Greetings fellow Grow-ers! For those of you who might not be familiar with cover crop use, a cover crop is planted not for food purposes (generally) but for many other beneficial reasons: to introduce nutrients to the soil, control erosion, combat weeds, pests and disease, improve soil quality and generally help with garden sustainability.
It is a good idea to dedicate part of your garden each year to soil recovery in order not to deplete all the nutrients where you are growing food, or at the very least plant a cover crop at the end of the season for the winter. Cover crops are super easy to grow and require little to no maintenance. They do need water if it’s dry, and you need to keep an eye on them so that you kill the crop before it goes to seed. The timing for this depends on what you plant. Buckwheat, for example, is a very fast growing cover crop but needs to be mowed/tilled in within 6 to 8 weeks, otherwise your garden will be full of buckwheat!
Other than buckwheat, some popular choices are:
Winter Rye – It is the hardiest and most cold and drought tolerant of the cover crops, and will grow and germinate down to 33 degrees. It is easy to plant and easy to till in the early spring. It is excellent in controlling soil erosion and adding organic matter into the soil.
Red Clover – This also is a winter hardy perennial that is good for adding nitrogen back into the soil. It helps suppress weeds and breaks up heavy soil.
Daikon/Tillage Radish – Known as the “soil softener” or “nature’s rototiller”, tillage radishes are excellent for aerating and breaking up heavy soil. They also introduce Nitrogen into the soil as they decompose, and are very good at controlling weeds and increasing organic matter.
Additionally, many cover crop mixes contain field peas and hairy vetch. The trick is to find out what your garden needs and plant your cover crops accordingly.
Here in Linwood, we are still working on garden cleanup, as the last week of September and first week of October were quite warm and dry. Some of our participants just got the last of their tomatoes today! So, this year, our late start means a late end apparently!