As Fall gets underway and our production continues to slow down, it’s important to give thought to our soil for next year. After all, that’s where it all begins for our veggies, right? An old farm mentor of mine once said “healthy soil grows healthy food, healthy food nourishes healthy people, and healthy people build healthy communities.” I try to base my vegetable farming ethos around that philosophy, so that was on the forefront of my mind this month as we started cover cropping our beds no longer in production.

Putting these beds to rest for the winter always makes me think of the restful season to come so that we can recharge physically and mentally to be fully ready to tackle the demands of the farm next spring! But just as farming can take it out of you sometimes, growing vegetables can also be a little rough on your soil, so make sure you’re taking care of it! Cover cropping is just one of many ways to do so.

Recently, on a nice warm Fall day, we took our Young Farmers from our Ruby Grow program to some garden plots that will no longer be in production to cast some cover crop seed. First we hoed and raked out any weeds and prepped the beds as we would when growing any other vegetable. Then we cast our Grow Appalachia cover crop seed and lightly raked it in

Thanks to cover cropping (and other methods of soil management) I feel like we can look forward to starting off with some healthy, fertile soil in the spring that’s hopefully as well-rested and recharged as we are. That way we can get back to the important work of growing local food in an environmentally sound, sustainable manner and build better relationships between ourselves, our food, and others.  Remember, take care of and connect with your soil so you can connect with good food and good community!

The Benefits of Cover Cropping

But how exactly does cover cropping help your soil health? Some legume crops such as clover and peas are nitrogen fixers, meaning they return nitrogen and other nutrients to your soil that your crops may have depleted it of during the growing season. Cover crops will also add organic material into your soil, meaning a healthy biome of all those helpful microorganisms that actually make the nutrients available for your crops and aid your soil’s structure. Speaking of the structure, that’s one of the most important things! A healthy soil structure will drain well, be more resistant to wind and rainfall erosion, and be able to store water longer meaning less time watering and more time available for other tasks!