Although cover crops have been used for years, many people aren’t familiar with them and yet they are so beneficial for our poor soils here.
Basically, a cover crop is a crop such as buckwheat which is planted in your garden this time of year. It will grow on for a month or so, at which time you will kill it. Sounds easy right? So why do it?
It’s really very simple. Cover crops are sometimes called “green manure” and help improve soils in a number of ways. When they are in the ground and growing, they will help control weeds and erosion. Once tilled under they improve soil health by adding organic matter and nutrients into our clay soils here. Earthworm populations also benefit from cover crops. They will also help to keep your soil from compacting through the winter.
Cover crops can be used not only in large fields, but also by the home gardener. Begin by selecting your crop. Some easy choices are buckwheat, rye, and clover, or a mix of those, but there are others too.
Once you have removed your summer annuals or vegetables, begin by roughing up the surface. Broadcast seed over the surface, taking care to scratch it in so that the birds don’t feast on your crop. Now is the best time to get them planted while there are still warm, sunny days and they have time to grow.
Maintenance for these crops are relatively easy, depending on what you’ve selected. Most, like buckwheat, use little water and require little attention.
Once the seed heads emerge on the grain crops, or the flowers emerge on the others, it’s time to kill them. Yes, kill them. You want to cut them at the base of the plant before the top growth gets out of control and they set seed, or else you will end up with a mass of undesirable weeds in your garden come next spring.
Most crops can be killed using a lawn mower or weed trimmer, depending on how large an area you are covering and how big they have grown. Then wait a few days in order to let them dry, and dig or rototill them into your garden. The decomposition of the crop over the coming months will provide great nutrients for your garden next spring which is why they are known as “green manure.”