Categories

Archives

TMGad1

Crop Rotation – Your Garden Too Small to Rotate Crops? Cover Crops are the Answer.

It seems I’ve always known about cover crops.  But I’ve never understood until recently the many ways they could help us take our success in our gardens to a new level.

In spite of previous extensive reading on cover crops, what really made their versatility hit home was an excerpt I read from a book on Biological Farming by Gary F. Zimmer and Leilani Zimmer-Durand.

Mr. Zimmer experimented successfully with a way to plant corn in a field continually for 10 years without actually rotating crops!

How many of you who have small gardens and/or small raised beds have trouble rotating your crops?    How many of you would like to know Mr. Zimmer’s secret?

Purpose of Rotating Crops

The purpose for rotating crops is diversity.

In most cases insect pests prey on a narrow range of plants. If you continually plant the same plants over and over in the same spot,  those insects can get a better foothold.  If you practice diversity in your plantings, you have a much better chance at avoiding pest infestations.

The same is true with diseases.  Tomatoes make a great example.  One of the most suggested practices to avoid tomatoes diseases is to rotate your crops and not plant plants of that family in the same spot for another 3 or 4 years.  That’s diversity.

Awakening to the Benefits of Cover Crops

Fortunately, rotating your crops is not the only way to accomplish the goal of diversity.

Mr. Zimmer recognized that increasing the variety of plants in a field would result in a wider diversity of insects and of soil life. No one pest or disease  would take over.  He accomplished this goal of diversity by interplanting corn and clover. And then planting cereal rye in the fall.

Ten years into the experiment a researcher from the University of Illinois visited the farm. The researcher said he had never seen a field planted continuously with corn for 10 years that didn’t have corn rootworms in it.  And he could hardly believe how healthy the stand of corn was.

Mr. Zimmer explained to him that the diversity added by the cover crops is what made the difference.  The cycle of insect pests and disease had been broken  — and health maintained — because of the diversity of the different plants.

Soil life diversity had been maintained. Nutrients were kept cycling from plants to soil and back to plants. The soil was fed and soil structure improved.  Thus, the corn remained healthy.

The Secret

You don’t have to rotate your crops to get diversity ——- you can get the diversity by adding your cover crops!

My Example of Applying this Idea

I plan to use this very principle to keep my tomatoes healthier next year. It’s adjusted slightly to better fit my needs, but I feel confident it will help get the job done.

  • I’ve already prepared several spots for tomatoes next year.  I thickly planted buckwheat in the 4 foot wide circles.
  • While growing, the buckwheat will pull up minerals and micro-nutrients in the soil. When the buckwheat is about 4 inches high, I’ll turn it under. The young succulent buckwheat will break down quickly and release nutrients back into the soil.

When the Buckwheat is about this size, I’ll turn it under.

  • Then I’ll plant cereal rye.  (I should have just enough time here in Virginia for the rye to get a good start before winter.) In May I’ll cut the tall cereal rye when the pollen is heavy — just before it seeds.  I’ll allow the roots to stay in the ground except for the center of the circle where the tomato plant will go.
  • After cutting the rye, I’ll place that biomass on top of the stubble of roots to act as thick mulch.
  • At the appropriate time in May I’ll plant my tomato seedlings.

When the tomatoes are done, I’ll plant another cover crop of my choice.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve wondered what to do about crop rotation in your small area and/or raised beds, you’ve just been given a great solution.  If you act on the information, I think it will take your gardening success to the next level.

_______

Organic gardening is easy, efficient, effective —- and it’s a lot healthier.

_______

All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com.  All Rights Reserved.

30 comments to Crop Rotation – Your Garden Too Small to Rotate Crops? Cover Crops are the Answer.

  • Sandra

    Theresa, You are amazing! This is the answer to my eternal question – where to put the tomatoes that counts as crop rotation!! This post is not like anything else I’ve ever read. I don’t think many people know about this stuff, at least I’ve never heard of it.

    I’ve planted buckwheat (as an experiment) in an area outside my garden. How does it work if I pull or cut that buckwheat – which is about 4inches right now, and transport it to my tomato patch? Will I have the same benefits? I know, sort of a strange question.
    Thank you for this educational post.

