Hi I'm Tricia, an organic gardener, I grow organically: for a healthy and safe food supply, for a clean and sustainable environment, for an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Tricia: We're here with Greg, from Greg's Organics and he's got an urban farm right here in downtown Grass Valley. His cover crop is ready to get tilled in and worked into the soil.
Tricia: And I hear your going to have a tomato CSA with how many varieties?
Greg: Um ten cherries, or twelve cherries and thirty five heirlooms.
Tricia: Awesome thank you so much for letting us demonstrate the benefits of cover crops in your field.
You want to incorporate your cover crops before it goes to seed and then you want to let it decompose so that it can benefit the crop that you're gonna play afterward. A good indicator for when to knock down the cover crop is when one half of the crop is flowering. This allows you to take advantage of maximum biomass. You can also time when you're gonna incorporate the cover crop into the soil based on when your next crop is going to be planted and you want allow at least three to six weeks before planting your next crop. It's important to wait because your cover crop will be decomposing and during this decomposition process you will temporarily lock up some of the nitrogen in the soil.
There's several ways to incorporate your cover crop into the ground. You can cut it and compost it, you can weed-eat it or mow it and just let it lay there on the ground or you can till it into the ground. Tilling it in is the fastest and easiest way to incorporate your cover crops, just roto-till the crops into the ground. The advantages to this method are: faster decomposition and less nitrogen loss into the atmosphere. The disadvantage is, that you don't get the marching effect of leaving the crop on the surface of the soil. So no weed suppression or water conservation while the crop decomposes.
Another method is to cut it and then take it and compost it. The advantages are, that you adding finished nutrient rich compost back into the field. This is a great option for raised bed cover cropping. The disadvantage is that it's more work to cut, compost and then add the compost back into the soil and it can take several months instead of weeks.
And finally you can just cut the cover crop down, let it lay there on the soil surface as a mulch as it decomposes and this will help with water conservation and weed suppression. The three main methods of cutting down cover crops are: undercutting, mowing and rolling. Undercutting is when you draw a blade under the soil and you slice the cover crop underneath the soil. For mowing your going to mow down the crop with your lawn mower a weed whacker or a scythe this chops the crop up fairly finely and it will decompose fairly quickly. I'm gonna be using this CORE weed trimmer. It's battery-powered and that means there's less noise, no fumes and it works really well.
For a weed trimmer or scythe to get nice small pieces that will decompose quickly you can trim the tops and then cut at the middle and then cut right at the ground. You can also roll the crop by going over them with the lawn mower or the tiller with the blades turned off. Bear in mind that rolling doesn't always kill all of the cover crop. Rolling and undercutting provide maximum weed suppression since there's so much biomass lying on top of the soil acting as a mulch. The disadvantage of this method is that you can loose a little bit of nitrogen into the air and it may not decompose as quickly as putting it into the soil with the tiller.
If you want your cover crop to decompose a little bit quicker you can spray it with an inoculant like this field and garden spray. Cover copping is the cornerstone of organic gardening and it will help you save on fertilizers. So plant a cover crop and grow organic for life