Our Raised Row Beds With The Annual Rye Cover Crop Coming Up Strong

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.

The Benefits:

Barren Soil makes it easy to lose top soil from wind and rain erosion

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.

A thick stand of a cover crop hold the soil together and adds valuable nutrients to 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.

Rake the soil – and the just sow like you would grass seed – rake back over gently and that’s it!

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!

Annual Rye just poking through the surface after being planted just 6 days before.

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

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33 thoughts on “4 – Planting Cover Crops

  • March 12, 2017 at 10:39 am
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    This is my 2nd year using this technique with winter rye grass and it’s just not working for me for some reason. I didn’t expect it to be such a pain to deal with in the spring and thought all along at some point I would be able to see my raised rows back to the loose state they were in before I planted the rye. I think I misunderstood that part.

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  • July 22, 2016 at 11:20 pm
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    The part of cover cropping that scares me is the turning over. My garden area is large and I am in my 60s. I have read Ruth Stouts’s no work gardening and want to know if I can’t just do that? Weed whip, let lay and plant thru it?

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  • September 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm
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    Thanks for your website- it’s been very informative! I’m planting cover crops for the first time this year in my garden and was just curious about the timing of when to turn it over in the spring. You said to turn it over just before planting, but what about the plants that I don’t plant until late spring/early summer? Should I keep the grass in those rows and turn it over just before planting them as well? Or should I turn all the rows over at the same time? Also, I still have squash growing (and imagine I will for a while longer)…will it be too late to plant annual rye in those rows when they’re done? Thanks!

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  • August 24, 2013 at 9:53 am
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    How could we sow a winter crop and also use our leaves?

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  • August 8, 2013 at 11:09 am
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    We followed your raised row instructions this year and our garden is growing like gang busters…thanks for that. Here is my stupid question: when you say “rake out the raised row,” do you mean flatten it? Then in the spring, am I making them again with new leaves/straw? Thanks!

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    • August 8, 2013 at 1:39 pm
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      HI Libby – so glad they are working out for you! And not a stupid question at all. We do not flatten ours at all – we just run the rake over it to smooth out little hills or low spots from the growing season. We then sow a cover crop like annual rye to add back nutrients and just dig it under in the spring. Hope that helps and let us know if we can be of any further help! Jim and Mary

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  • August 8, 2013 at 11:09 am
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    Thanks for this excellent article. I too, have been wanting to use cover crops for years, but have not understood when to plant and when to turn under. I think you’ve answered all my questions except for this: After you turn the greens under in the Spring, do you just plant directly into that soil? Doesn’t the biomass need to decompose a bit first? Thanks so much!

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    • August 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm
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      Cary – we actually like to dig it under and plant right into it either the same day or within a few days. The plant material will actually add nutrients and little air pockets as it decomposes while the new plants grow. Glad you enjoyed the article! Jim and Mary

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      • August 9, 2013 at 6:36 am
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        Thanks so much for your speedy reply. Planting right away surprises me, kind of counter intuitive, so I am doubly grateful for your help. Cheers!

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  • July 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm
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    Hi,

    Thanks for the great article. One thing I can’t picture, however, is how a pitchfork turns over the cover crop. It seems like the tines are too far apart, especially for a loose soil structure.I wonder also how deeply you turn it over. Could you please explain the technique in a little more detail?

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    • July 22, 2013 at 8:48 am
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      Ed – thanks for taking time to write us. As for the cover crops – our raised row beds have a good soil structure from the compost and cover crops we are always putting on and in them – so it really is pretty easy to turn it over with the pitchfork. A regular shovel will work as well for most. Annual rye is a really good one to use because it is easy to turn over and breaks apart easily. Hope that helps! Jim

      Reply
  • July 9, 2013 at 9:08 am
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    My question is, is there any type of cover crop I can just broadcast over an area I am getting ready to harvest oats from. I was hoping I would not have to till since I have squash growing around it an hubby is not to pleased wth the idea of trying to dodge the vines. I live in the NW Ohio area so there is a lot of summer left,but after the squash have been harvested we could mow it down for the winter if that would work.
    Thanks!