  • Theresa

    Hi Sandra,

    You will miss most of the benefits from buckwheat if you don’t grow them in the tomato patch.

    You would get some benefit by laying the biomass on top and perhaps covering with straw. That would have a compost pile effect: your greens + carbons = compost. But you will not get the diversity effect which is what we are really looking for to help prevent disease etc.

    Also, you will loose the recycling benefit in the bed the buckwheat is growing in. Buckwheat can access minerals and micronutrients that are not easily accessed. Those nutrients would be stored in the biomass of the buckwheat but then transferred to the other bed rather than returning the nutrients to bed it gathered them from.

    You will get the most benefit by growing the buckwheat right on the tomato patch. It’s not too late to sow the seed right now even with the tomatoes still on the bed. If you do this and turn it under when its about 4 inches tall you’ll get more benefit.(It’s a piece of cake to turn even for me.) To get the diversity you’re looking for to help prevent disease and take your success to a new level —- wait about 5 to 7 days and follow the buckwheat with a planting of cereal rye or even oats. (Oats will winter kill and the roots will decay so you can plant in the early spring. Cereal rye is not cut until May —- but what I plan — is to cut the center in winter —- so I will avoid any problems with being able to plant my seedlings in May. The rest of the root stubble will stay in the ground to decay as the tomatoes grow.)

    Let me know if you have more questions.
    Theresa

  • Heather

    Hi Theresa. I’m not quite understanding how this works. If a plant pulls up certain nutrients, but then returns them right back to the same soil as it decays, how does that make a difference? Thanks in advance, Heather

  • Theresa

    Hi Heather,
    Sometimes it takes cover crops to access certain nutrients, store them, and then return them to the soil in order to make them accessible to your veggie plants. The veggie plants themselves may not be able to pull up certain nutrients.

    For example — say your soil was low in phosphorus and magnesium levels — so your veggies would not have those minerals they needed. If you planted buckwheat — tests show that it has the ability to access those minerals even though they may not show on a soil test. Then it stores them in its biomass until it decays and then returns those minerals in a usable form to the soil. (Usable is the key word here)

    Let me know if I have made this clear and feel free to ask more questions if you need to. I’m not a scientist of course, but I can help you with the basics.
    Thanks for asking — I’m sure other readers might have the same question.
    Theresa

  • Karen Szasz

    Theresa,

    Is it too late in Orlando, FL to plant a cover crop? I will want to plant my spring garden in those spots.

    Once I do a crop cover, then I no longer need to rotate my plants? Right? I only have so much full
    sun in my yard.

    Thanks,

    Karen

  • Theresa

    Karen, I don’t know what it’s like in Florida since I’ve not lived there. I’m guessing — but I think even if you could get the cover crops to germinate — you might not have time for them to grow enough and then be turned under to decay a few weeks before time to put your spring crops in.

    Keep in mind that rotating crops is a good principle ALWAYS. BUT — if you absolutely are unable to rotate because of space, etc. — cover crops will make a tremendous difference for you. Plan your cover crops to go in when your crops are finished.

    Last year — when I had tomatoes and peppers still in the beds — I sowed cover crops all around them and it worked great.

    Don’t hesitate to do some experimenting as you go along. For example — you could plant a handful of buckwheat right now to see how it does in this time period. Henceforth — you would not have to guess — you’d have a better idea of what will take place.

    No matter how long you garden there will always be a lot to learn —- so have fun with it. Pretend you are a scientist. 🙂
    Theresa

  • Karen Szasz

    Theresa,

    The weather has been up and down, today 70ish, last week we had a frost and some of my beans bit the dust. I guess I wonder if a cover crop would even germinate. I would probably have to order the seeds because I do not think I would be able to find them locally at this point and then it would push me back a couple more weeks. Will these seeds hold till next fall if they did not germinate and just started the covers for next year? Does it make a difference what type of cover crop I use? Right now I am using the lasagna method for a new bed that I have created for my spring/summer bed, and then I have a designated area that I use as a cold compost bed. I live in a community that will not allow me to use a large compost bin, so I chose to go the other option for composting. It seems to work ok for me.

    Thanks,

    Karen

    I have a little room for plant rotation, but not much. Does it make a difference what plant gets planted next to the other?

