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

Planting cover crops between fruit trees

Cover crops in the apple orchard

Awesome reader and cover-crop experimenter Craig wrote in last month with his questions and comments about planting cover crops between young fruit trees in mid Ohio. He promised me pictures and a followup, both of showed up in my inbox last week.

Growing rye between apple trees.

Craig's first experiment involved "hand-tossed rye seeds on my apple beds" in early August to replace a mature buckwheat stand. He noted, "I'm loving how the action of re-seeding a new green manure crop after buckwheat accomplishes multiple tasks: plants the next cover, provides an opportunity to weed (easily and satisfyingly) what didn't get crowded out by the last round of growth, and creates a mulch on the soil surface."

This has been my experience too! My best stand of oats is coming up where I treated a buckwheat bed exactly the same way. Definitely recommend!

Oilseed radishes planted between apple trees.

Again just like in my garden, Craig's oilseed radish cover crop (which he calls "torpedo radishes") came up very strongly. We both overseeded since it's tough to get anything to sprout atop dry late-summer soil, and we both ended up with a radish stand thicker than was really necessary. No real harm done other than a waste of seed, but our lesson has been learned!

Craig promised me a followup this spring, so I'll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, I thought I'd spill some beans of my own. I'm hoping to find time this winter to work on a cover-crop video course and/or workbook. Both are intended to simplify the brain power involved in including cover crops in your garden, either through lots of hands-on visuals (video course) or through charts and pages that walk you through the decision-making process (workbook). If I don't have time for both, does one of those sound a lot more fun than the other to you?

Finally, I'd be remiss if I ended this post without telling you that it's not too late to plant rye. If you have garden beds that are going to weeds and that you know you won't need until next June, why not get a cover crop established to improve your soil while you take the winter off?

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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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