It’s not too late to cover cropOctober 17th, 2010 by Peg Tillery
Cover crops are often called “green manure.” Just as aged manure and aged compost are good for vegetable gardening, so too are cover crops (green manure). Cover crops can be seeded in our gardens from September through the end of October. The earlier the better is a good rule, but many of us this year waited until the beginning of October and, according to plant experts, we can still sow the seeds through Halloween at least.
Seeds need 60 to 70 degrees to germinate so the trick during these cooler temperatures is to select cover crop seed that will germinate in the cooler temperature ranges. In my garden I chose crimson clover and annual rye (often called either winter rye or fall rye). I planted the raised beds shown in the photo below only about 3 weeks ago.
Cover crop seeds can be found at local feed stores and at many of our local nurseries. If you were to ask any vegetable gardener you’d find they all have their own favorite blends. Some love fava beans, vetch and rye; othes swear by only crimson or white clover and still others like only rye. It’s up to you to choose your cover crop. All will work.
These cover crops serve three main purposes: when it rains these vegetative masses will keep the soil in the garden plots; they also out compete the weeds; and lastly in the spring cover crops return nitrogen matter and tilth to the soil.
Some cover crops come in bulk; others come in prepackaged bags or boxes. The labels or nursery staff can tell you how much seed is needed per square foot. Pull up all the weeds (if there are any) in your garden beds; rake the soil to rough it up a bit. Sprinkle the seeds and then lightly rake the soil and seeds to smooth out the bed. Lightly water it all in. We’re receiving enough rainy days so you will probably only need to water this one time. Then let nature do its thing and viola in about a week you’ll have lovely green vegetation in your garden beds.
In early spring when the weather first starts warming up (anywhere from February through the end of March) weedwhack or use clippers to cut back the cover crops. Leave the clippings in the bed.
Allow a few days for the greenage to start decomposing. Then take a shovel and start turning it all over. Let this turned over soil and vegetation sit for a few days and repeat the digging up and turning over process at least one more time, sometimes two or three times is needed. You will be ready to plant in April at least if not sooner.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly it all blends in and becomes good nutrient rich soil. The greenage literally decomposes into compost in the garden beds.
Only one caveat, even though the seeds are quite hardy and genetically programmed to germinate in cooler weather, in the first week or so while you’re waiting patiently for the green shoots to emerge you’ll want to throw a floating row cover over the beds at night in areas where it’s already starting to frost.
I’ve interspersed photos of my 3 raised garden beds and the cover crops (green manure) in this article. In the spring you’ll be glad you did some cover cropping this fall. If you’d like a copy of more information on cover cropping email email@example.com and she’ll send you a cover crop information sheet produced by Master Gardener Kim Schleis.
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