Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cover Crops: The Hub-Bub

I don't know about you, but the vagueness of the term cover crop just confused me more than absolutely necessary. As did green manure. But I don't see things changing on the re-definition or re-naming front.

What I do know is that these plantings are valuable to the soil on so many different levels. So, we'll just need to work with what we have.

For the most accurate and accessible definitions, I turned to the experts. In this case, Johnny's Selected Seeds.

A cover crop is a "crop grown to cover the soil and prevent erosion."

A green manure "replenishes organic matter. Nutrients are released in the topsoil as the green manure decomposes."

A smother crop "is used in new ground or in weed-infested soil to out compete the weeds."

For heavy, poorly-drained soil - try soybeans, sunflowers or white clover.

For compacted soil - try buckwheat, clovers, alfalfa or any clover.

Weedy areas can be conquered with red clover, soybeans, sunflowers, buckwheat or hairy vetch.

If your soil lacks nitrogen - try legumes, chickling vetch, winter rye, hairy vetch.

Oats are a general great green manure.

Cover crops by season (when to sow . . . ):

  • Spring - oats, spring wheat, chickling vetch, red clover, sweet clover, ryegrass
  • Spring/Summer - hairy vetch, red clover, sweet clover, summer alfalfa, buckwheat, soybeans, sunflowers
  • Late summer - crimson clover, purple tansy, ryegrass
  • Fall - red clover, ryegrass, winter rye
I am testing out two crops this year - buckwheat and red clover . . . and am starting small in those experiments (less heartbreak; less frustration). For many of these crops, incorporating them back into the soil is a big component for success. I need to be able to do that with a simple hoe. Fingers crossed.

Phew. A LOT of ground to cover - so-to-speak. Hope this - at the very least - peaks your interest.

Suppliers of cover crops:
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Johnny's Selected Seeds

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let me know how it turns out. The pictures look beautiful.