From the Desk of Ed Hume: Cover Crops

September 29, 2009 at 11:52 PM 11 comments

This week’s Wednesday article comes from the extensive library at  For those familiar with the online library, you can also view this specific article here.  For those who would like to read the article from this blog, here it is!:

Once you have harvested your vegetables you can re-prepare the soil and seed a cover crop which helps build compost humus and a natural fertilizer to revitalize the soil for next years crops. Cover crops are relatively inexpensive, easy to seed, and provide a great source of ‘green manure’ for vegetable garden soils. It’s the natural way to revitalize the soil and suppress weed growth at the same time!

Cover crop mix - ready to till under.Cover crops have several other advantages in that they help reduce soil erosion, rebuild soil texture and water retention, aid in loosening the soil, add organic matter, suppress weeds and some cover crops, like peas, clover and vetch actually add fertilizer in the form of nitrogen.

A cover crop can be seeded as soon as any vegetable crop has reached maturity and has been harvested. In fact, cover crops should be sown while the weather is still warm enough for the seeds to germinate. Here in the northwest the cut-off date for seeding is usually set at about October 15th to November 1st. After that time the seed is apt to just sit dormant and not germinate until the next spring, at a time when you really don’t want these cover crops growing in your garden.

There’s no special soil preparation for seeding a cover crop. Simply, spade or till the soil after harvest, and sow the cover crop seed. If you have late crops in a part of the garden, then simply sow the cover crop in the space between the rows.

There is a wide variety of seeds that can be grown as cover crops. Among the most popular ones are Rye grain, Crimson Clover (strains), Garden Pea (strains), Vetch; Alfalfa, Oats, Buckwheat etc. These can be planted individually or they are often mixed and planted as a blend because of the various benefits the different crops offer.

If lime needs to be added to the vegetable garden soil, do it before seeding the cover crop, or wait until after the cover crop has been spaded or tilled-in next spring.

Cover crops seeded in the fall will continue to grow all winter, whenever it is warm, and then will be ready to be spaded or tilled-in just before planting time late this winter or early spring.

There is a good chance the cover crop will get too tall over winter and it will be necessary to either mow or cut the top with a sickle, before spading. If this happens, leave the cut greens on the soil and simply spade or till them into the soil, because they make the ‘green manure’.

Sometimes if any of the clover or vetch seed does not germinate it will remain over winter and then seed in the spring. This is not desired, so the new seedlings should be cultivated and added to the compost pile before they have a chance to flower and go to seed.

Incidentally, chickweed or most any other weed that grows in the garden over-winter can also be considered a cover crop, when spaded or tilled into the soil. Remember these weeds must be tilled or spaded before they flower and go to seed again, or you will fight the germination of the new seed all spring and summer. These nuisance weeds are not recommended as cover crops, but since they sometimes appear in the garden why not take advantage of their value as green manure.

In addition to cover crops there are other ways of adding organic matter to the soil, over winter. Animal manures are a great source of organic-humus and nutrients. They are best added to the soil in the fall or early winter, so the nutrients have a chance to breakdown over winter.

Compost is another great way of adding organic-humus. And, when you have finished harvesting your vegetables, simply spade or till into the soil the portions of the plants that still remain, as they also become organic humus, adding nutrients and organic matter. Of course, use good common sense, if a crop has had insect or disease problems it would be best to grub it out, rather than take a chance of spreading the problem in the soil.

Fall is a great time to improve the soil in your vegetable garden, and in other parts of the garden too. And, a cover crop is a great way of adding organic-matter, at a time when the garden is inactive.

We sincerely hope this advice towards the timing, use, and optimization of cover crops serves you all well.  Thank you as always for your readership and support, and stayed tuned Friday for the clip of the week!

PS For those of you who had trouble with our last podcast, that issue is now fixed.  Feel free to download and listen at your leisure, and thanks for letting us know about the issue!


Entry filed under: Articles. Tags: , , , , , .

