You may think that as the gardening season is winding down that it’s time to sit back and enjoy the harvest. Think again! Consider the age old practice of planting a cover crop, which has been around throughout agricultural history. Many home gardeners assume that planting a cover crop is something that only farmers do. Not true! You too can grow more vigorous plants, harvest more fruit, pull fewer weeds and introduce beneficial insects to your garden plot with a small investment of your time and treasure. Let’s face it; one of the keys to having a successful home garden depends on good soil quality, and repeatedly growing plants year after year simply wears the soil out!
Why, When and Where
Just as our plants give us abundant satisfaction and nourishment, cover crops in turn nourish the soil, replacing the energy we remove with every growing and harvest season. A cover crop, planted either in the early spring to prep the garden for summer or more commonly, in early autumn to prep the bed for the upcoming season is a sure way to improve your soil quality. In addition to replenishing nutrients to the soil, cover crops are also a surprising champion in the war on weeds, which means using less herbicide in the garden. The simplest cover crops grow quickly during the cool days of autumn, creating a flourishing, green blanket over the garden soil, which by the way, is much prettier than a bare, empty garden bed. Below the surface, the roots are doing their job, of breaking up compacted layers of soil. Succumbing to the winter temperatures, the vegetation dies back, leaving behind a natural mulch to protect the soil and keep the weeds at bay. Finally, the roots decompose, adding rich organic matter to the soil, improving its overall health for the next growing season. Even if you are growing your edibles in raised garden beds, the same methods apply to you! Think of a raised garden bed as a large container. You wouldn’t plant new plants in a container year after year without refreshing the soil, so don’t be afraid to use what nature can provide to achieve the same results in your raised beds.
After your crops have been harvested, don’t let your garden plot sit dormant and be unproductive; instead plant a cover crop and repay the good earth for the bountiful harvest you have enjoyed.
For more in depth information on cover crops and improving your soil visit: Protect and Improve Your soil with Cover Crops