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Transitioning to summer cover crops

Cutting rye

Despite all of the recent talk about goats, I've been spending most of my outdoor time this month in the garden. I've planted, weeded, mulched...and got our cover crops in order.

If you have overwintering grain cover crops (like oats, rye, and barley), now's the time to keep an eye out for the stamens that mean your plants are in full bloom. Cutting close to the ground at bloom time kills the grains, then you can plant veggies into the stubble after letting the roots decay for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, gather up the tops and use them as a mulch elsewhere...just be aware that the stems dry down much smaller than you'd expect, so a layer of wet newspaper underneath is a good idea.

Saved soybeans

What type of cover crop do I recommend using to fill in the summer gaps? Buckwheat is my all-time favorite for fallow areas that you want to put back into production in another month or so. But last year I fell in love with much so that I harvested about half a gallon of seeds to fill this year's garden gaps. Soybeans are a slower crop than buckwheat and produce less biomass, but they fix nitrogen out of the air and provide partial fertility for the succeeding crop. As a result, I'm focusing my soybean plantings in areas where I want to grow fall brassicas and in new beds that need some nitrogen top-up before being used for an edible crop.

For more tips on keeping nutrients cycling and organic matter burgeoning with cover crops, check out my primer Homegrown Humus. I focus on the species that are so easy to grow nobody can mess them up...and many attract pollinators or make food for you in the process. How could you go wrong?

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If you're new to soy beans, you'll like them I think. They do an amazing job of loosening the soil with their root structure. Farmers here who break new ground (or begin 're-faring' CRP land) often plant soy beans for one or two years to condition and fortify the soil.

FYI, I get my soy beans from my farmer. He cleans out his planters at the end of the season and can't use the left overs for the next year. So, I'm his 'seed dump.' If GMO is a problem please be careful as most farmers use GMO beans in the fields. You can, of course, grow your own!

Comment by Tim Inman Thu May 12 09:18:06 2016
Tim, if you're planting someone else's GMO soybeans, couldn't you get in trouble too? Or only if you sell them?
Comment by Jennifer Quinn Sat May 14 13:14:01 2016

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime