Monday, April 14, 2014

Cover Crops by Trudy Hodges

Winter Cover Crop
This past winter I decided to try growing some cover crops in my greenhouse.  I planted some white clover, and a few others (I can’t remember).  The photos were taken before I tilled the soil in preparation for planting.

Cover crops are amazing; they provide many positive aspects to the garden.  They can provide erosion control, fix nitrogen, and build soil quality.  Cover crops are also called “green manure” and are often in the Fabaceae (pea) family.
Clover Cover Crop
Increasing soil fertility is one of the primary uses of cover crops.  They can influence a range of macronutrients and micronutrients; nitrogen has received the most attention since it is often the limiting nutrient in crop production.  Cover crops can also improve soil quality by increasing organic matter levels when crops are killed and incorporated into the soil.  Plants must be killed before they go to seed and before the top growth gets too mature.

After plowing under the green compost it is best to wait 2 to 3 weeks before planting vegetables or flowers, as crop decomposition can tie up soil nitrogen.

At higher altitudes, cover crops can be planted as early as mid-September, with mid-October being the latest. Depending on your elevation, you may need to plant earlier to get the plants established before freezing weather. Do not let crops go to seed, or you will have cover crop in your seed bed.  Many of the crops winter kill allowing you avoid the waiting period in the early spring.

Buckwheat is a broadleaf plant that will smother out weeds and other plants.  Its flowers also attract beneficial insects.

Clover comes in many varieties.  Clover fixes nitrogen, attracts beneficials and helps build rich soil.  Clover must be inoculated with a Rhizobium bacteria for best results.

Rye comes as annual or cereal ryeAnnual rye will winter kill allowing you to skip the waiting period in the spring.

Field Peas fix nitrogen and are cold tolerant, making them a good fall plant.  They will winter kill, allowing an early spring start.

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