There’s a lot that goes into preparing our garden for the late fall and winter. We pull out the row cover and the hoops. We trim and mulch the asparagus beds. The raspberry bushes get trimmed as well. With the row cover blanketing the garden it seems like everything has gone to sleep, but really, our garden is still in production mode. In the hoop houses we have full beds of lettuce, spinach, winter greens, and cabbage. Outside, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, Swiss chard, beets, carrots, and more greens poke their heads out of the row cover.
This year was my first attempt at growing a winter garden and I’m impressed with the food that we are still distributing to our partners. I’m really looking forward to distributing fresh greens and brassicas to Marion families this Thanksgiving. Even though all of our crops are doing well, something else impresses me more—our cover crops.
If you’re a novelist like me, then you probably don’t know much about cover crops or which ones to use and when to use them. After some careful reading and a lot of advice from more experienced farmers, this year I planted three cover crops: buckwheat, crimson clover and barley. All of these expect the buckwheat can be planted in the fall. Buckwheat isn’t the focus of this post, but I do want to mention it because it is wonderful. We planted our buckwheat in the spring. We allowed it to bloom and seed and then we mowed it down which added organic matter to the soil. Since it seeded, it came back again. This time we just left it for the first frost to kill and the dead plants created a winter mulch that we will till into the soil in the spring.
Here’s more information about the other cover crops we used this year.
Crimson clover is a legume cover crop, with exceptional nitrogen production. This species can be planted as a summer annual in colder regions or a winter annual in warmer regions. A winter annual planting can grow 12-20″ tall at maturity and produce similar nitrogen yields as hairy vetch or winter peas. Fall biomass production can be significant enough to reduce soil erosion and out compete weed species better then hairy vetch. It’s taproot has the potential to reach a depth of 12-21″ and has the ability produce and scavenge residual nitrogen. We sow it with barely.
Winter barely makes a great cover crop. Inexpensive and easy to grow, barely provides exceptional erosion control and weed suppression. It also can fill short rotation niches or serve as a topsoil protecting crop. It improves soil tilth and is a excellent nitrogen scavenger. Plant barely in the September- early October.
There are a lot of cover crop options out there, so explore which ones are best for your garden. These three are very popular and keep your garden working even when you are inside drinking hot chocolate.