Planting green manure cover crops is an excellent way to add organic matter to your garden fast.
This can be done while the crop is still growing or after harvesting, depending on the type of crop, type of green manure, and the time of year. Cover crops fit perfectly into a system of crop rotation or stacking.
Another main benefit of using green manure cover crops is that they prevent erosion by protecting the soil against severe rainfall and wind to help with soil conservation.
You can grow the green manure cover crop right in the garden bed, or grow it in a mulch bed to cut and use for mulch.
The organic matter added to your soil will enable it to retain moisture even during a drought, to be doled out as needed to your thirsty crops.
Many mail order seed companies have good selections of cover crop seeds; here are a few tips:
Plant any bed after harvesting with buckwheat which will mature in a matter of weeks and can be dug in and planted right away for a second or third crop of vegetables, depending on how long your growing season is.
The roots will rot over a few months, providing your crop with a slow release fertilizer as they decompose.
By the time spring arrives your soils tilth will be dramatically improved.
Use it on pathways, as its low growth is fairly easy to keep in bounds.
Eventually, you can dig it up and compost it, or mow it to keep it low.
It also will bloom with white flowers to attract bees to pollinate your tomatoes and peppers.
Some gardeners claim that fall rye will kill wireworms in the soil, although I’ve had the opposite experience.
In many areas that fall rye was planted, there seemed to be a lot of wireworms, just waiting for you to plant your precious potatoes.
Ideally, you would be able to turn the chickens out onto any area planted with fall rye, and they would dispatch the pests before you plant your crops.
Bonus – they will also fertilize for you.
It’s excellent for holding soil in place and reaching deep into the ground to find moisture.
It’s known as an accumulator for its ability to fix nitrogen from the air and other nutrients from lower layers of soil.
Unfortunately, with the advent of Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO technology, organic growers will no longer be able to use alfalfa as mulch, even if it’s organically grown.
Till it in fully to destroy the roots as it’s hard to get rid of once it puts down its extensive root system.
I’ve seen it go down as far as eight feet below the surface, only stopping when it reached the water table.
My preference if using alfalfa is to plant it in a permanent place to cut as mulch for garlic or onions, and feeding to your backyard chickens for those really dark golden yolks in their eggs.
The thick growth protects the soil from washing away.
As an added bonus, dogs and cats like to chew on it to get the chlorophyll - which means they won't be eating your houseplants!
Even a crop of nettles or pigweed can improve your soil in a couple of seasons.
In one garden I had lots of thistles that
I just dug in and the tilth was incredible the next season. Their thick roots broke up the clay hardpan too.
Any weeds that have a deep taproot can be used to break up hardpan, even the concrete hard layer caused by excessive plowing at the same depth year after year.
Other than using a subsoiler to plow below it, the only other solution is to use plants that can break it up, sometimes in less than two seasons.
It’s a big hit with chickens and other poultry if planted in a chicken herbarium, providing them with an incredibly high amount of certain nutrients and vitamins such as potassium.
This is another accumulator, with a hefty taproot to enable it to survive extended dry periods.
Other ways to use cover crops are as compost tea, to distill those valuable nutrients even more.
Whichever type of green manure cover crops you choose, find ones that can achieve several benefits for you; multi tasking at its finest.