Podcast Mondays: Cover Crops Clip of the Week: Cover Crops

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. RobD  |  October 6, 2009 at 4:30 PM

    Hey, I found your blog while searching on Google your post looks very interesting for me. I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work! :)

    • 2. edhume  |  October 8, 2009 at 7:26 PM

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback, Rob! I’m so glad that you could have found the site, and I hope that you enjoy all of the gardening hints and tips!

  • 3. BloggerDude  |  October 8, 2009 at 7:26 PM

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Cool site, love the info. I do a lot of research online on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read….

    • 4. edhume  |  October 10, 2009 at 10:33 AM

      Thank you for the compliment! I certainly try to put as much information as I can into each post. I’m glad you like the blog!

  • 5. BzzzBee  |  November 6, 2009 at 3:23 PM

    Ed: Watched one of your fall TV shows several weeks ago. You explained planting a fall cover crop in our gardens and it appeared you were planting from a bag of “Ed Hume” mix. Is this a product you sell? If you stock this, where can I find this in Olympia area for next year fall planting?
    Please help out.

    • 6. edhume  |  November 7, 2009 at 12:18 PM

      Hi Bee:
      So many of the garden centers began carrying their own ‘Cover Crop’ mixes that we discontinued our brand.
      Call first, but places like ‘Olympia Bark and Garden’ will probably carry individual varieties plus a mix of ‘Cover Crop’ seeds.
      Hope this information helps!
      Ed Hume

  • 7. BzzzBee  |  February 2, 2010 at 6:17 PM

    RE: Rose Pruning Feb or Mar?
    Hi Ed,
    Here I am again. I read in your 2010 Garden Almanac that the first entry for pruning roses is Mar 11,12 Dark of Moon, 4th Qtr Aquarius. However, in your 2009 Garden Almanac lists Feb 22,23 Dark of Moon, 4th Qtr Aquarius as the first entry to prune roses. Noticed my roses are beginning to leaf, and they are looking pretty ratty. Do I need to wait until Mar 11 & 12 to prune them, or can I prune them Feb 12, 2010 during Dark of Moon, 4th Qtr Aquarius? What reason would I need to wait til Mar 11 & 12?
    One other thing that is confusing is 2010 Almanac Feb 9,10 advises Mulch for Winter protection. Am wondering if means Mulch for weed control maybe?
    I have been following your little almanac for years now, with great success. In fact, I purchase several copies as soon as Fred Meyer gets them on the rack and send/pass them out to friends and family. I am one of your best customers! You keep me on track every day! Love, love my little books. They have become my garden bible.
    Thanks, Ed. Hope to hear from you prior to Feb 12.

    • 8. edhume  |  February 3, 2010 at 3:08 PM

      Hi Bee:

      I think right now is too early to severely prune roses. We could have some really cold weather in the next several weeks, and if that occurs it would/could cause some severe die-back on the roses. Wait until late February or early March to severely prune roses.

      Hope this helps!
      Ed Hume

  • […] one, two, or all of them together.  For more detail on planting your cover crop, you can check out this article and this […]

  • 10. mycorrhizal  |  November 24, 2010 at 4:43 AM

    Hey edhume

    Your website is really great and good looking.. I have natural products which are good for plant care… I will appreciate if you can guide me How to make them popular.. as you have very good reputation in market…


    • 11. edhume  |  November 29, 2010 at 1:53 PM

      Hi Scott:
      I think one of the best ways to introduce a new product or line of products is to show it to some of the local businesses and get their opinions, suggestions, and if possible have them feature your product. The mistake most make in introducing a new product is to begin advertising it before it is in the stores. The consumer goes to the dealer asking the for it, they don’t have it and get a bit upset because no one knows where to get it. To eliminate this from happening you can attempt to get a garden distributor (firm or qualified individual) to market and distribute it for you. Any nursery or garden center owner or buyer can suggest which ones they prefer…they contact them and see if they are interested in carrying your product.
      Hope this information helps!
      Ed Hume


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