From the Desk of Ed Hume: Cover Crops for the Vegetable Garden

October 3, 2011 at 1:00 AM Leave a comment

It’s time to give some thought to planting a winter cover crop in the vegetable garden.

You may ask: what is a cover crop?  It’s a combination of plants that a person grows during the winter to enrich the soil naturally in your vegetable garden.  This is one the most efficient and economical ways of producing/growing fertilizer naturally, and creating green manure/compost over winter.

Once you have harvested the last of your vegetables, you can seed the area with one or more (I suggest more) of the seed varieties of cover crops.  The crop grows over winter, then in the spring all one does is spade or till the cover crop into the soil, thus enriching the soil with fertilizer, green manure, and compost.  And, as an added bonus, it’s relatively inexpensive.

Most garden outlets, including nurseries, garden centers, hardware stores, and places where garden products are sold carry a mix of cover crop seeds.  For example, last fall I purchased the following mix at our local garden outlet:
38.75% Ryegrain
24.94% Forage Peas
19.84% Yamhill wheat
4.99% Comon Vetch
4.37% Annual Rye
4.97% Crimson Clover

Instructions recommended that the 5-pound package be broadcast over a 1,250 feet area.  And, the cost was only about $15.00.

Here’s how I do it!  First, I spread fallen leaves over the vegetable garden, spade them in, level the area, and then broadcast the cover crop seed.  As a final step you want to barely cover the seed with a sandy soil or peat moss.  Sometimes a light raking will good a pretty good job of covering most of the seed.  If the soil tends to be a bit dry, moisten it as a final step.  By using this method, the fallen leaves decompose over-winter (in the soil) and the roots of the legumes form nitrogen nodules.  When you then spade (or till) the soil in the spring you have compost, fertilizer, and green manure in a wonderful new natural vegetable garden soil that’s ready for spring planting.

In the northwest, it’s best to sow the cover crop in late September or early October.  Then in the spring, weather permitting, spade it back into the soil when the top growth is about 2 to 4 inches high.  If the top growth gets more than 4 inches high, simply cut it back to 3 or 4 inches and still spade in the greens you cut.  In other words, don’t discard the cut top greens, recycle them…that’s green manure.

Now’s an ideal time for you to begin to enrich the soil in the vegetable garden to help ensure a successful and bountiful vegetable garden next year.

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Clip of the Week: Fall Containers Ed’s Podcasts: Cover Crops

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