the land that lies bare to winter's breath!"My very first oat cover crop is coming along nicely. It will be interesting to see how tall it gets before the freeze. Here's a picture of my oats today...