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Organic Gardening and the Value of Cover Crops

For centuries cover crops have been used to improve soil quality and fertility. They accomplish this by both their root structure and their above ground biomass.

In addition cover crops can

  • suppress weeds,
  • bring beneficial insects,
  • scavenge minerals from deep in the soil,

Oil radish is another easy cover crop that is said to bring up unused nutrients in the soil for the next crop. I’ll turn this under before freezing weather to add nitrogen and  improve the fertility of this bed.

  • suppress soil diseases and pests,
  • fix nitrogen in the soil,
  • break hardpan, and
  • protect the soil from the elements.

Cover crops have no harmful side effects and with a little help from the gardener or farmer they get the job done efficiently and effectively.

The primary way (not the only way) cover crops accomplish all this for the organic gardener is by adding organic material to the soil ——which decays to become organic matter.  They make it easy to get organic material that otherwise always seems in short supply.

Cover crops go hand in hand with organic gardening.

Chemicals Have Tried to Take the Place of Cover Crops in Today’s Age

Today’s conventional gardener (and farmer) has grown-up in an age that has lost sight of what nature has provided for us. With the encouragement of chemical companies whose ONLY motive is profit – the masses have turned to fertilizers and herbicides thinking they are THE way to do things. It may well be the “modern” way of doing things, but it is FAR from the best way of doing it.

With a little knowledge, effort, and management cover crops can help us produce more abundantly, keep insect pests population down, suppress weeds and keep our gardens healthy and free of disease.

A Cover Crop Tailored for Your Situation

There are lots of cover crops.  Each one performs and works a little differently than the next.  Which one you choose depends a lot on what you want to achieve and what crop is suited to your particular situation and your ability to incorporate it into the soil.

(I always choose a crops that I can pull up and/or turn under easily.  Something that needed a strong arm or a plow would be too much for me.)

I recently wrote about the cover crop buckwheat.  It’s so easy and so fast to grow that you can plant just about anytime you have open beds in your garden. And — its sooooo easy to incorporate into the soil.  If you’re new to all this cover crop business, buckwheat is a great one to grow first to get your feet wet.

Buckwheat – my favorite cover crop. If the cold kills it I’ll leave it in until spring.  If the weather stays warm and it blooms, I incorporate it into the soil.  It will add nitrogen and improve soil fertility.

Free Chart is an Invaluable Source of Information about Cover Crops

In the interim, be sure and review Johnny’s Selected Seed Cover Crop chart.  It’s one I keep on my desktop and refer to all the time.  The comparison chart is a free download from Johnny’s.  So download it now so you’ll have it. (Sometimes they change the location of the chart and then the link takes you to the home page.  They make it difficult to find sometime.  If you have trouble write to me and I’ll try to get find it for you and send you whatever link is current.)

It lists the various cover crops and when they should be planted.  It tells you whether or not they fix nitrogen in the soil, if they bring bees and beneficial insects.  It also gives the primary use of each crop.

For example: Buckwheat is primarily used to smother weeds, to draw bees, and for grain. (But I use it primarily as a soil fertility boost between crops by incorporating it into my soil just when it starts to bloom.)

Last but not least they give you various helpful comments.  For example – whether or not the cover crop is easily incorporated into the soil, or if its killed by frost or is cold tolerant, or if it can be mowed.

Final Thought and Recommendation

I strongly recommend keeping this chart on your desktop and referring to it often.  Become familiar with cover crops by trying one at a time to see what you’ll be dealing with.

These crops go hand in hand with organic gardening. They’re an easy and quick way to get organic material which turns to organic matter to help give you a healthy and productive garden. Start using cover crops now to make your garden beds the best they can be.

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