  • Theresa

    Your cover crop seed should keep just fine for a long time. Just keep it dark, cool, and dry.
    Search my site for anything on cover crops. After you do that — consider buckwheat as a starting cover crop. It’s very easy in every way and does great things for your soil.

    You don’t need a compost bin. What you are doing in a bed is great and will save you lots of time. (You might want to search my site for posts and compost too)

    I don’t know how much room you have in your garden — but at this point — I would not worry about what plants are next to each other.

    It will become plain to you as you go along what works and what doesn’t.
    Theresa

  • Martin Harford

    It is now mid Jan in Arkansas (Zone 7b). The “experimental” mixed cover crop I planted in November has just now germinated and sprouted to my surprise! I will be planting in-home started seedlings (mostly Solanaceae) when danger of frost has passed. Do I understand you correctly to plant buckwheat as early as possible (perhaps mid March) as soon as practical before my tomatoes and other crops (I have 33 raised beds) and then turn it under when 4″ tall, and then to plant Cereal Rye or Oats in the early fall and allow to over-winter?

    Thank you for clarifying the matter!

    Drscot

  • Theresa

    Hi Drscot,

    The buckwheat you see in the picture in this post was planted and turned under last summer.

    But yes — you should have time to plant a crop of buckwheat before you plant your tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, etc. Buckwheat won’t tolerate much frost and definitely will be killed by a freeze. If you anticipate a light frost after it’s up and going you could throw on some row cover fabric. If your beds are set up with hoops you could just cover with plastic.

    Don’t feel you have to get out the measuring rule for the 4 inches. It’s just approximate. About 4 inches is a good size to turn under and get lots of benefit from it. Try to turn it under about 2 weeks before you plant your seedlings.

    And yes, Oats and Cereal Rye are great covers for fall planting. The Cereal Rye (Winter Rye) will winter over. The Oats will winter kill if the temperatures are severe. (I’m zone 7 and some of the oats I planted in the fall are still green and lush — but we are expecting temperatures that will kill it. — Which is what I want)

    If you haven’t already — you may want to review the following posts as they may give you some additional points. Just let me know if you have more questions.
    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-your-purpose-determines-when-you-cut-or-incorporate-into-the-soil/

    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-garden-information-staying-out-of-overwhelm/

    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-benefits-some-easy-ones/
    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-buckwheat-is-one-of-the-easiest/

    http://tendingmygarden.com/organic-gardening-and-the-value-of-cover-crops/

    Hope this clarifies for you.
    Theresa

  • RAY KENT

    How I got to your site is a long but very nice story.

    Started a number of years ago when I volunteered at a heritage village. Ended up in a veggie garden that had just been taken over from professional gardeners for us to use as an 1800′s kitchen garden. It started with a lot of problems that mostly seemed to solve themselves over a few years. No one knew why!!

    I happened to meet a visitor there who was a professional organic gardener. He laughed when I told him the story and then explained how we were unknowingly returning the soil to it’s natural condition.

    A lot has happened since then but while I will never become a technically true organic gardener I do the best I can and have a great time doing so.

    Finding your site thanks to Diane’s flowers has helped continue my education but in a very easy manner. I’ve found that your experience has confirmed that heritage gardening does not have to be exhaustive but more fun. I find your thinking about gardening assured me that my “maybe i’ll just let nature do the work” is ok and now I’m learning why.

    Thanks and keep gardening with a smile.
    Ray

  • Theresa

    Ray, thanks so much for taking the time to tell the story. It’s a great one.

    I love the part about the kitchen garden correcting its own problems. That’s just priceless and I think many readers will benefit from hearing that story.

    I’m not giving up on your becoming a full-fledged organic gardener yet. You are certainly walking in the right direction and the more you understand that it’s the best way, the easiest way, and that way that does only good and not harm– the more you’ll continue in that direction.

    Sure nice to have you as a reader Ray and I appreciate your telling this story — as I’m sure many readers will as well.

    Best wishes for a great growing season!
    Theresa

  • Betty Dotson

    Theresa,

    WOW! This post is so simple that even I got it!

    I think I’ll order some buckwheat & oats to try right away. Buckwheat, turn in, then oats.

