There are lots of reasons to grow Cover Crops. When you cut or incorporate your cover crops into the soil will be determined by the reason you’re growing it.
Here are some examples:
- Earlier this summer I thickly planted buckwheat in various beds that had finished producing vegetables. I let the buckwheat grow and flower (for the bees). Then I cut it. Left the roots in the bed. Covered the biomass with straw.
The biomass from the buckwheat (the green) and the straw (carbon) will act to create compost before I plant in the spring. All I’ll have to do is pull back my straw and plant. The soil will have plenty of organic matter.
- Some of my garden beds that have fall crops in them will need to be renewed quickly in the spring before I plant something else. More than likely I’ll plant buckwheat because it grows so quickly. But whatever I decide on I’ll incorporate into the soil when its only a few inches high. Then I’ll wait a week and plant.
If I allowed the cover crop to mature — not only would it take too long (remember – I’ll want to plant veggies in this bed) — but the mature plants would take longer to break down and it would take longer for the nutrients they supply to be made available to my veggie plants. The young growth will break down quickly and supply more nutrients quickly to the next crop.
- A few weeks ago in various available garden beds I planted oats and field peas. The oats will winter kill. The field peas will grow more in the spring and set nitrogen into the soil. I’ll cut their biomass down with a hand sickle before the peas seed or about a week before I need to plant — whichever comes first. The biomass will act as mulch for the bed. As it decays it will recycle nutrients back to soil and make them available to my crops.
The roots of the oats should be pretty much decayed and benefiting the soil. If I want to turn the soil — the roots of the oats are not hard to incorporate. Depending on what I plant, I would prefer to leave them in the soil — It’s easier and saves time.
- As you know from past posts, I have planted cereal rye to winter over and grow a lot of biomass in spots where tomatoes will grow. In the very center of the circle I’ll incorporate the cereal rye in late fall or early winter so I’ll make sure not to have a problem with it when I’m busy in the spring. (Cereal rye has massive roots and can be hard to incorporate.) The rest will grow tall.
Long about May (depending on the weather) when the pollen is heavy on the rye, I’ll cut it by hand and lay it on the circle as mulch. I don’t want to use any straw on my tomatoes until at least August and I’m hoping that the rye will be enough to keep my tomatoes mulched until then. The dying/dead roots will also act as mulch, add nutrients to the soil and hold moisture. The biomass on top further holds moisture and as it decays adds more nutrients.
If you have a garden bed that you are working on improving, but does not yet have rich soil — try growing buckwheat or oats. Both will grow on poor soil. Pull up nutrients. Store them. And recycle them in a usable form back to your next crop after you incorporate them into the soil.
I hope this has given you some ideas about how you can make cover crops work for you. When you become aware of all the wonderful ways they help you in your garden — it makes you wonder how you ever did without them.
Organic gardening is easy, efficient, effective — and it’s a lot healthier.
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