Why cover crops?
Cover crops are plants
purposely sown in the garden to improve the
soil's fertility, to fight weeds, to prevent erosion, and to keep the
ecosystem in balance. These crops are sometimes known as "green
manure," especially if the plants are tilled into the soil. Here,
I'll be considering cover crops that can be managed without tilling in.
During the last three
years that I've experimented with growing cover
garden soil has turned darker and yields of many vegetables have
increased dramatically. Both my own honeybees and wild pollinator
populations have been boosted by the copious nectar produced by
plantings, and my chickens have enjoyed the winter greenery from
oilseed radish leaves. Plus, having cover crops on the ground
during the winter prevents erosion, keeps the soil microorganisms
humming along, and just makes the garden a more interesting place to
be. Nowadays, I can't imagine doing without my beds of buckwheat,
radishes, and oats.
Planting cover crops is a
quick and easy afterthought in my current
garden, but it wasn't always that way. I experienced a steep
learning curve when I first began growing cover crops in my
chemical-free, no-till garden. Most information on growing cover
crops is written for people who plow
their soil every year and are willing to spray herbicides, and I had
some spectacular failures while
selecting the cover crop species that would do well without these
This week's lunchtime
series and the
ebook which it is excerpted from provide tips for growing
cover crops in a no-till garden. The further you
live from my zone-6, southwest Virginia garden, or the more your
gardening techniques differ from my own, the more of a commitment
you'll need to make to figuring out the best way to slide cover crops
into your fallow periods. Luckily, experimentation is half the
experiences should at least help you set off in the right
direction, inspiring you to give cover crops a try.
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