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

Why cover crops?

Honeybee on buckwheat flower Cover crops are plants purposely sown in the garden to improve the soil's fertility, to fight weeds, to prevent erosion, and to keep the ecosystem in balance.  These crops are sometimes known as "green manure," especially if the plants are tilled into the soil.  Here, I'll be considering cover crops that can be managed without tilling in.

During the last three years that I've experimented with growing cover crops, my garden soil has turned darker and yields of many vegetables have increased dramatically.  Both my own honeybees and wild pollinator populations have been boosted by the copious nectar produced by buckwheat plantings, and my chickens have enjoyed the winter greenery from oilseed radish leaves.  Plus, having cover crops on the ground during the winter prevents erosion, keeps the soil microorganisms humming along, and just makes the garden a more interesting place to be.  Nowadays, I can't imagine doing without my beds of buckwheat, radishes, and oats.

Homegrown HumusPlanting cover crops is a quick and easy afterthought in my current garden, but it wasn't always that way.  I experienced a steep learning curve when I first began growing cover crops in my chemical-free, no-till garden.  Most information on growing cover crops is written for people who plow their soil every year and are willing to spray herbicides, and I had some spectacular failures while selecting the cover crop species that would do well without these disturbances.

This week's lunchtime series and the ebook which it is excerpted from provide tips for growing cover crops in a no-till garden.  The further you live from my zone-6, southwest Virginia garden, or the more your gardening techniques differ from my own, the more of a commitment you'll need to make to figuring out the best way to slide cover crops into your fallow periods.  Luckily, experimentation is half the fun, and my experiences should at least help you set off in the right direction, inspiring you to give cover crops a try.

This post is part of our Homegrown Humus lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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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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Anna, I just wanted to tell you how much I'm enjoying The Weekend this isn't really a comment on cover crops, but a general shout out :) I saw your book at our local bookstore in northern California, and despite having built an extensive library of gardening and homestead-ey books over the years, I was intrigued by your concept of monthly projects. I wanted you to know your book certainly is exceeding my expectations- i love that you included information on simple living and budgeting, along with the familiar chicken management and clotheslines. You have a clear, concise manner of writing that I find really motivating (since perusing your blog, maybe it's the scientist in you? or perhaps i've overdosed on witty snark?) Thank you so much for the daily inspiration, and please know that I've been recommending your book to many friends here (at least one has bought it thus far!) Best wishes to you and your partner, Hannah

Comment by Hannah Mon Jan 21 23:17:08 2013
Hannah --- Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm so glad the book sucked you in!
Comment by anna Tue Jan 22 07:57:09 2013

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