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

A busy time for cover crops

Declining tomatoes

The first half of September is a surprisingly busy time in our garden.  Why the surprise?  Because most people are letting their summer vegetables drift into weeds at this time of year...but I'm opening up areas as fast as I can to plant oilseed radishes and oats as cover crops.  My method means that our farm's soil gets richer every year while weed pressure gets lower and lower...but it does keep me hopping.

Oat cover cropIf I didn't have an oat deadline to consider (September 15), then I'd let beds of dwindling summer squash, cucumbers, bush beans, and mung beans sit around and dribble in a bit more food.  Instead, I rip them out and plant cover crops.  Similarly, I look at larger plants with a stern eye --- will I lose much by raking back the mulch around declining tomatoes and sowing oats to hold the soil over the winter?  Probably not, so oats it is!

I've read that some old-timey farmers used to plant oats around their strawberry plants at this time of year, growing mulch in place for the spring.  I've always been afraid of losing productivity in my favorite fruit, but I opted to experiment with half of one bed this fall.  Similarly, I sowed oats beyond the canopy spread in our blueberry rows, hoping for a bit of extra organic matter with little effort on my part.

Do I get to rest on my laurels once the cover-crop deadline is past?  Nope --- then it will be time to weed the fall seedlings and plant a bunch of beds of garlic.  But I can definitely feel the garden locomotive slowing down as it prepares to pull into the station and rest for the winter.

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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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Are you planning to till it in, or do you just cut it down in place?
Comment by Stephen Thu Sep 11 12:11:11 2014
Stephen --- We plan on winter doing all the work for us. If you plant oats or oilseed radishes in the fall in zone 6 or colder, the cover crops naturally perish before spring. The tops of oats provide a light mulch, and the oat roots and whole oilseed radish plants rot into the soil.
Comment by anna Thu Sep 11 13:13:36 2014

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