Whether planting your first garden, or gardening in the same familiar spot you have for years – planting a green manure crop early this spring can be just the ticket to recharging your soil for a great summer crop of vegetables!
What is a green manure crop?
Although you may think the term “green manure” has to do with something a little less appealing – in reality – it’s simply a cover crop that is grown specifically to be turned right back into the soil to return valuable nutrients to your garden.
Growing and then “digging in” and turning back under a green cover crop has the same effect and benefit as adding loads of compost and manure to your soil – and it’s so easy to do!
A green manure crop can be sown in the early spring months (here in Ohio – anytime from late March to early April) and then turned under in early to mid-May a few weeks before planting your garden. They are a great “quick” choice to build soil strength, especially for those that did not plant a fall cover crop or have access to a lot of compost.
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.
They are also perfect for keeping your soil in tact through strong spring storms, helping to eliminate soil loss from erosion. Even better – it prevents stray weed seeds from blowing in and settling into bare soil – making for a less weedy garden this summer!
Planting Your Cover Crop:
In early spring, as soon as the soil begins to thaw enough to gently 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. No need to disturb the soil with heavy digging or tilling – just simply raking the top 1/8″ of soil will allow enough space for the cover crop to germinate. No need to worry about freezing temperatures at night – the seed and crop will not be harmed – and will begin to grow as soon as the temps begin to climb in the Spring.
As mentioned above, annual rye, clover and buckwheat and are excellent choices for green manure crops because they can germinate and begin growing in as little as 7 to 10 days. Within a four-week time frame, you can have a thick stock of growing “green” manure” for your soil.
Then, a few weeks before you are ready to plant your main garden stash of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more, (late May here) simply turn the cover crop under with a pitchfork or shovel – and plant!
It is important to let the soil rest a few weeks after turning the cover crop to allow the green manure crop to decompose a bit before throwing in your plants – although – we have planted after turning in just a week with no harm to our summer crop.
So get out there and plant a garden-soil energizing cover crop this Spring!
For more information on all types of cover crops, see our article : Cover Crop Basics
Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary