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

Fall 2014 cover-crop experiments

Cover crop seeds

Even though I'm quite happy with my current cover-crop campaign (explained in depth in Homegrown Humus), there are some gaps I want to fill in both the book and in my own protocols.  Time for an experiment!

Part of this year's cover-crop experiment is going to take place off-farm.  As with any gardening book, Homegrown Humus is largely based on my own experiences, which means that people who live far away may have slightly different results.  So I tracked down ten readers scattered across the U.S. who were willing to accept free packs of cover-crop seeds in exchange for putting my experiments at work in their own gardens.  Seed packages went in the mail last week for folks living in zone 5 and colder, while everyone else's seeds will be mailed out tomorrow.  I'm really looking forward to learning how buckwheat and sunflowers do during "cold" months in the Deep South and how oats, oilseed radishes, and fava beans fare all over.

Fava bean seeds
"Fava beans?" you may be saying.  "You haven't mentioned that cover crop before."  Very astute of you!  In fact, fava beans are the other part of this year's cover-crop experiment --- trying out a new species for our farm.  I've read a lot about fava-bean cover crops on permaculture blogs, but the legume seems to be hardy primarily in zones 7 and warmer.  Since we live in zone 6 (and sometimes have nearly zone-5 winters due to our north-facing hillside), I figured fava beans were out of our league.  But why not push the envelope?

To that end, I soaked Windsor fava bean seeds for speedy germination, then planted 0.625 pounds in several different locations around the farm.  Soon I'll know if fava beans are worth the high seed price ($12.75 per pound once you factor in shipping), whether they can handle clayey soil, whether they will survive in waterlogged ground, and whether they do well when mixed with oats and oilseed radishes.  Stay tuned for updates!

Do you want to be part of future experiments?  I usually post this type of opportunity to our facebook page, but even if you're already a fan, facebook might not be showing you our updates.  Be sure to click the like button at the bottom of our posts when you notice them if you want to be sure to see them on your news feed in the future!

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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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Will you be able to harvest beans, or do they need to go back into the soil for nutrient? In other words, does the nutrient-adding happen during the growing of Fava beans (nitrogen fixing)? Because if so, wouldn't it be wonderful to also get a food harvest from a cover crop!
Comment by Terry Tue Aug 19 10:53:29 2014
Terry --- Good question! For peak nitrogen production, you would cut the plants at bloom time. However, you can still get benefits if you let the plants go all the way to seed, which is what I see on the blogs I read.
Comment by anna Tue Aug 19 12:54:37 2014

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