cover crops? /green manure?
hi--can anyone advise me as to putting a cover crop in some of my garden beds to increase the fertility of the soil? im in ireland in the summers and have been working on a (mostly) organic garden the last couple summers. im getting ready to leave next week and if i dont do some prep now for next year none will get done because the people who worked it last year arent here anymore. this was the second year using this ground, and the stuff didnt grow nearly as well--needed alot more seaweed and manure but im car-less so had little power over that. would love to work seaweed and manure in before i leave but again, no car. i was thinking of planting some kind of cover crop/green manure that could then be overturned back into the soil in the spring to help enrich it...anyone know anything about this? ive got about 2 and a half pounds of alfalfa sprouting seeds i need to use before i go so i thought of using these....??
Legumes are often planted here to replenish the soil.
Thing is, you then have to plow them into the dirt.. no eating! :)
Try some type of pea... or call a nursery in your area.
I've read that growing buckwheat as a cover crop, then tilling it back into the soil is very nourishing.
Hi! I looked up your question in the Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply (groworganic.com) where we just bought our cover crop mixes. They recommend alfalfa for forage or hay,height 13" to 36", tolerates mowing and grazing, needs summer water. Alfalfa is a legume that does not like acidic souls. Excellent beneficial insect habitat. Can fix 200 lb. nitrogen/acre if given enought phosphorus, calcium, and sulfur. Provides great bee forage, yield up to 10 tons of organic matter per acre and bring subsurface minerals to the surface. Suitable for 3-5 year rotations. Requires summer irrigation and produce the most growth in warm weather..Plant shallowly in fall or spring at .5-2lb/1000 sq. ft. or 25 lb./acre.
hi kaybee, yes people sometimes use alfalfa. The thing you have to be careful is that it doesn't become a weed for you in its own right, so it will need to be turned under, preferably before it goes to seed. If that's handy for you, go ahead and use it if you've got it in hand. BTW alfalfa is a legume I think, at least I know it fixes similar nutrients (ie nitrogen). The downside to me for you about alfalfa is that it will take some work to get rid of. It is a perennial, so it will resume growth in the spring, so it won't really be broken down when you get there in the summer, and it will take some work to chop it up, uproot it, work it in, etc. If it's handy for you because you have the seeds and you're trying to pack up and get out of there, plant it. You could also plant it in another area other than your garden, and use it as a side patch to mow and add the mowings to your garden.
In some habitats, people like stuff that will get winter killed, then they have an easy job of it the following year. Personally I will only use annuals that get winter killed as green manures. You might not get as much nutrient boost or humus boost from that strategy as you won't have something growing in the spring, but what grew and was winter killed will be more broken down, and will be more effortless than fighting a perennial weed.
An advantage of buckwheat is that it is killed by frost. As a fall cover crop, people sometimes choose to use something that is killed by frost, then they can sometimes even get away with not tilling it in, just letting it be killed for the following year. I don't know by your weather patterns if you're too late to get a decent sized buckwheat before frost.
Some people (including me) like to use mustards. The thing I think is great about them is that they really rot easily and quickly. They are somewhat cold tolerant too so will keep growing longer. If you have any mustard sprouting seeds you could use those. There are some specialized varieties for green manure.
White Clover (or any clover) is also decent if you have clover sprouting seeds. They are perennials, you will get spring and fall growth. It does take some work to till it all up so you don't have clover weeds. You would need to mow with a lawnmower then till by hand or machine, and they would still be coming up. This is not a problem for many organic growers, as some even let clover grow as an "understory" crop, fixing nitrogen as it grows, say in between corn or fruit bushes or whatever.
Me I only use non perennial (annual) stuff because I can't be bothered to have to unroot a perennial green manure, then fight it as a garden weed. For your situation you might want to consider a perennial to get that spring growth resuming before you get there in summer. Or an annual that will be winter killed and have it broken down before you get there, though maybe not as much green matter incorporated in the long run.
Vetch is also popular, I know an organic mennonite farmer who uses that. Oats, common vetch, and field peas are winter killed annual green manures, as well as the buckwheat if you want something that will be winter killed.
If you need to get more fertility in general, you could also run over some fall leaves with a lawnmower to chop them up, and put some of them in. If you have any areas of growing clover, mow that and put that in. Getting stuff from other areas can speed up the nutrients versus growing them out of the one patch you're working on. Some organic farmers also even add sugar to boost the bacteria in the garden. When I have to throw away sweet stuff, I make sure it goes into the garden.
Whatever green manure you choose, turn it over at three weeks or more before planting.
A book I really love is Eliot Coleman's "The Four Season Harvest." There is a section on green manures in that. He says the Brits favor mustards, the germans include oil radish in their green manures. Also he started his garden on a pretty barren patch of land, and tells how he gathered stuff and built up the soil.
I find most of these are also sold as sprouting seeds, so if you have some of them on hand, go ahead and use them. You can use a mixture, it doesn't have to be "mono".
