The days of sunny days working in our gardens may be almost over, but there is one important planting to be made that will help next year’s productivity…cover crops. Cover crops are planted in the “off-peak” season when we are not actively growing vegetables. They serve many purposes including erosion control, reduction of mineral leaching and compaction, increased aeration by the root system, and the addition of organic matter to the soil by tilling the plant into the soil in the spring.
Examples of cover crops include white clover, hairy vetch, oats, annual ryegrass, white wheat, winter rye and buckwheat, but which one you choose is based on soil conditions and the time of year it is planted. Planting of cover crops does not need to be all or nothing. You may plant portions of your garden in cover crops. In addition to the benefits listed above, planting sections of cover crops also helps to keep out weeds while you are maintaining the rest of your garden.
To prepare the area to be planted, it is best to first remove all plant materials from the area (i.e. weeds or old veggie plants). Next, rake the area to loosen the soil. You may now broadcast the cover crop seeds over the area. (This time of year winter wheat or winter rye are best at the rate of 3 oz of seed/100 sq. ft.). Finally, lightly rake the area to put the seeds in contact with the soil and water the area thoroughly.
The cover crop will hold the soil in place during the heavy precipitation of early spring and also keep the weeds from invading your space. Before tilling the crops into the soil when preparing to plant, it is best to pull and weeds that may have “snuck” in to prevent further propagation of the weeds.
For more in-depth information regarding cover crops, click here.