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

Buckwheat and oat cover crops as a mulch

Buckwheat cover crop a few weeks after being mown downI'm sure you're all dying to read another installment in my obsession with cover crops, so here goes!  You may remember that we last left our heroes in a state of disarray, with the buckwheat and then the oats cut to the ground to prevent seed-setting.  So what does the garden look like now?

Buckwheat continues to fall behind my expectations.  The succulent stems melted into the soil so quickly that weeds grew up through them just a few weeks later.  (Bonus points to readers of my winter weeds post who can identify the problem plants in the photo above.)  I had to come back by and toss a heavy coat of straw mulch on top of the greenery to keep the weeds at bay.  My conclusion is that buckwheat has just a few advantages and many disadvantages.  On the pro side, the cover crop grows very quickly, feeds the bees, and will cope with the summer heat (which most other cover crops hate).  But buckwheat can't handle waterlogged clay soil and leaves very little organic matter behind, defeating the purpose of a cover crop as a soil builder in our garden.  In the future, I'll only use buckwheat to fill quick gaps in the summer garden that would otherwise be bare.
Oat cover crop a couple of weeks after mowing down
Oats is the exact opposite, exceeding my expectations at every turn.  The early oats, which I mowed down with hedge trimmers, covered the ground so well that no weeds are poking through (though I did throw a few handfuls of straw around the edges of the beds just in case.)  A quick and dirty job of mowing killed about 90% of the plants, and I suspect that the few green stems still standing will die back over the winter.  In addition to all of the organic matter which their roots are depositing below ground, the oats produced such a mass of leaf growth that the beds I cut now look nearly identical to nearby beds that I mulched with straw.  I wish I'd planted every square inch I could get my hands on with oats!

Our homemade chicken waterer kit takes all of the guesswork out of clean water.

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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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