    If I understand correctly I can interplant the buckwheat with tomatoes now, but what about near & around peppers,cucumbers greenbeans or corn?

    If the buckwheat isn’t compatable with these crops, would white clover work?

    Two more questions.

    Our main garden is 50’X50′ & our newest garden is probably 40’X30′.

    How much buckwheat, oats & white clover seed should I order to be able to sow thickly enough?

    Where do you purchase these seed?

    Thanks for your patience,

    Betty

  • Theresa

    Yes, Betty you can interplant tomatoes and buckwheat. Peppers too. Outer edges around cucumbers sounds good. It seems to me it would NOT be best with green beans since the spacing of green beans is too close. Should work with corn.

    Buckwheat plants and residues can suppress (a/k/a allopathic effect) the growth of other plants or the germination of seed. Allelopathic effect can last about 30 to 60 days.

    I make sure my seedlings are up and running before I plant. Then — when the buckwheat flowers I cut it and leave the roots in the ground. I just lay the biomass on top to act as mulch around whatever crop I am growing with it — like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant etc.

    White clover is also good. Many use it in paths and then mow it. I’ve used it to underplant tomatoes and peppers and eggplant. When it gets tall I cut it. (Just like the buckwheat.)

    Pinetree Garden Seeds has pretty good prices and reasonable shipping. I just placed an order with them and for an order that weighed about 16 pounds the shipping was only $6.95. I’ve seen many others charge a lot more.

    I don’t know exactly how much you need — although you could probably look up how much ground a pound would plant. I would suggest you start out with a conservative amount — say 10 lbs of each. After you see how each cover crop works and how you like it and how thick it needs to be sown — then you could order more.

    Let me know how you do.
    Theresa

  • Betty Dotson

    Theresa, I’m ordering the buckwheat & oats now, but I’m afraid of planting winter rye because I worry I’ll miss the window of opportunity for cutting it before it reseeds. {Long story – memory issues due to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever}.

    I was wondering if there would be enough diversity with just the buckwheat & cereal oats to benefit my soil health for the better.

    Thanks,
    Betty

    P.S. Still working on converting Alfred from rows to beds on his side of the garden, but at least he hasn’t mentioned 10-10-10 or lime this season! Yea! Progress!

    Also, our dear neighbor gathered his fall leaves with his mower & dumped the chopped leaves on our side garden as a winter mulch! The soil is MUCH improved! He will be getting all of the free veggies he can handle!

  • Theresa

    Betty – any steps you take towards diversity or to improve your soil health in any way — is always of benefit.
    Sounds like Alfred is coming along. 🙂
    That’s a read windfall to get all your neighbor’s leaves!! Leaves are one of the best ways to improve soil.
    Keep up the good work!
    Theresa

  • Devi

    Hi Therasa,
    This is a great post! I’m so glad that I came across this!
    I don’t quite understand a few things though and would appreciate it if you can clarify:
    1. I have two 4 X 4 raised beds right beside each other (mine is a small organic square foot garden). If I planted a tomatoes in spring and clover in fall, can I then plant tomatoes next spring again? Wouldn’t the pests that overwinter in the soil find their host again next spring? Somehow I thought crop rotation means avoiding the same crop successive years, NOT successive times.

    2. Is growing a different family crop in spring , summer and fall have same effect as crop rotation, assuming I’m repeating the same spring, summer and fall crops every year?

    Thank you
    Devi

  • Theresa

    Devi,
    The more diversity you have going on in your beds the better you will do. It’s the diversity that will result in a wider variety of soil life and prevent one disease or insect from taking over.

    Mr. Zimmer grew clover WITH his corn and after the season planted winter rye and THEN planted corn and clover again and so on. I think it would help if you read pages 200 and 201 of his book. Preview it here.

    In answer to question #2 – I do think if you plant 3 different families of crops in the same bed — one in the spring, one in summer and one in fall it will definitely help add the diversity you need to break any cycle of pests or disease.
    Anything you do to increase plant diversity results in a wider variety of soil life and insects. Thus, one disease (or pest) can’t take over. By continually adding as much diversity as you can in each season, your soil biology (soil life) will get better and better and that’s what helps you keep your garden in good health.
    I hope I have answered your questions Devi. Be sure and check out the link I provided and preview at least pages 200 and 201.
    If you have questions after that, feel free to ask. I’ll try to help.
    Theresa

  • Devi

    Thank You for the link Theresa! I read those 2 pages – awesome, diversity indeed!

