The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

No-till cover crop experiments

Oats planted Aug. 20 and mowed in early Nov.Cover crops were another innovation in 2010, doing double-duty as weed suppressors and compost creators.  My first goal was to find varieties that like our clay soil and work well with no-till conditions in zone 6 (i.e. they die over the winter or are easy to kill by mowing), while also building up as much organic matter in the soil as possible.  Meanwhile, I wanted to learn the best planting dates in order to grow vegetables for as much of the year as possible and still find time to slide in a cover crop planting.

Crimson clover planted on October 8Here's a rundown on each species I tried, with the caveat that the December snow coat prevented a winter kill in several species that I suspect will still die out before spring planting time.  I also can't tell how much organic matter has been added to the soil yet --- I'll try to remember to post again when I delve into the dirt in each bed and notice the differences between crops, but for now I'm just making guesses based on how much vegetation is on the surface.

Looking beyond the minutae, cover crops are a great addition to the garden, and I can't imagine why it took me so long to come on board.  (Well, I know why --- I thought they were incompatible with no-till.)  Cover crops keep the soil from eroding and the food web alive in the fall after the main garden is done, and it really perks me up to look out at a sea of colors in November rather than at a lot of dead stalks.  If I had to make only one recommendation to gardeners based on my 2010 vegetable garden experiments, it would be "Plant cover crops!"

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This post is part of our 2010 experiments lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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