Cover Crops: It’s time to start think about your winter garden
Winter is coming.
When I first thought of writing about cover crops I thought it might be a little early in the season. But then I realized that right now is the time when a person ought to be thinking ahead with future plans for the garden.
When it comes to cover crops, timing is critical to maximize the value of whatever you decide to grow as a cover for your garden. There’s also some difference in planting dates, depending on what you intend to plant.
For those who aren’t familiar with exactly what a garden cover crop is, it’s pretty simple: It is any crop that is grown in the garden that is intended to be tilled into the soil to add additional nutrients and organic matter. It is a simple way to provide more nourishing soil during a time when the garden is considered dormant.
There are a number of choices in what you might want to plant in your garden in the fall that will continue to grow over the winter. Probably the most popular is winter rye.
- RELATED: Cover crops are a great way to keep green in the garden during winter, Sept. 22, 2015
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This grass will continue to grow during times of mild winter weather and is meant to be tilled under in the spring before you start your regular garden planting. I’ve used rye grass for many years and it works well for what it is supposed to do.
Timing is interesting because if you plant too early you may have some pretty tall stuff to till under in the spring. On occasion I have had to set my mower blades on the highest setting and mow the grass down before I till, which will still get all the rye incorporated into the soil. If you plant too late in the fall you may not have much grass to till under in the spring. I will probably plant mine in early to mid-October this year.
- RELATED: Storms give our gardens nitrogen and refreshing rain, July 17
I also like to plant clover in part of my garden in the fall. I have been planting Crimson Red Clover off and on for a few years now and really like the blossoms it gets. The flower is a bit heart shaped and bright red for a few weeks when it matures in the spring. As a legume, clover will also fix nitrogen in your soil. This can be a big plus.
The garden now is winding down,
with still some work to do.
Some final harvest to be made,
before the growing time is through.
Another season is nearly done,
with all that it has given.
Hopefully with much success,
and will make for healthier livin’.
Produce frozen, dried or canned,
or stored in a cool place.
Saving for another time,
to enjoy a healthy taste.
No matter how you garden,
whether a little or a lot.
One thing that will keep forever,
are the memories that you’ve got!
– Jim Carpenter
Most of the clover and rye you purchase as a cover crop will have some additional seeds added that might help in your efforts to nourish your soil. Often, a type of forage radish will be included in the mix. This radish seed grows up to several feet in length and will open up the soil to make water and nutrients pass more easily. I have also gotten oats and a type of field turnip in the cover crop seed I have purchased.
Another type of cover crop seed I have used for many years is a type of seed that will not survive cold weather. That is buckwheat seed. This is a rapidly growing plant that can be grown when you have dormant areas of the garden for periods of time during the growing season. I plant this after I dig early potatoes or if I pull up my beans and still have a number of weeks left before frost. The buckwheat will provide some of the same organic matter and nutrients the overwinter crops do.
Some may have a fall garden and some may even raise crops through the winter with tunnel gardening, but for most of us the season is nearly done. The average killing frost date in our area is generally the first or second week of October. I hope your harvest this year was a good one and I also hope you are making plans for next year’s garden.
Keep on growing!