All About Cover Crops

Cover Crop
While we were on our vacation, Sunshine Through The Windows asked about when the right time to plant cover crops is. I thought I’d take the opportunity to make that small question into a post all about cover crops, if you don’t mind.

Cover crops (also known as green manure) are fantastic ways to enrich your soil. In fact they’ve helped to improve our soil dramatically over the years. Cover crops are a crop that you plant in the off season that works while you rest. Their roots help to break up hard soil and aerate it while also imparting nitrogen into your soil. You can see the nitrogen on our last years cover crop of favas and vetch here. In the spring you cut or mow down the crop leaving the roots in the soil. You can then gently till the soil to spread around the nitrogen and other nutrients the roots provide. As for the tops of the plants, they are a welcome addition to your compost pile that will help amend your soil also.

There are all sorts of cover crops that you can grow, favas, field peas, vetch, buckwheat etc. This year we went with a variety cover crop seed mix that our local nursery pointed us too. Normally, in our non snowy climate, it’s best to plant this in fall. However time escaped us this year and we didn’t get to it until December. If you live in a snowy area, you can plant this first thing in spring and mow it down in summer when your tomatoes and peppers are ready to plant out.

If you’d like to read more about cover crops and overall soil health, I can’t recommend the book Secrets to Great Soil (Storey’s Gardening Skills Illustrated) enough. We refer to this book over and over again.

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4 Comments

Filed under cover crops, soil

4 responses to “All About Cover Crops

  1. Great post. Thanks!! Of course it just brought to mind a few more questions, if you don’t mind. What about planting a cover crop once you pull out the rest of your plants in the Fall, and then letting it overwinter while it snows. I think I read something about that somewhere. Then once the ground is workable in the Spring, just tilling the whole thing under. Have you heard any about that? Or would that create a space for bugs to overwinter as well? Of course now that it’s right in the middle of a big snow storm it’s too late to think about that. I do plan to plant a cover crop as soon as the ground is workable, though.

    • asonomagarden

      You know, we usually plant in fall and till in spring, but I have no idea if you can let it overwinter in snowy areas. I’ll keep an eye out while I’m reading and if I find anything on this I’ll let you know.

  2. We sowed our mix in the fall and just mowed and tilled it under and planted again. I was amazed at how quickly it all went this year. Last year we let it go a bit too long and ended up with a lot of woody stems on the bell beans that were a pain to break up.

    Great post, as usual :)

  3. Pingback: rain, cover crops, bare plants and ethiopian food | A Sonoma Garden

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