Cover crops are also known as green manure. Green manures recycle nutrients back into our garden soil. Using cover crops help our soil in several ways some are listed below:
- Inexpensive way to Improve crop yields.
- Better soil fertility.
- Improves soil structure.
- Lets more air into the soil.
- Improves drainage
- Helps hold water if you have sandy soil.
- Prevents erosion.
- Weed control.
- Attracts beneficial insects.
There are many types of cover crops that serve different purposes. We are giving buckwheat, crimson clover, and turnips out tonight to all our Grow Appalachia participants to plant in their gardens.
Buckwheat is not wheat at all; it is a broadleaf that works as a smother crop. Buckwheat being a broadleaf provides a quick canopy smothering out weeds. It grows very fast sprouts in about one week matures in 6 to 8 weeks getting to about two feet tall. It kills off with the first frost. Beneficial insects are attracted to it in your garden. Bees particularly love buckwheat. It cannot be allowed to go to seed or it may be a problem in your garden next year. If you do not get a killing frost before its flowers go to seed make sure your cut it down before it sets seed. That is about 2 weeks after it flowers.
Crimson clover is a legume that is an annual. It fixes nitrogen in the soil that becomes available next year for your vegetable crops. Crimson clover is slower to germinate it takes it about two weeks. Crimson clover will come up in the buckwheat and be peaking up fairly well when the frost kills of the buckwheat. Most winter you will see green clover. It will grow all winter building your soil below ground. In the spring it will grow the most beautiful crimson red flowers. Again do not allow it to go to seed in your garden. Mow it over, weed eat it, plow it under.
Turnips were in the mix to help break-up soil compaction. When we walk on the soil while tilling, weeding, and harvesting we compact the soil. Plus we have the added bonus of being able to harvest the turnip tops or the turnips during the winter months.
In the spring plow your cover crops under about two to three weeks before you want to plant in your garden. This is an important step that must not be left out when using cover crops in your garden. That time period allows the decomposition process to complete itself, bringing your soil to the point of being ready for the next season in the garden.
Cathy Lackey, University of KY and TN Master Gardener.