Cover Crops

September 14, 2022 Angela and Mandi Season 3
Cover Crops
Show Notes

Season 3: Cover Crops

Cover crops are a form of vegetation that is grown in raised beds, in-ground gardens, and animal grazing paddocks to improve soil fertility and tilth. These crops are not harvested for use but are left within the soil. Most often, cover crops are chopped and dropped before seed-set in order to return nutrients to the soil and prevent unwanted spreading. 

A lot of folks call cover crops the no cash- cash crop. We don’t harvest it so I think it’s widely underused. People forget about soil health once the fall or summer season of growing is done. But when we add things like CC or any organic material to the beds or plots in the fall you are setting yourself up for a better Spring. 

For our raised beds we plant roughly 4 weeks before frost- so that is the first week of october. And then we will mow- weed-whack the cover crops down the first of march before they go to seed. This gives the roots and the rest of the plant material time to decompose and feed the soil before we plant things in early spring. (third ish week of March) 

From Farmer’s Almanac: “Examples include winter rye, hairy vetch, red clover, oats, buckwheat, forage rye, Italian rye grass (sown by October), field beans, and forage pea (sown by November). Cover crops literally make a living “cover” to sustain soil life until spring planting.”

Cover Crop Functions:

  1. Hold soil in place and prevent erosion
  2. Keep soil covered to prevent solarization
  3. Increase organic matter
  4. Add nutrients
  5. Loosen compacted soil, improving aeration
  6. Some suppress weeds
  7. In warmer seasons, flowering crops provide a source of pollen/nectar for pollinators

NOTE: Cover crops need at least four weeks of growth before the first frost to fully establish themselves and to “work.”

From Farmer’s Almanac:

“For most home gardeners, there are other things to take into consideration. Mainly, cover crops for home vegetable gardens should be easy to work into the soil in the spring.

  • Hairy vetch produces so much top growth that it’s very difficult to turn over without a strong mower. Hairy vetch and winter rye are better for field-scale production.
  • Perennial cover crops such as red clover (Trifolium pratense) are slow growing and are best used in orchards and vineyards. 

“For cool-season cover crops (planted in late summer/fall), annuals are the way to go. They die over the winter or naturally complete their life cycle by the next spring. Also, the home gardener should select crops that can be easily incorporated into the garden. Here are some good cool-season cover crops to explore:

  • Oats are a wonderful annual cover crop which prevents erosion and loosens tight soil.
  • Field peas, mustard, and barley are also good annual cover crops. 
  • Berseem clover is a rapid-growing annual legume that will fix nitrogen in the soil.
  • Oilseed radish is a rapidly growing annual with large roots that alleviate deep compaction.”

 Link to Farmer’s Almanac suggested cover crops by region (also includes Canada):

Way to Improve Soil Fertility in Fall Without Cover Crops:

  1. Add compost
  2. Remove diseased plants and unwanted weeds
  3. Leave dead, healthy matter to return nutrients to soil
  4. Add any additional amendments if needed after testing the soil
  5. Cover with straw, woodchips or mulch to offer protection

In general, Fall is the best time to add any organic material to your garden. It is far wiser to manage, till if you till, add to your