Cover Crops

By Jannie Vaught,

Lets have a closer look at when, why and what to plant. Definition: A cover crop is a crop of a specific plant that is grown primarily for the benefit of soil other than crop yield.

Cover crops are primarily used to suppress weeds, manage soil erosion, help build soil fertility and quality, control disease and pests, and promote biodiversity. For growing zone 8 cover crops can be planted starting in September, check your growing zone.

Why?

Remember this is a slow yearly way to increase, fiber structure or” carbon”material into the soil and if you have sandy or clay soil this is how to bring soil to a usable quality. Many soils are either at a severe loss of top soil through years of run off and over use , over grazing or tilling. Adding beneficial Nitrogen fixing plants “Roots” into these soils is resolved with cover crops.

What to plant?

So here are some I use and I called Pete Vandyke my permaculture instructor. For Earth Repair Corp in Blanco Texas, and owner and operator of “Drought Proof Texas ” his drought programs were held at the Llano Library and the Mason Library last year. I use Hairy or common vetch, Crimson clover and Icicle radish. He uses Elbon Rye it will correct root knot nematode problems, Chicory for flowers and deep roots, Flax, Plantain, Alfalfa, Daikon radish,Purple top turnips, Forage collards all with varying successes. He suggested Hancock seeds.

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Note: if your deep rooting radish begin to shoulder out or start pushing themselves up and out of the soils you have a hard pan layer. These seeds do best with Rhizobia bacteria a legume inoculate to bring the nitrogen activity into the soil. These seeds are planted about 1/4 inch deep. raking or a light ruffing up of the soil and broadcasting the seeds. I then sprinkle soil over them and slightly tamp down. I have found to plant more than required as I lose to ants birds and other foraging creatures. If your covering large acres, these are drilled in rows using a key line plow planter. Now let them do what they do. with seasonal rain only a light sprinkle after planting is usually all that is needed for watering. There is a cover crop seed calculator on line under cover crops how much seed per acre. Since I am a small gardener I use a mix and apply it with gusto, I often will use up old kale and green seeds so they get a chance to make a crop. And a bonus is many of these are food seeds and a tasty addition to the table in the winter cold is a double blessing, helping structure soil and food for the table.

As they bolt and begin to flower in the spring they give that first food to the hungry birds and bees. When the time to plant your spring garden is at hand and the soil is 60 degrees, simply roll them over, push them down , leaving the vital roots in the soil, if you plant in rows, make a row and plant “Into” the material that is on the top of the soil. Some gardeners use a post hole digger and make a small hole to plant tomatoes or larger already started plants. Now you have green mulch and weed suppressant right there.

Its just about September and time to cover crop, if you only try a few seeds or think,” I only have small garden or raised beds why bother?” You can be selective about where you plant making room for your planned fall plants and plant cover around the edges or under your fruit trees and bare spot in the yard, you are building soil microbes and sequestering carbon.

Growing green and clearing space to cover crop with Jannie

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