Do you know what "agriculture zone" you're in? (I'm in zone 5). Do you know when your first fall frost date is usually?
The only other advice I have is never use rye or wheat as a green manure, as they're too much work to get rid of as weeds IMO.
BTW, green manures are also excellent for controlling soil erosion if you're in a windy area.
this is what i have on hand--a couple pounds of alfalfa, that i got for about 7 bucks at the wholefoods supplier; was on sale back in may i think cuz it was approaching its "use by" date...i thought about trying to store it in someones freezer over the winter to keep sprouting next year in my sprouter, but i think id just as soon us it up...
i also have a couple of pounds of raw buckwheat that im not going to be able to use...problem is that though its raw and itll sprout, it is hulled, and when i tried to plant it in the ground for greens, the rats found it and dug up my beds...same thing with sunflower seeds..i have a couple pounds of those hulled too.... i wonder if i could just bury the stuff deeper? id say the alfalfa would be safe from the rats, but i dont know about the other stuff..too bad cuz id love to use it up and several of you have suggested buckwheat....
exurb--i dont know what zone were in... we have palm trees and when i was here last january, there was still kale, mustard, chard etc growing outside in the garden...but i guess all of that is frost tolerant anyway. im not sure when the first frost date is...it stays fairly temperate here, gets cold, but not like at home-cold (in massachusetts)... but they would occasionally get a bit of snow over the winter. i am on the southwest coast of ireland (dingle, co kerry), on a peninsula right by the sea. the garden is sheltered by trees and hedgerows.
hmmmm..i guess maybe ill try the alfalfa on at least one or two of the beds.... recognizing that i might be dealing with a perennial weed ;) im just pretty broke right now and dont want to spend money on anything else if i can get away with using up what i have.... what do you all think about the hulled buckwheat? think i can plant it deep and it will keep it rat-safe?...then again, it wasnt the sunflower seeds they were eating, it was the TOPS of the sprouts... so maybe nothing is safe from them...
gosh i wish i had a leaf-chipper or mower or somethingso i could break up all the weeds and old plants and then work them back into the soil...but everything is by-hand.... and our compost is a bit of a nightmare...noones taken the time to do it properly, and so theres just 2 big junk piles and no real compost getting made... hhmmm...one of my old roommates used to just dig holes in the backhyard and bury compost..i know this is the "lazymans way" instead of properly doiing compost, but i wonder if i could just work some of the old veggies (bolted lettuce, etc) back into the soil and it would rot down itself without having to be composted?
exurb--thanks for posting the title of that book again; i remember it being in one of your way-old posts but the post has since disappeared; the post where you have a detailed account of your gardening season to season...anyway, i might try 2 get my hands on that book sometime
Yeah, that's totally great, just bury it a little so soil organisms can get at it. If you have a chance to chop it up a bit, that will speed it up.
but i wonder if i could just work some of the old veggies (bolted lettuce, etc) back into the soil and it would rot down itself without having to be composted?
That is officially called trench composting, where you just bury stuff that composts easy in your garden.
BTW I find hulled buckwheat doesn't work well for green manure, only a very small portion will become plants.
Even natural weeds are "green manure" so don't stress out too much about what you use.
I only made it complicated to try to save you the physical work of reclaiming your garden from perennial weeds planted as a green manure.
just to finish out this thread...
ive somehow finally managed to arrive in one piece back in massachusetts, puppy, bike and all... ended up so pressed for time (as things always are when your leaving somewhere..why is it i only work under pressure?...;) ) the only time i had left to do anything there was in a cold pouring rainstorm (yes, winter has arrived there already, seems like...), so i gave the beds a quick dig, scattered alfalfa and then scattered a bit of leftover wheat i had left too. didnt cover it over because there wasnt anywhere to take dirt from...so probably the birds and rats have consumed most of my seed.... ;) hopefully the rain drove the seed into the ground a little...but then i was thinking, when grain farmers plant their crops, do they really cover over the seed anyway or just scatter it..? ah well, at least i tried. half-done job, but better than nothing. there wasnt enough seed for all of the beds so as an experiment i covered one of the beds with nettle plants and all the turnip greens id pulled out of another bed, since exurb said mustards break down well and i figured turnip tastes kinda mustardy
anyway, thanks all
farmers use an implement called a seed "drill" to plant stuff like those fields of wheat and corn you see. It does just that, drill the seeds down under the soil.
i was thinking, when grain farmers plant their crops, do they really cover over the seed anyway or just scatter it..?
I live in the country now so have picked up all kinds of country stuff and how stuff is farmed. I laugh when I think of me and my fellow urbanite friend driving out into the country in a convertible on the day when it seemed all the farmers spread their manure. We were having a debate and were trying to figure out the difference between hay and straw, and had absolutely no idea, concluded they were synonymous ...
Kayb, welcome back to Mass. Go get some cranberries! ;)