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

More new cover crops to try

Oilseed radish flower bed

Last fall, I sent out seeds of some of my tried-and-true (along with a few experimental) cover crops to readers to see how the species fared in other soils and climates. My favorite result is shown above --- Aimee in Ohio planted oilseed radishes in beds that will be used to grow strawberries this year. She reported: "[The oilseed radishes] stayed crisp and green clear past Thanksgiving, which gave me a ready supply of greens and radishes for the guinea pigs. I'll admit it, I ate a few myself. Even though I am not a radish person, they weren't bad." Oilseed radishes also got good reviews from Missouri, although Charity in the Pacific Northwest preferred barley and white mustard in her garden.

Sogrhum-sudangrass hybrid seeds

What's coming up this spring? I splurged on several new varieties, which I plan to try out both within the garden and as cut-and-come-again mulch producers in the newly bare aisle soils in areas where I recently mounded up earth to create higher raised beds. I figured --- why let that bare ground turn into weedy lawn if it can do double-duty by producing biomass for the garden instead? (Of course, I may regret this choice when I have to wade through tall grasses to get to my tomato plants.)

New species on the planting agenda include:

  • Barley --- This may be the plant I've been looking for to fill the early-spring gap before weather warms enough to plant buckwheat. This grain is supposed to mature enough to flower and be mow-killed in just a little over two months. I wasn't terribly impressed when I tried barley as a fall cover crop in the past, but I have higher hopes for its performance in the spring garden.
  • Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids --- I'm trying two different varieties, which look very distinctive in the seed stage (pictured above). I figure this will be a good fit for my aisle experiment.
  • Pearl Millet --- This species should fill a niche similar to the sorghum-sudangrass.
  • Alfalfa --- In part, I'm growing this legume for the goats since I'm currently buying alfalfa pellets to boost our milking doe's protein intake and calcium levels. But I figured it would also be interesting to see how alfalfa fares as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop left in place for the entire summer.
Barley seeds

Want to join in the fun? I have room for a few more experimenters since some of last fall's gardeners dropped out. If you live in zones 3, 4, or 8, drop me an email at and we'll chat. Folks chosen will receive free seeds as long as you promise to share photos for my book and to report on your results!

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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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Be careful with the sudan, during drought or frost it's not safe to graze due to prussic acid levels.
Comment by Nita Sun Mar 29 09:52:49 2015
What is the "niche" you are trying out Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids for?
Comment by TERRY Sun Mar 29 11:28:20 2015

Nita --- Good reminder! Which might make the pearl millet a better all-around cover crop for a farm with livestock, even though I believe the sorghum-sudangrass produces more biomass.

Terry --- I'm looking for a cover crop that will do well in really poor soil while making lots of organic matter, which is where I think the sorghum-sudangrass might thrive. Oats have been the best in that regard in the past, but even they won't do much if your soil is really abysmal.

Comment by anna Sun Mar 29 16:01:33 2015
Thanks----good to know!
Comment by Sun Mar 29 17:13:33 2015

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