Cover Up This Winter With Frost Seeding
A producer recently emailed me asking about "frost seeding" winter wheat as a cover crop. What is the best way to seed it? How late is too late to seed?
Like many things, there's not one answer to this question. You can drill it, broadcast, or broadcast and incorporate lightly. As a cover crop, I recommend 1 bushel (60 pounds) of wheat seed per acre for drilling, 80 to 90 broadcasting without incorporation and 70 to 75 pounds when broadcasting with light incorporation. Your method depends on what kind of stand you want and how even you want the distribution.
The soil has to be in fit condition for drilling or light incorporation. While the soil can set up and freeze so you can't do any deep tillage, the top 2 inches often remain in good enough shape for working with a drill or shallow disking, especially in a dry year such as this one.
You will get the best stand with the least amount of seed with drilling because of better placement and seed-to-soil contract. Broadcasting and incorporation with a shallow disking or rotary harrow will do a good job. Straight broadcasting is hit or miss and works better over soybean stubble (more ground contact) than over cornstalks where a lot of seed will never touch the soil because it is sitting on top of the residue.
Personally, I would never do a straight broadcast over cornstalks even though I have met other growers who are satisfied with this simple and fast approach. I often wondered if you broadcast and have cattle run over the cornstalks trampling seed into the soil - could this make all the difference?
How late can you seed? The latest I have ever seeded is Dec. 20 when the snow finally settled in and stayed. Timing doesn't make a big difference after Oct. 1 in my neck of the woods (northeast Nebraska). You are not going to get much fall growth regardless of whether you plant on Oct. 15, Nov. 15 or Dec. 15. What is important is the growth starts sometime in February as the soil begins to warm and then really takes off in March and April, achieving the results I want out of a cover crop.