Every fall we plant a new cover crop. Why plant something we can’t really eat? Because not only does it make our otherwise brown winter garden green, but it’s quite beneficial to the soil. Cover crops hold down soil from winters erroding rains, they build up nutrients in the soil, and come spring they provide plenty of material (called biomass if you want to talk like a pro) for composting.
What I find pretty amazing about using cover crops is that when you pull up the roots you can actually see the little balls of nitrogen that have formed on the roots. Here’s the roots of the fava beans, do you see those little balls attached to the roots?
What is also amazing is the immediate action of that added nitrogen. Our fava bean patch and lettuce patch became interplanted at one end and the lettuce that was growing amidts the favas was about three times larger than the lettuce growing on it’s own. I wish I had taken a picture of it before our chickens found it and made themselves a salad lunch.
One thing new we learned this year about growing fava beans as a cover crop is that you should till the crop under before the plant has created beans because the nutrients are then brought up from the soil into the making of the beans. Previously we had waited for the beans to form so that we could eat them ourselves. This year we’ll most likely till the majority of them and eat a few of them. They are too tasty to till them all!
Our chest high favas also make for great exploring for little ones:
Here is the purple vetch
and it’s roots
Vetch actually gives a bit more nitrogen to the soil, but it grows in a more matted form so it’s hard to do interplantings if you wanted to do those like we did (inadvertently with the lettuce).