By Jolie Donohue, The Gardening Goddess
Cover crops, sometimes known as “green manure,” are quick growing and planted primarily to keep the soil covered for a short period, often during fall and winter. Then plowed under, they reduce erosion and suppress weeds by providing competition.
When the lush green decomposes, it returns large amounts of nutrients and organic matter to the soil. That stabilizes moisture content and improves garden soil texture.
Members of the legume family – crimson clover, Dutch white clover, fava beans, Austrian peas and vetch – return nitrogen to the soil. They host nitrogenfixing bacteria and extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that can be used by plants.
Other cover crops include rye, buckwheat and oilseed radish. There are also seed mixes that contain various cover crops.
Fall is a great time to plant cover crops. Unless you are growing winter crops, you are probably cleaning up and putting your vegetable garden to bed at this time of year. So why not plant some cover crops?
Depending on the variety you choose, they are usually seeded before November. Plant cover crop seeds by broadcasting, check seeding rates for individual varieties. The seeds must be covered by soil and kept evenly moist while germinating. Most cover crops need full sun.
Every year at the beginning of October, we plant crimson clover in three raised beds. With a daily light watering, we are rewarded with germination in less than seven days, then lush green grass followed by bright flowers in the spring that attract bees before being turned over.
Fava beans are another excellent cover crop that grows into tall three-foot vigorous plants with beautiful flowers. The deep taproot loosens up those hard clay soils we have here.
Oilseed radish have the same beneficial taproot quality of fava beans; however, they are in the cabbage family so you need to consider them in your garden crop rotation schedule.
Rye germinates quickly and tolerates harsh conditions. Their dense mat of roots makes them excellent erosion controllers.
Jolie is a Concordia neighborhood resident who offers garden design and consultation services, and teaches workshops about therapeutic horticulture, floral design and seasonal recipes. For more information, visit MissJolieAnnKitchenGarden.blogspot.com and JolieAnnDonohue.com.