Cover Cropping - Summer and Winter
Why should I plant a summer cover crop?
You can get a head start on improving the quality of your
for next year's season with some simple steps taken in the summer to
the amount of organic matter in your soil with summer cover
A summer cover crop will add significant amounts of organic matter to
soil, yielding a variety of long term benefits. Increased organic
improves the water holding capacity of the soil, improves drainage in
soils and provides a range of macro and micro nutrients that optimize
health. In a recent study done by a university ag department in the
plants that were grown in soils that were amended with a full range of
nutrients PLUS compost did significantly better than those grown in the
amended soil alone. There are two ways to add organic matter; grow it
pile it on. Growing your cover crop right on the soil you wish to amend
saves money and time - no expensive compost to haul and shovel, just
seeds to scatter and water when you take care of the rest of your
A crop of hairy vetch and rye will add nitrogen equivalent to 13 pounds
of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 57 lbs. of biomass to a 400 ft2 garden.
What are the best seeds to use?
There are several choices for cover summer cover crops in our
Legumes of any kind make a great cover crop (peas, beans, soybeans,
etc.) because they add significant amounts of organic matter and
help fix nitrogen in the soil by extracting it from the air and passing
it into the soil through nodules on its roots. Another good
is buckwheat. Extremely vigorous, it is known for its ability to
other plants growth. Buckwheat was able to keep both field bindweed and
quack grass in check in a trial plot at Eastside a few summers ago. It
matures quickly and can be tilled or dug in in as little as 4-5 weeks.
(Remember that even if the cover crop doesn’t reach maximum maturity in
the time it has in your plot whatever green matter is there when you
it into the soil is making a difference.) It also has a very pretty
blossom but be sure to cut it before it goes to seed. Another fast
is annual rye grass which will yield enormous amounts of organic matter
after only several weeks of growth.
How do I do it?
If you can sow seeds you can grow a cover crop. Any time you
area which will be unused for more than a few weeks a cover crop can go
in. Broadcast the seeds over the area, rake them in - more vigorously
large seeds like peas- and then water as you do the rest of your
If there is sufficient time for the crop to get several inches high
it under is easier if you mow it first. The mowing also chops the
into smaller pieces which will break down more quickly in the soil. The
plants should be turned in when they are in about 75% flower or, for
when frost is near, whichever is sooner. A succession of cover
can be sown, one right after the other, if there is sufficient time in
the season. For more details you can go to Cover
Crop: Preparation and Planning.
What about winter cover crops?
The answer in a word - yes! While our cold winters limit the variety of cover crops that we can successfully grow there are a couple that will do the job. The Peaceful Valley catalog has a Cold Zone Soil Builder mix that should also do well in our area.
Where can I get the seeds?
Some local garden centers carry annual rye; ask them to carry some of the other seeds. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (888 784-1722), in northern California, is a great source of many different types of cover crop seeds. If there is sufficient interest among the gardeners the IFCGA can also order bulk quantities of the hard-to-find seeds like buckwheat and soybeans. If you are interested talk to your garden coordinator or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember that building your soil through the addition of organic matter is one of the best things you can do for your garden!
For more information about the Idaho Falls Community Garden Association call (208)524-0383 or email@example.com.