Cover Crops

A Concern to Address when Deciding the Cover Crop to Plant

One concern that should be addressed when deciding what cover crop to plant is “will it die back?”. If so, when is die back expected and what to do if by chance it doesn’t die back.

Often my choice for a winter cover crop is a mix of field peas and oats.

The first year that mix was planted die back was expected by the end of March, but it was longer in coming than anticipated.  

Last fall I planted this mix in several beds. The winter was so mild it didn’t phase growth one bit!

On April 14  I used my hand sickle to cut the oats and peas off at ground level. Left them on the bed and added a thick layer of straw on top.

By April 28 only a few small roots of oats remained. They came out easily. 

The remaining dried biomass and straw was raked into the adjoining path on the left until the job was finished. The bed was then ready to plant even with the  smallest of seeds. 

Ready to plant bed

Had the bed been designated for warm-weather transplants the covers could have remained even longer before being cut. 

When the weather warmed enough a planting hole could be dug into the stubble for each transplant.  Add mulch and you’re finished.

(NOTE: Covers need to be cut before they set seed to get the most nutrient value from their  biomass. Once they start setting seed the nutrition goes to the seed.)

My hand sickle, a Seikouba Sickle (Medium Blade) by Hida Tool makes cutting covers easy.  

I bought it close to two decades ago so the price now is much higher.

I saw other sickles on Amazon but they may not be the same quality.

In the Picture of the Bed

The stacked tomato stakes had been in the paths on each side of this bed during the winter. I moved them onto the neighboring beds while getting ready to plant. 

The green plant in the bed at the bottom of the picture is a volunteer potato that I didn’t want to move.  

The two plants on the right which were lovely  — I’m not sure about. Cabbage was here last year but any cabbage plants that I’ve seen setting seed in the past didn’t look anything like this plant.  If anyone has an idea, please let me know. 

Mystery plant

43 Cover CropPosts

If you’re thinking about improving your soil with cover crops and have lots of questions, I may have already answered them in the 43 posts I’ve written pertaining to them. 

On the home page  under Popular Organic Gardening Topics – click on the topic Cover Crops when it comes around.

There you can select the post you want to read. A few of the many things covered in those posts are:

  • value of cover crops, 
  • strategies for various cover crops, 
  • what to use if you can’t buy cover crops, 
  • help with various mistakes made with cover crops,  
  • ideas to help you decide which one to use,  
  • soil fertility without manure or compost, 
  • diversity and pest control,
  • crop rotation and cover crops/

If you’re thinking about cover crops I invite you to take advantage of these posts that can put you ahead of the game even before you have your own hands on experiences.

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5 Comments

  • Hello Theresa, Just wanted to say hello and that I enjoy your posts. Thank You!

  • Hi Theresa, I’m finally reading this post now! I also agree that the mystery plant is a Fava bean.
    Thank you for all the information about cover crops. I try to integrate them in my crop rotation, but I find it hard at the moment with the limited space I have. However, this could be the perfect moment to review your posts before I can start planting cover crops more seriously as my garden grows 🙂

    Thank you for the link to your sickle! It gives me more an idea of what to look for. I’ve been wanting one for a while but apparently this is another thing hard to find down here…..

  • Oh yes Theresa! Broad beans (as we call them here in England) and a very healthy, soon to be abundant, looking plant it looks too!

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