5 Tips for using a Cover Crop in Your Organic Garden

You may have heard of cover crops (AKA green manures or living mulches). Cover crops are a crop you plant in your garden during times when your main vegetable crops aren't growing. Winter time is a great time for cover crops! Plants commonly used as winter cover crops include wheat, clover, vetch and rye. The seed for these plants is very inexpensive and is available at your local garden center or feed store. They are also available through mail order sources.

Cover crops can be a simple and attractive way to boost your organic garden's vegetable growing potential. They add visual interest to your garden with their green color and blossoms during the winter and early spring months. These crops help your garden ecosystem in many different ways.

1. Attract Beneficial Creatures-- Cover crops provide habitat and food for beneficial insects, toads and birds. As cover crops grow, they also provide a home for soil creatures such as earthworms.

2. Build and Protect Your Soil-- The roots and leaf canopy of cover crops help prevent soil erosion. The biomass produced by the crop helps to build your soil organic matter.

3. Kill Weeds--Fast germinating cover crops that have large, spreading canopies outgrow and choke out weeds. Some cover crops also produce compounds that prevent weed seeds from sprouting.

4. Add Nutrients--When you use a nitrogen-fixing (legume) crop such as clover or vetch, you are adding nitrogen to your soil. This will allow you to reduce the amount of compost or other organic fertilizers that you will have to provide to your vegetable crops.

Cover crops can also "scavenge" for nutrients such as phosphorus and make them more available to your vegetable crops.

5. Suppress Diseases and insect pests-- Using cover crops in your garden can stop the cycle of plant diseases. This is because rotating between different types of crops will help keep soil-borne diseases and insect infestations in check. Some winter cover crops actually deter soil pests and diseases from setting up shop in your garden.

For More Information:
http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/ecogardening/impsoilcov.html--explains characteristics of various cover crops and has a chart that will help you select one for your garden.

http://www.farm-garden.com/cornucopia/garden_cover_crops has specifics about how to use cover crops and where to buy seeds for them.

See Also:
There's a Goosefoot in my Garden
It's Easy to Grow Great Garlic
How Does Your Garden Grow Part One: Getting to Know Your Soil
Bountiful Basil

Digg! digg it

Tammy Biondi has been growing organic produce for over 10 years. Besides running Blue Horizon Farm, Tammy teaches about sustainable farming at the Central Carolina Community College. She also is a successful freelance writer, focusing on agricultural topics. Contact her at tammy@bluehorizonfarm.com.