Soil Management Brings You Right Back to the Land
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Soil Management Brings You Right Back to the Land

Cover crops and green manure is a vital element for successful gardening all year around. Turn your garden in spring and watch the green manure work it's magic.

I love to garden and I bet you do the same in a big way. My 4,000 square foot garden is worked year round. Each wide raised bed is always growing something, even in the winter. There are rows of shallots, garlic and leeks. Some beds are filled with leafy greens but most of the garden is growing crops that I have no intention of eating. 

Why using valuable garden space for inedible crops ?

Cover crops and green manure enable me to garden intensively all year long.

Is there a difference between a cover crop and a green manure crop ? 

Yes, even though the terms are often used to describe the same thing, there is a technical distinction. A cover crop is growing to control erosion, suppress weeds and to limit soil compaction from winter rains. A green manure is grown with the intent that it will be tilled into the soil. This incorporation will directly improve a soils health. Cover crops can be perennial, depending on the application and the desired results. 

An annual cover crop, turned in before flowering, then becomes a green manure crop. Both must be referred as cover crops.

Why plant a cover crop ?

The benefits to soil health and the plants we grow are vast. In addition to controlling erosion, weeds and compaction, cover crops:

  1. Increase soil organic matter
  2. Improve water retention
  3. Provide a habitat for beneficial insects
  4. Improve soil structure
  5. Feed soil dwelling microoranism
  6. Clean the air of excess carbon
  7. Beautify a garden during the dark days of winter

Cover crops fall into two main categories: Non legumes and legumes. The non legumes are the cereal grasses, such as barley, buckwheat, millet, oats and rye. They are excellent for adding organic matter and their deep roots improve soil structure. It is important to remember to incorporate these crops before their seed heads emerge. The absolute best of the non legumes for the home gardener. For example buckwheat is a fast growing warm season crop that is a perfect fit after a spring crop has been harvested. It is good to use as a living mulch. When the crop is done, I have biomass for the compost pile. And once the buckwheat goes to seed, it provides seed for the following year. Gardens need continual replacement of organic matter nutrients. Cover crops and green manures accomplish this along with providing other benefits. Once all is planted, kick back for a while and watch them grow. 

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