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Cover Crops for the Garden

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Cover Crop
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Why Plant a Cover Crop? To provide erosion control. To build the soil’s organic matter and humus content and improve the structure. To increase the microbial activity and biomass in the topsoil and provide food for the soil microbes and earthworms which are so vital to plant health. To provide competition to weed growth. To increase water infiltration from rainfall and irrigation. To increase nutrient availability: cover crops extract nutrients from the subsoil and deposit them in the topsoil,…
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Most cover crops are planted in late summer, but there are some cover crop seed mixes that can go in the ground in the springtime and give you benefits by the end of the summer. Cover cropping is a cheap and effective way to fertilize your garden, hold topsoil in place, and retain moisture during the summer heat. Planting a cover crop on a fallow garden bed or farm field is a classic organic gardening technique. It also seems rather mysterious to those new to organic gardening. But it’s simple…
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Growing Guide
Cover Crop Planting & Growing Guide (pdf)
Video Transcript
Hi I'm Tricia a California organic gardener. Cover cropping is a tried and true organic technique. Today i'm gonna talk about the benefits of cover cropping and how to adapt it to your garden.

There are many benefits to cover cropping. In the vegetable garden for example the main benefits are adding nitrogen to the soil, suppressing the weeds and attracting the beneficial insects. Cover crops are a great strategy for reducing the erosion of hillsides and of topsoil. The major benefit for vineyards and orchards is soil fertility, increased soil tilth, and water infiltration. Cover crops can also help reduce dust and in wet winter climates keep your vineyard or orchard from being too muddy.

Choosing the right cover crop and managing it properly are essential to receiving all the benefits. Today our focus is on cover cropping in the vegetable garden this garden needs a nitrogen fixing cover crop that will be planted after harvest then the winter rain will water all winter and then in the spring it will be worked back into the soil to increase the fertility and the nitrogen. To grow a robust cover crop the soil needs to have adequate amounts of potassium, sulfur, phosphorus and calcium. A soil test is a good way to make sure that you have ample amounts of those minerals. I've prepared these beds by loosening the soil to get it ready to plant the cover crop just like I would do if I was planting my spring vegetables. Today I'm going to be planting this premium soil builder mix. This mix is formulated to add lots of organic matter, fix nitrogen, chock out weeds and provide a great habitat for beneficial insects.

Before I plant the seed i'm going to inoculate with this rhizobium bacteria. This bacteria lives in the roots of these legume plants and pulls nitrogen from the air and converts it to a form usable by plants this is what we call nitrogen fixing. To inoculate the seed you can dampen it with either water or a mixture of milk and molasses and then just pour on the inoculate and then stir to coat the seed well. So I'm going to hand broadcast this seed and the best time to do it for most of the country is between September first and October thirtieth. For colder climates and higher elevations it's probably more like August fifteenth to September first. After spreading the seed all we need to do is cover it up with some soil and mulch. If the Autumn rains haven't come by the time your ready to plant your cover crop be sure and give it adequate irrigation. When the flowers start to bloom i'll cut down the growth and let it dry for a week or two before tilling or working the growth into the soil. If you don't plan on tilling it in just add the nitrogen rich material to your compost pile i'm expecting big benefits this spring in addition to a lot of organic matter, increased water filtration, weed suppression and attracting beneficial insects the premium soil builder mix can fix up to twenty pounds of nitrogen in my three thousand square foot garden. Comparing cover cropping with buying fertilizer i can spend twenty two dollars and thirty four cents in cover crops this fall and i'll save a hundred twenty-five dollars in fertilizers come spring. There's a seed mix for every need check out our cover crop solution finder to make the best choice for your hillside, your orchard, your vineyard or your vegetable garden. Plant a cover crop this Autumn and grow organic for life.

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Categories: Cover Crop, Annual Cover Crops, Cereal Seeds, Erosion Control, Green Manure, Inoculants, Perennial Cover Crops, Erosion Control, Erosion Control Seed, Fescue Seed, Ryegrass Seed, Organic Gardening 101


karen khan Says:
Aug 19th, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Growing Guide for cover crops please

Al Lambert Says:
Aug 19th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Hi
I live in Virginia in a high-rise condominium surrounded with numerous trees.  We would like to plant flowers around the base of several trees but are concerned about the clay type consistency of the soil.  Is planting a cover crop and appropriate solutions and what type would you suggest?  Thank you in advance.

Autumn from Peaceful Valley Says:
Aug 19th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Here’s the Growing Guide link:
http://groworganic.com/media/pdfs/covercrops-l.pdf

Charlotte, Peaceful Valley Says:
Sep 25th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Al, A cover crop is usually tilled into the soil after it does its job, and you probably don’t want to till close to the trees.

Compost would be a good way to improve your soil. Add a 3 to 4-inch layer of compost and then a 4-inch layer of mulch around the tree, keeping those materials 4 inches away from the tree trunk and slope them away from the trunk. For more details about mulching near trees see our video and blog post on planting a potted tree http://groworganic.com/organic-gardening/articles/planting-fig-trees-and-other-potted-fruit-trees

The microorganisms in the compost will go to work in your clay soil and increase the drainage. You should see improvement in the springtime.

What kinds of trees are they?

Carol O'Donnell Says:
Mar 14th, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Hi,
Hopefully you can send me a downloadable PDF of your Cover Crops Solutions Chart.  I would like to make copies available for my talk to my Master Gardener group.
Hopefully,
Carol O’Donnell, Master Gardener San Mateo/San Francisco Counties

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