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

Back to back summer cover crops

Young buckwheat fruit

So you took my advice and planted buckwheat and/or cowpeas as a quick summer cover crop, but you've actually got a longer fallow window than the cover crops need.  Once you start to see tiny fruits forming on the cover crops (like the green triangles in the photo above), it's time to get them out of there so that they don't set seeds and become a weed problem.

Buckwheat seedlingsWhy not toss another round of summer cover crop seeds on the ground before cutting, then let the first cover crop act as a light mulch to promote germination of the later planting?  I tried out this method a week ago, and little buckwheat seedlings are already poking up through the debris.  I'll let you know how solid of a stand I end up with, but if this planting method works, it's definitely the easiest way of getting summer cover crops established.

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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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If you are going to plant the same cover crop, wouldn't it just make sense to let it go to seed before you cut it down? That way you get the seed for "free"... or do you lose the nutritional benefit of the cover crop if it goes to seed?
Comment by David Thu Aug 11 16:12:20 2011

I've considered this, but there seem to be two reasons to cut and replant instead. First, as a plant ages past the bloom stage, there's a lot more carbon for every part nitrogen --- the plant gets woody. That means that you have to wait longer between when you cut your crop and when it has rotted enough to be planted into. For winter cover crops, that's no problem since I want them to be mulches, but my summer cover crops are supposed to melt into the ground and provide immediate fertility.

The other problem is that if you let your cover crops go to seed, the seeds may or may not sprout right away. Some of them are bound to stick around and sprout in next year's garden. This isn't such a big worry with summer cover crops like buckwheat and cowpeas since they're so easy to pull out, but I'd be leery with heavier rooted cover crops.

Comment by anna Thu Aug 11 16:24:43 2011

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