    I grow many different plants in my small raised beds – the first one has cabbage, beans and eggplant planted together. The second one has beets, carrots, radish and turnip. And I plan to rotate different family crops in spring, summer and fall. I’m also going to till in the beans this weekend after harvesting the last batch. Should be good enough if I’m unable to plant cover crops?

    Although I’d love to plant cover crops in the beds, I worry that:
    1. It might be too late in the season as I plant fall veggies and harvest them around end of October. Are there any cover crops that would germinate in Zone 8 in November? (first frost is early November here usually)
    2. It might take a long time for the cover crops to break down after tilling them in spring and the beds can’t be used for sowing until then. When should I till in and how long does it take to break down into nice compost/dirt?

    Thank you for your prompt response! 🙂

  • Theresa

    Devi, I like your rotation plan. If you can’t plant cover crops do what you can. Walk towards cover crops if you can.

    Here in zone 7 I plant oats as late as November 1 and have planted winter rye much later.
    I’ve spent lots of time writing about cover crops and would recommend that you read ALL my posts on cover crops before you do anything.

    You could start with these four:

    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-helping-a-reader-begin-to-deal-with-a-problem/

    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-your-purpose-determines-when-you-cut-or-incorporate-into-the-soil/

    http://tendingmygarden.com/comments-on-a-readers-plan-cover-crops-turning-the-soil-and-more/

    http://tendingmygarden.com/winter-rye-as-a-cover-crop-2-strategies/

    As you will discover in the various posts, oats will winter kills after a few hard freezes. I plant in that same ground in the spring.

    I don’t till so I plan my covers accordingly as you will learn in the various posts.
    Theresa

  • Miss Melissa

    So I’m in my third year of community gardening and my first year of attempting cover crops. I’m wondering if I can sneak in a short period crop between seasons. Buckwheat for 6-8 weeks in the spring when my brassicas poop out and before my tomatoes and peppers go in, and the reverse with cereal rye or a winter mix for about 6 weeks in the fall before i plant my fall crops. I’m in California, so I can grow year round here, and typically my brassicas go in around November and produce until March.

    Can that be done?

    In other words, the fall cover crop mix has been sown and the brassicas are under the grow lights (later than other areas because my tomatoes produced until late September), am I screwing something up by planning to cut the rye/vetch/clover mix and turn under in November?

  • Theresa

    Melissa, I would think that buckwheat would be fine for spring. You could even sow the buckwheat while the brassicas are finishing up. And if necessary you could transplant seedlings right into the buckwheat and then cut it by hand when it finishes, leaving the roots in the ground and the residue on top.

    I would suggest you read all my posts on cover crops for even more information on using them. I’m not familiar with your seasons but you may not get enough growth on the fall mix you’ve sown to really get the full benefit from them.
    Theresa

  • Thanks for that.

    So let’s assume you are correct and I won’t get the full benefit… will I get any harm? Is it OK to leave it in to control weeds while I transplant my fall veggies, or should I start cutting it down?

    Thanks very much!

  • Theresa

    Melissa, there is a great possibility of our misunderstanding each other in just the limited amount of discussion via these comments. Especially since the topic being discussed can be very involved and each person must know the variables involved in their growing each cover. Most of your situation is totally unknown to me and so I can only give you very overall and general answers.

    Keeping that in mind I will answer you briefly. As far as harming the ground by having the mixture growing — you will NOT harm the ground.

    As far as leaving it to control weeds while you transplant fall veggies, I only question how much growth will take place. The reason that concerns me is because that particular mixture of rye/vetch/clover can be difficult to remove once it takes hold. I have explained in numerous posts how I use rye so that it can stay in the ground and complete the life cycle without causing any difficulty for me.

    If you already have a certain plan in action — make the wisest decision you can after reading my various posts on cover crops and then go forward. If you mess up, it’s not the end of the world. It will not harm the soil. Look at it as a learning experiment and be prepared mentally for it to go either way. You will learn a tremendous amount this way and it will only make you a better gardener.

