Without a shred of doubt, I can tell you that THE single most important key to our garden’s success each year is the planting of our fall cover crops. With one simple, quick, and inexpensive task – we help to recharge, energize and protect the soil, all while virtually eliminating next year’s weeds.
Every single year, we hear from more and more gardeners that have found out just how powerful a cover crop can be to the success of their garden. In addition, they are amazed at how much it helps to eliminate their weeds!
A cover crop is nothing more than a simple planting of legumes or grains such as clover, annual rye or buckwheat. These seed crops germinate quickly, and grow to protect soil through the winter months, then give back their valuable nutrients to the garden each spring. Instead of harvesting, the entire crop is either turned over or left to decay back into the soil in the spring – adding all types of nutrients, organic matter and vitality to next year’s garden!
The Benefits Of Cover Crops
For such an inexpensive and simple chore – the benefits are astounding.
First and foremost, a thick planting of a cover crop will protect all of that precious garden soil from eroding away throughout the harsh elements of winter. In addition, the roots of a cover crop go deep down to help break up heavy soils, making it easier for next year’s garden crops to grow strong and true. Those roots also work to fix nitrogen levels in the soil. Nitrogen, of course, is one of the key growth components of nearly all vegetable plants.
But if that wasn’t enough, cover crops are a HUGE factor in cutting down on weeds in your garden – and who doesn’t want that?! By keeping soil covered in a luscious, thick blanket of a cover crop, blowing weed seeds have trouble finding a bare spot of soil to settle in over the winter months. And without that bare soil, they can’t find a place to germinate next year.
How To Plant Cover Crops :
The best part of planting a cover crop is the ease in which it can be done. There is no need for heavy digging or tilling, just lightly rake your existing garden soil to break up the top crust of soil, and you are ready to plant.
Then, using your seed of choice, sow a generous amount of seed on the exposed soil, much like you would do if sowing grass seed. Annual rye and buckwheat are two of our favorites, and seed for either can be found at most feed or farm stores. We use about 30 to 40 pounds of seed for our entire 40′ x 60′ garden. Seed usually runs about $25 for a 50 pound bag. Most farm stores will sell it by the pound for smaller gardens at a slightly higher price.
After sowing, use the rake once again to lightly stir the seed into the soil, and your done!
There is no need to worry about completely covering the seed, the slight raking is more than enough to allow for germination in about 7 to 14 days. If you happen to have an extended period of dry weather in late fall, a slight watering is helpful to speed along good germination. For the most part, however, they are extremely drought and heat-resistant.
We used to turn our cover crops over in the spring with a shovel or broadfork. This past year, we experimented with leaving them in place to die back naturally. We then simply planted our tomatoes, peppers and other crops right through the decaying cover crop and into the soil. It was a huge success – not only saving us time, but helping to virtually eliminate all weeds by not disturbing the soil at all. (See : Cover Crop Garden Experiment)
So when that garden finishes up this year – get a cover crop in and see what it can do for your garden next year! Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary
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