August 14, 2015

Crimson clover

Planting a cover crop can be a great way to protect and nourish your soil over the winter months. Here are some tips for getting started.

Some people may be intimidated by the idea of growing a cover crop if you’ve never tried it before. When do you plant it? How do you take care of it? What types of plants should you grow?

Never fear – we’ve got you covered! (Pun intended.)  Growing a cover crop is actually quite easy, and will provide your garden with lots of benefits, including increased fertility, improved soil structure, better soil retention and less erosion, and more.

Check out the article below to learn how and what to plant:

Why Plant A Cover Crop

Cover crops are typically planted as seeds directly in the ground (not transplanted) at the end of the growing season after the last of the summer crops have been harvested and before cold weather sets in. Many cover crops are legumes that convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into a soluble form that other plants can absorb. Some cover crops accumulate other essential nutrients like phosphorus, but all cover crops add organic matter to the soil. Rather than being harvested for food, cover crops are tilled back into the soil at the end of their growing cycle where the nutrients are released as the plants decompose. In a way, cover cropping is like composting in situ—no need for hauling in manure or building a pile—and they’re sometimes called ‘green manure’ for this reason.

There are other reasons to plant cover crops. Winter rains can cause erosion problems for farmers and gardeners, so it’s important to maintain vegetative cover once the crops have been harvested for the year. Planting a dense cover crop in fall prevents weeds from getting established, so there is less weeding to do come spring. When a cover crop starts to flower in late winter or early spring, it’s an early source of nectar for bees, who will then be ready to pollinate your orchard (or start making honey, if you’re a beekeeper).

Which Cover Crops to Plant

There are three main categories of cool season cover crops, no matter if you’re a small-scale gardener or larger scale farmer:

Legumes: clovers (crimson, red, Dutch white, berseem, sweet, etc.), hairy vetch, fava beans, bell beans and Austrian winter peas

These species can produce up to 300 pounds of nitrogen per acre in the soil….

Grasses: oats, barley, annual ryegrass and winter rye

These grains aren’t just for eating; they produce copious quantities of organic matter to enrich the soil. Their roots help break up compacted clay soil and they are very cold hardy, allowing farmers and gardeners in northern areas to overwinter their cover crops.

Others: brassicas (oilseed radish, mustard, etc), buckwheat, phacelia

Buckwheat accumulates phosphorus, while brassica cover crops are known for having 4-foot taproots that chisel into the subsoil, improving drainage. Phacelia is a great early spring bee plant.

Check out the full article at Modern Farmer to learn when and how to plant.

 

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About the author 

Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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