Annual ryegrass cover crop
convinced that many different cover crops have a place in our
garden...I just haven't found them all yet. Currently, my old
standbys are fall-planted
oats and oilseed radishes for winter cover, then buckwheat
for short fallow periods in the summer garden. But I've found
another niche I want to fill, and I'm hopeful annual ryegrass will
slide right in.
My back garden is nearly
and waterlogged as the forest garden, which means that many
vegetables do poorly there. I've raised some of the beds up with
trucked in manure and topsoil, but there's never enough organic matter
to go around, so most of the beds are still sitting in water.
Since I'm moving my
tomatoes to the forest garden's raised beds this year, I have about
twenty beds that can sit fallow until this time next year. That
just happens to be how many waterlogged beds there are in the back
garden, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to see how much a long
term cover crop could build up such a troubled spot.
Annual ryegrass won the
lottery for several reasons, but the real selling point of this
brilliant green grass is that it can handle floods. The cover
crop bible (Managing
Cover Crops Profitably)
notes that annual ryegrass produces more biomass than small grains in
wet soil, growing as much as 9,000 pounds of organic matter per acre if
you mow the ryegrass down to four inches several times through the
course of the year. In addition, ryegrass is a succulent forage
that's very tasty for animals, making me hope I can put a temporary
fence around the back garden and run some of our broilers there.
Before you get too excited,
annual ryegrass has some major pitfalls for the no-till gardener.
Traditional farmers plow ryegrass into the soil just as it starts to
bloom, but I'll have to get more creative. When I tried out
annual ryegrass last year, it
was very tough to kill,
and I decided that if I ever used it again, I would have to commit to
laying down a kill mulch to get rid of the vibrant greenery. The
photo here shows a bed of ryegrass approximately 75% killed by mowing
the ryegrass close to the earth, adding an inch of manure, and then
laying down grass clippings for mulch.
The other potential
problem with annual ryegrass is its tendency to self-seed and turn into
a weed problem. I'm going to need to be vigilant and mow the beds
whenever seed heads begin to form, which shouldn't be a problem in our
small back garden. Maybe this is my incentive to finally buy a
scythe that fits my stature, then learn to use it?
Our chicken waterer is perfect for pastured
birds since it never spills on uneven terrain.
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