When it comes to planting an incredibly amazing and productive fall vegetable crop – you simply can’t top winter rye!

And the funny thing is, we don’t harvest a single morsel of edible food from the planting.

Yes, it’s true that there are some amazing vegetable crops to plant in the fall. Like garlic and onions. Or cool-weather wonders that thrive such as lettuce, kale, spinach and a whole slew of additional greens.

winter rye
Our growing rows covered in their protective rye cover crop

But it’s time this wondrous cover crop of winter rye finally gets the attention it deserves with its very own article on the blog.

Especially in light of all of the fan mail that it has been receiving over the course of the past few weeks. It seems like nearly every single day, we receive another email from a gardener who tried the energizing cover crop with big success in their garden last year.  See : Our Most Amazing Harvest Ever

Although there are many excellent cover crops to choose from, for us, winter rye is by far our favorite choice.

So What Exactly Is Annual Rye?

Winter rye (or cereal rye as it is often called), is not to be confused with perennial rye grass.

winter rye
How the garden looked just two before. We seed and then keep the rows covered in a light layer of straw to keep weed seeds out of barren soil.

Cover crops are well-known for giving back nutrients to the soil. And winter rye is one of the best at that task and more.

The seed of this cereal grain is much larger than that of rye grass, and sprouts quickly to form a thick, protective coat for the garden in the fall. This covering is perfect for eliminating soil erosion, and for keeping weed seeds from finding a home for the next growing season.

For no-till gardening – It is absolutely vital to make sure you are planting cereal rye and not the perennial version.  Product Link : Winter (Cereal) Rye

The Never-Till Method Of Cover Cropping With Winter Rye

Winter rye is the backbone of our no-till Raised Row Garden method.

winter rye
No-till garden cover crops play a major factor in eliminating weeds from your garden!

In mid to late fall, as our vegetable plants begin to fade, we clear our growing rows to plant our cover crop. All that is needed is a simple tine rake and a bag full of cereal rye.

We rake each row to slightly scratch the soil surface, and the spread a heavy seeding on the rows.

With a final light raking, we cover with a bit of straw to keep the birds away – and our work is done!

Within 7 days, the rye will start to poke its bright green blades through the surface. Within a few weeks, the raised growing rows are completely covered in a thick mass of bright green.

winter rye
Garden soil left bare for winter is an open invitation for weed seeds and erosion.

Winter puts the rye into dormancy. As Spring returns, the rye does as well. A few weeks before we are ready to plant, we simply mow the rye down a few times. The clippings are mulched into the beds to add organic matter, and the rye finally dies off.

We then plant right through the surface. No tilling. No weeds to remove or worry about. And most important of all, the ground has been re-energized by the winter rye.

The Benefits : Why Annual Rye Works So Well

When it comes to cover crops, winter rye really is a top performer. And here are a few reasons why:

Rye – The Underground Plow

Rye has as an incredibly thick root system that grows right through the soil below. Even clay and heavily compacted soils. When the rye grass dies and begins to break down, it leaves behind channels in the soil.

winter rye
The roots of cover crops help to break up the soil below.

These channels are vital in allowing air, water and nutrients to find their way to your vegetable plants.

Rye – The Nitrogen Provider

Winter rye is excellent at fixing nitrogen in the soil. And nitrogen, along with air and water is one of the key ingredients for healthy and productive vegetable plants.

A cover crop of cereal rye acts as a big reserve tank of nitrogen. As it decays, it releases the all-important nutrient back and makes it available for plants.

Rye – Adding Organic Matter Like No Other

When rye is grown as a cover crop, it also adds a tremendous amount of organic matter to the soil. All of those clippings, roots and stems break down into the soil, creating a rich humus layer that improves the soils structure.

winter rye
The Raised Row Garden Book.

We are in year 8 now of using annual rye in our Raised Row Garden. I can tell you that our soil has improved to the point that it requires little to zero effort when digging in to plant. The soil is loose, friable, and best of all, teeming with life and nutrients.

All without the use of a single ounce of fertilizer. Now that is the way to garden easy!

Happy Fall Gardening! Jim and Mary. To receive our 3 Home, Garden, Recipe and Simple Life articles each week, sign up below for our free email list. You can also follow us on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. This article may contain affiliate links.

The Most Productive Fall Vegetable Crop You Will Ever Plant – Winter Rye!
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