    Keep in mind that rye puts down very deep roots and will continue to grow if the temperatures allow. Cutting it (now or soon) will not kill it. To be cut and killed, it has to be cut after full growth (sometime 5 or 6 feet) and when the pollen is hanging on forming grain. Vetch, if allowed to seed, can become invasive. Clover can be hard or easy to remove depending on conditions and how it likes where it is.

    Hope this helps. Let me know how you do.
    Theresa

  • Michele Schroder

    Hi Theresa. I have my entire garden planned and then realized I should make sure it makes sense from a crop rotation perspective. The only brassica I really plant is kale. Right now I’ve kept it in the same raised bed as my lettuce and spinach. See my plan below. I had a devil of a time with rabbits and butterflies, and pests so trying to keep things together of a similar height to make it easier with hoops and row covers. Based on what I’ve planted I don’t really have brassicas other than the kale. From what I read about crop rotation at minimum you would do Brassicas, then follow with roots, and then peas tomatoes etc. How does this work if I don’t want to plant brassicas other than kale? And does it matter that I’ve put kale in with my lettuce and spinach? I did buy some buckwheat so plant to do cover crops when I can. Would appreciate your thoughts.

    Bed 1 – I have a 3×10 foot bed this year with peas, tomatoes, cucumber and peppers, sunflowers
    Bed 2 – 4 x 4 – Eggplant, zucchini, various squashes
    Bed 3 – 4 x 4 – Carrots, leeks, parsnips, radishes, celery, jalepeno peppers
    Bed 4 – 4 x 4 – onions, beets, lemongrass
    Bed 5 – 4 x 4 – Various green lettuce, swiss chard, spinach and kale

    Container for potatoes
    Container for herbs

  • Theresa

    Michele
    In your small area, I don’t see a problem with your planting kale with lettuce. I guess it would depend on how much kale you have, but I think you’re fine.
    One thing you may have not taken into consideration is that you really want to rotate FAMILIES of plants. For example: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes are all in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). Thus, you would not want to plant that family of plants in the same area again for at least 3 years. ( 4 years is even better, but I never have the space to allow me to do that.)

    Just work on the rotation problem as you go along and make sure you are feeding your soil with lots of organic materials. The overall principles or purposes are what you want to keep in mind. Rotation can be difficult especially in small areas, but if you plant enough diversity — and cover crops will help with this — and do the best you can with rotation, I think you’ll do just fine.

    You had mentioned in another comment that you do square foot gardening. If you want to try your buckwheat — plant in squares that you are not currently using. Buckwheat only takes about 6 weeks from start to finish. Cut it just before it goes to seed and just leave the biomass right on the soil if you want. You also let the roots decay in the ground. If you have a warm weather crop seedling to put in — just plant right in with the roots of the buckwheat. Even legumes can be direct seeded in with the remaining buckwheat roots. If you direct seed something like lettuce, you might want to take the roots up — but just leave them right on the bed to decay.

    I hope this will help Michele. If you have more questions, feel free to ask.
    Theresa

  • otto jakel

    i live in zone 7b. can i plant buckwheat in late sept after garden is cleared of vegetables and then mow them down and plant cereal oats in nov and mow them down in late feb and start planting potatoes in early march and then plant the rest of my garden (beans, tomatoes and cucumbers) after the latest frost,allwithout tilling?

  • Theresa

    Otto, I’m in 7b as well. I still have crops producing in September, October and November. And I plant beds of various lettuces and greens for use through the winter.

    Buckwheat will germinate fine in September.
    It takes about 6 to 8 weeks to reach the bloom stage.

    You can plant your oats in November. Germination is still good at a 45º soil temperature.
    It’s been my experience that oats need really cold temperature to kill them. The first year I ever planted them they were going strong in late January and into February. I was worried they might not winter kill, but they did — although it’s almost always “late” winter in my garden.

    You could still plant potatoes even if the oats are not totally brown. It would be easy at that point (March) to put them in.

