What is the one single thing you can do each fall to help you have a great garden next year? Plant a cover crop! Whether you have raised beds, a full size garden or a few rows here and there – trust me when I say this can make all the difference in next year’s garden. Here are 5 reasons why you should – followed by a quick tutorial on how to!
Just like those big time farmers on big time farms – our gardens and raised beds get all the same benefits of a well grown cover crop.
1. Helps Stop Your Garden From Losing Valuable Top Soil
A cover crop keeps your soil from being barren through the winter months. Barren soil is pelted by rains and winds and can whip away the top layer of your soil (usually the best in the garden), and leave you with less “good stuff” to grow your plants next year.
2. Loosens Your Soil For Next Years Crop
A cover crop’s roots can go deep down into the soil and help to break up heavy soils, making it easier for next year’s crop to put down deep roots – which means less watering – better protection against drought, and healthier plants. Annual Rye grows to depths of 18” or more to loosen up that soil. Clover and other cover crops can do the same and are great at fixing the Nitrogen levels in the soil.
3. Adds Valuable Nitrogen To Your Soil
Cover crops, when dug into the soil in the spring – add nitrogen and other valuable nutrients to your vegetable and garden plants. It is an easy way to replenish your soil from what this year’s garden plants took out.
4. Adds Valuable Organic Material To Your Soil
Digging in all of that “green manure” into your soil really helps to loosen your soil. As the cover crop breaks down underneath the soil – it gives your garden and the plants a loose friable soil to grow freely in.
5. Cut down on next year’s weeds!
Cover cropping really helps to cut down on next year’s weeds. By growing a nice stock of an annual cover crop – it crowds out the soil and lessens the chance of runaway weeds seeds blowing in and finding a home in your garden.
How To Put In Cover Crops
Here in Ohio – cover crops can be planted anytime from late September to the ends of October – the seed just needs enough time to come up and create a good growth before winter sets in.
What is best to plant?
We prefer annual rye – it sprouts fast, grows fast and thick – and has deep roots that loosen the soil. Other good crops to choose from are buckwheat, clover, and hairy vetch.
How Do I Do It?
It’s easy! No need to till your soil – just rake out your rows, existing garden, or your raised beds – and scatter the seeds as if you were throwing grass seed on your lawn. Next, just gently rake it over and you’re done! No matter if you still see seeds on top – they will sprout soon enough and you will have a great cover crop growing!
What Do I Do Next Spring?
Just simply dig it under and plant your garden. We don’t use a tiller at all in our raised row beds – just a pitchfork and turn it over. That’s it – and we are ready to go.
Won’t I get grass growing in my bed from the cover crop seed?
No. First make sure you use a good annual cover crop seed like annual rye or buckwheat. Your local farm and feed store should be more than able to help you get the right one. The only precaution is if you do get a long stretch of warm weather in the fall or early spring before you till under; and the cover crops start to get high; just make sure you run your mower or weed eater over them to prevent them from going to seed. But trust me – they have to get pretty big and high before they do that!
Happy Gardening – Mary and Jim