Cover Crops/Green Manures

We were very sorry that Dot Perkins could not join us to lead our workshop about cover crops for our August. Unfortunately, she had severely injured her knee and could not manage to make it to the meeting. We hope she recovers quickly and is “good as new” very soon!

Buckwheat is a green manure/cover crop that can be planted in bare spots after harvest.

We soldiered on with a lively round robin discussion sharing our collective experiences and knowledge about cover cropping. Here is what we learned…

Cover Crops/Green Manures PDF

• A cover crop is essentially a green manure that you grow to till back into the soil. Cover crops enrich the soil, preserve nutrients and prevent soil erosion that comes from leaving the soil bare.

• Not all cover crops are good for home gardeners! Many cover crops require heavy farm equipment to till the crop back into the soil. Home gardeners require cover crops that are easy to cut down and dig back into the soil by hand. Here are a few suggestions…

Spring: The perfect cover crop for the early spring is Peas! Plant ordinary garden peas all over your entire garden in the early spring. Harvest your peas and dig in the plants. They create a really beautiful soil for your summer crops. If the peas aren’t ready to harvest and you are ready to plant other crops, simply dig in the plants. The plant material is a wonderful nutrient for your soil.

Summer: Buckwheat was highly recommended as an excellent summer cover crop. It does not require much water and it tolerates poor soil fertility. The stalks are tender and brittle and can be easily cut down with a scissors or yanked out by hand. Buckwheat is inexpensive (you can find it at Agway or Blue Seal) and it germinates very quickly. It is a good weed suppressant. Cut down the buckwheat before it starts flowering and  setting seed. Once cut down or pulled up, dig into the soil. It decomposes within a week so that the home gardener can plant quickly and creates a fine textured soil that is perfect for new seed beds.  Click here for more information about Buckwheat.

Spring and Summer: Mustard has also been recommended as a good cover crop to nourish the soil and suppress weeds. Plant around all of your plants and harvest as needed or simply cut and lay on top of the soil as a mulch. Replant as needed.

•Late Summer/Fall: Winter Rye or Rye mixed with Vetch are good cover crops for overwintering. Plant in the fall after you harvest the last of your crops. In the very early spring, you will see a hint of green as the rye begins to sprout. DIG IN RIGHT AWAY! It grows quickly and will become more difficult to dig in as it gets larger.

Cover Crops for Weed Suppression…

Rye or Rye plus Clover: Gardeners have had good success with growing rye or rye combined with clover to smother out weeds and nourish the soil in problem areas. In the spring, dig or rototill the weedy areas and then broadcast the  seed like grass seed. Keep the area mowed over the summer so the plants don’t set seed. The following spring, dig in as soon as you see the rye beginning to green and wait a couple of weeks to plant. Your new bed will be nourished with the green manures and mostly weed-free.

Comfrey’s many uses in the garden…

Comfrey is a plant that is extremely useful in your garden. You can use it as a mulch, compost activator, liquid fertilizer and soil amendment. HOWEVER…be careful when planting because comfrey can take over your garden! Ask around and  you will most likely have a friend who has some comfrey running rampant in their garden and is more than willing to have you harvest it.

Here is a link for more information about Comfrey

Final note…

I was so pleased with how much knowledge the gardeners had to share at the meeting. We all learn so much from each other and really benefit by sharing our experiences!  I also want to mention that the children had a wonderful time creating beautiful terrariums with the Lisa Aquizap and her Green Team.  The kids have been having a blast!


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