    I’m sure you must have a reason, but I would not plant both the buckwheat and the oats, but rather just buckwheat. Then cut it before it seeds leaving the roots in the soil, lay the biomass on top the bed and say good night to your garden until spring.

    Sounds like you’re planting your entire garden as one large bed. That’s something you’ll really need to plan carefully

    My garden is approximately 40 feet x 60 feet. The garden is divided in half the long way with a permanent path. I then have permanent beds on each side that are about 3 feet wide and 19 feet long with paths between them. I plan the cover crop strategy for each bed based on what I want to plant next spring/summer.

    Also you might want to do some research on my site. Most small gardeners need know how cover crop will behave and keep in mind what they will want to do with the bed in the spring. I’ve written several dozen posts involving cover crops. Here are 7 to get you started:

    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-helping-a-reader-begin-to-deal-with-a-problem/
    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-ideas-to-help-you-make-the-choice/
    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-your-purpose-determines-when-you-cut-or-incorporate-into-the-soil/
    http://tendingmygarden.com/winter-rye-as-a-cover-crop-2-strategies/
    http://tendingmygarden.com/comments-on-a-readers-plan-cover-crops-turning-the-soil-and-more/
    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-2-reasons-why-and-2-suggestions/
    http://tendingmygarden.com/cover-crops-garden-information-staying-out-of-overwhelm/

    Sounds like you’re new to my site, so you might want to research the 3 keys (use the search box) and also mulching.

    Theresa

  • Greg

    Theresa,
    I’m in zone 6 and planning to use cover crops for the first time this year (3 years into gardening in raised beds) because I don’t think I can rotate crops well enough at this point. My plan is to start by sowing buckwheat with my tomato plants for now and in a bed that is empty. I have a few questions hoping you can help with:

    1 From what I think I’ve read here, I can sow/grow the buckwheat with the tomatoes, right? My tomatoes are ripening now.

    2 I have straw mulch down on my tomato beds – should I remove it and leave it off so the buckwheat can grow?

    3 I’m a bit confused about whether or not I should turn the green buckwheat in just before it goes to seed or if I should just cut it down and leave it and then turn it in at a later time (presumably after it’s brown)?

    4 In the past, I’ve covered some of my beds with a combination of chicken manure and a few inches of seaweed, allowing it to sit all winter, and turning in what was left of it when the soil could be worked in the spring. Are cover crops better than this? Should I continue to do this in addition to the cover crop?

    How’s my plan?

    Thanks in advance.
    Greg

  • Theresa

    Hi Greg,
    1. Yes, you can sow/grow the buckwheat with the tomatoes.
    2. You’ll probably pull back tthe straw to plant the buckwheat. Replace at least a light layer of straw over the planted buckwheat (maybe an inch thick)
    It will come through that. I would leave the straw that is around the tomatoes. (Let me know if you have more questions about this.)
    3. All you need do is cut the buckwheat after flowering (before it seeds.) You may leave it right where it falls. I put straw on top of the buckwheat after cutting and NEVER turn mine in. Soil creatures do it. By spring you’ll never know it was there. I just pull back the mulch in the spring and plant.
    4. Your 4th questions would take a lengthy article to answer in detail. I’ll give you only a few points.

    I think the seaweed would be great for the soil. It’s great you have access to some.

    Many folks use manures. I have not used manures for years because I couldn’t get “good” and “safe” manure.
    HOWEVER, since those many years ago I’ve learned a lot about manures and sometimes they can cause more problems than they fix. Thus, I would not use manure even if I could get some good stuff.
    Good manure will depend on what the animal was fed of course.
    Many times gardeners think “more is better”. It is NOT. There is a balance and nature is BIG on balance.

    As to whether cover crops are better — I think there are so many variables involved that you can’t say one if “better” than the other.
    They are DIFFERENT.
    Cover crops pull up nutrients from the soil and manure does not. Manure adds what nutrients have been derived from the diet of the animal,
    Cover crops put down deep roots (some more than others) and benefit the soil that way.
    Cover crops can also be beneficial in helping with crop rotation. Manure isn’t.
    Cover crops also can act as mulch to cover the soil.

    Sounds like you’re doing good.
    Just be careful with your manure. If you’ve been successful with it — fine. Just be aware.

    All my best,
    Theresa

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>