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    • July 9, 2013 at 10:09 pm
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      Donna – That is a tough one…rye would be the closest I could think of – but even with it you want to at least scratch the surface to get it to take hold. I think i might wait until the squash and oats are both harvested and then put it a late cover crop. Hope that helps – Jim and Mary

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  • July 4, 2013 at 11:58 pm
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    How fast does annual rye come up? We have a chickweed problem in our greenhouse. It would be great to smother it with something useful….But it comes back in about a week after aggressive hoeing…

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    • July 5, 2013 at 12:25 pm
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      Jean – it usually comes up pretty quickly – anywhere from 7 to 14 days – it really does a great job of keeping out unwanted weeds from open spaces.

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      • July 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm
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        Thanks, now I’m curious how you incorporate the tops into the soil without a tiller. We got a broadfork and prepared the whole garden with it. However the weeds difnt get stirred in like tilling does. My thought was to lay them out to cry, mow them a few times and use for mulch..? What do you think? We have a huge static compist pile from barn cleanings we could toss them on too.
        Thanks!

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        • July 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm
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          We use a pitchfork and just turn them over into the soil. I think your idea will work well – especially with the static pile from the barn used too! Jim

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  • March 28, 2013 at 9:37 am
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    Where do you get the seeds for annual rye? Can you please provide some links?

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  • October 22, 2012 at 11:37 am
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    I’m so glad that I read this! We were planning on finally figuring out how to deal with planting a cover crop, but then I got pregnant… Between the extreme morning sickness and a complicated pregnancy, the garden has taken a back burner this year.

    I’d been holding off because we hadn’t had the time to till our garden. It is so good to know that it isn’t necessary!

    Reply
  • October 22, 2012 at 11:18 am
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    What is a good cover crop for California (coastal area, no snow)?
    Also, what is a good chicken friendly cover crop?
    I want to try this! Thank you so much 🙂

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    • October 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm
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      Dee – The winter rye would work well for you. You can use it as more of what is called a “green manure crop” – letting it come up and then when it gets about a foot tall – simply turning it under. It would also be chicken friendly 🙂 So glad to have you stop by the blog!

      Reply
  • October 21, 2012 at 11:19 am
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    Great info, I learned a lot. Tiny though our garden is, we will now plant a cover crop for better results next year. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Cheers,
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

    Reply
  • October 16, 2012 at 10:49 am
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    Sounds like something I need to be doing this year. Due to health issues, I ditched the garden for the past 2 summers, and now it is a jungle of weeds. Maybe this will help! Thanks for sharing.
    ~~Lori

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  • October 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm
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    Thanks for your post! Cover crops are a great idea and thanks for sharing in detail what makes them so good…I enjoyed looking through your blog as well. I live in northeast ohio, right along the lake and have a very small suburban garden. I also grow a lot of herbs in the beds along my house. Blessings! Nancy from livininthegreen.blogspot.com

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  • October 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm
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    Thanks for the tips! I’ll be trying this in my raised beds that don’t have winter lettuces.

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  • October 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm
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    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been so confused by cover crops (I just learned about them a few months ago) because I wasn’t sure when I was supposed to plant them and what to do. I’m feeling a lot less confused — hopefully, I still have time to plant mine! 🙂

    Reply
  • October 13, 2012 at 12:20 pm
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    Love it! more folks should be cover cropping. It is easy and as you point out worth it on many levels. We are planning our garden at the new house and I fully intend to put in cover crops next fall.

    Thanks for sharing at the Eat Make Grow blog hop!

    Reply
    • October 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm
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      It really does make all the difference in a consistently good garden – good luck at the new house!

      Reply
  • October 12, 2012 at 9:04 pm
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    What about us southern farmers that start gardens in October/November?

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    • October 13, 2012 at 6:13 am
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      In the South – you can plant a cover crop in early fall – before you start your winter garden. It is more of what is called a “green manure” cover crop – letting tit come up a few weeks before you plant your garden – and then turning it under to add organic matter back into your soil.

      Reply

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