Cricket Song Farm

Cricket Song Farm

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cover Crops

a cover crop of lambs quarter
yes, it's a weed
Soil that is not refueled with organic matter (humus, compost, green manure) will eventually become lifeless and will not support the growth of plants.
Decomposing matter allows air to plant roots, and enables the soil to absorb and retain moisture.  It produces carbonic acid which help dissolve soil nutrients to be taken up by the plant roots.  Worms will migrate to garden areas with organic matter tilled into the soil and leave their casting to nourish the plants.
An easy and quick method to add organic matter to your soil is to plant cover crops. 
Cover crops can be planted in the fall and tilled into the soil just before frost, or allowed to freeze and be left to cover and hold the soil over the winter.  If you have planted a perennial such as winter rye the growth will begin again in the early spring and the new growth will then be tilled under before you begin planting.
Depending on the part of the country you live in will determine the type of cover crop used.
SPRING:  plant peas, spinach, or lettuce that will sprout early in the season.  Till under when 4 or 5 inches tall.
SUMMER:  buckwheat is the recommended choice.  It grows well in dry, hot, summer weather and the clusters of stems help to shade the ground thus helping to retain moisture
FALL:  winter rye, alfalfa,   plant in late summer and let winter over.  Till in early spring.
Here in the short growing season of the high Western dessert I have found that letting the weeds go to seed in the fall and then tilling them under in the spring after they have grown 3 or 4 inches tall works very well. The weeds sprout and grow earlier than I can plant so after they are tilled under I immediately plant the vegetable seed and hopefully the vegetables will out-grow the weed seed that has been brought to the surface. 
One year I used several old 25 pound bags of pinto beans that needed to be rotated out of my food storage as a cover crop.   I was pleasantly surprised how well they grew.  Planted in long rows 6 inches apart created a lush mat of green.   Legume crops (peas, and beans) fix nitrogen in their leaves and roots releasing it into the soil.  After they grew a foot high I tilled them under. The area was then planted with a vegetable requiring  high levels of nitrogen.  
Here are a few suggestions to plant as cover crops:
hairy vetch 
cow peas 
winter rye
WEEDS, my favorite
Cover crops are a good source of nitrogen, which is essential to plant growth. 
The USDA reports that a good growth of a winter cover crop turned under 3 to 4 weeks before planting corn will produce as much corn as adding 250 to 500 pounds of fertilizer.
If you have room in your garden it is a good practice to rotate the land using cover crops.
The first spring we acquired our farm we planted crested wheat and rye over a small 3 acre parcel of land.  We did not have any equipment to do the planting so we broadcast the seed by hand and then tied an old metal bed-spring behind the pick-up with a long rope, piled the 5 kids on the springs for weight and drove over the field.  They laughed, would stand and try to "surf" the dirt and had to fall off once in a while.  Who says work can't be fun? 
What have you used as cover crops?

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