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News from the Edible Demo Garden

November 2020: Cover Crops

Fava beans are a great cover crop.
Fava beans are a great cover crop.
This fall our team has been busy ordering seeds for our winter garden and then starting them in the greenhouse to get a good jump on our plantings. However, many gardeners prefer to give both themselves and their gardens a rest during the winter months. Come spring gardeners’ enthusiasm will be replenished and their soil will start the growing season with added vigor. Fall is a great time to enhance and protect your garden soil by planting a cover crop.

Reasons for Cover Cropping

Increase Nitrogen in Soil
Many gardeners know that Fava Beans improve the soil by fixing nitrogen. The plant takes the nitrogen from the air and with the help of a soil borne bacteria, converts it to a form that can be taken up by the plant through its roots. Other kinds of beans, peas, and non-edible clovers can do this also. A substance called an inoculant can be applied to the seeds at planting time. Fava Bean seeds and any legume should be inoculated at the time of planting. An inoculant provides a beginning supply of the necessary bacteria that will immediately be available when the seed germinates. It will increase the amount of nitrogen fixation above what the plant produces naturally.

Weed Suppression
Rye, Barley, and Vetch as well as many other plants can be used to suppress weeds. With vetch, you get the added benefit of nitrogen fixation as well. These plants suppress weeds by directly competing with them for resources. A blend of these plants is often used so that there is coverage over a long season by early germinators and later ones. In the spring when the grasses are mowed, this green mulch blocks the sun and thus continues to suppress weeds.

Other Reasons
Other reasons you might want to plant a cover crop include compaction control (alfalfa, clover) and erosion control (alfalfa, barley, clover, rye). Alfalfa, barley, and clover can also attract beneficial insects to your garden.

Cover Crop Seasons

Just like vegetables, cover crops have planting seasons. Most of the cover crops mentioned can be planted now. So get them in the ground quickly if you want to amend your existing garden or improve the soil in a new area. Then put your feet up and know that your garden is working its magic without you.

Note: Look to future news about how and when to cut down your cover crop and what to do with it afterwards in order to enhance its benefits.
Learn more about cover crops here.