Green manure
Thick bright green annual rye, ready to be turned back into the soil as a “green manure” cover crop.

It happens right about this time each and every year. As the snow begins to pile up and the bone chilling cold sets in – many gardeners (including us!) start to turn their thoughts and eyes to the beautiful seed catalogs arriving in the mail. As we thumb through the pages, each filled with incredible pictures that can make even our least favorite vegetable look tasty – our thoughts begin to turn to all of the wonderful things we will attempt to grow next year!

However, before dropping those wonderful seed selections into the soil next season – there is one thing you can plant first in the early spring that can help all of those crops grow to their full potential – A Green Manure Crop!

So what is green manure? In short, it’s the term given to a cover crop that is grown specifically to be turned right back into the soil to replenish valuable nutrients and organic matter.

Growing and digging in a bright green cover crop has the same effect and benefits as adding tons of compost and manure to your soil. In its fresh and growing green state, a cover crop such as annual rye, buckwheat or clover is loaded with valuable nitrogen and additional nutrients.  Once turned over, the green manure crop starts to break down – and slowly releases its energy back into the soil to provide those nutrients for the new crops all summer long.

Planting the Crop:

Annual Rye makes a great green manure crop - germinating quickly and growing a thick vibrant green cover.
Annual Rye makes a great green manure crop – germinating quickly and growing a thick vibrant green cover.

In early spring, as soon as the soil begins to thaw enough to rake the surface (Usually mid March or early April here in Ohio), sow a generous amount of cover crop seed on your garden or raised bed soil.  

Annual Rye and buckwheat are excellent choices for green manure crops because they can germinate and begin growing in as little as 7 to 10 days. Within a three to four week time frame, you can have a thick stock of growing “green” manure” for your soil.  

Then, a few days before you are ready to plant your main garden (Usually May 15th here), simply turn the cover crop under with a pitchfork – and plant!

Additional Information:

We use green manure crops in the rows utilized for our summer garden, leaving the rows for our early spring crops like lettuce, radishes and green onions untouched so that we can plant them early.  

However, once your early spring crops have been harvested – you can apply the same “green manure” concept to that area, and plant with a cover crop. Simply turn it back under in the late summer, and you have had time to improve that soil for your fall crop plantings.

You can read more about cover crops on our site here : The Basics Of Cover Crops

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Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!

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