The growing season is winding down and most gardeners in the Northern states are preparing for winter. One of the last things I do to keep my garden healthy and happy is to plant a cover crop in the garden.
• Cover crops are often referred to as green manure and are used to add nutrients to the garden over the winter months. Cover crops are planted in the fall, allowed to grow through the winter and tilled into the soil in the spring.
• Cover crops prevent erosion, preventing top soil from washing away.
• Cover crops or green manure increases organic material, adding biomass to the soils upper levels. This is a great way to improve clay soil and to improve drainage in any type soil.
• Cover Crop mixes that include legumes like hairy vetch add nitrogen back into the soil.
• Cover crops grow quickly smothering out weeds making it easier to till the garden in the spring. Gardens planted between seasons with a cover crop also have fewer weeds popping up during the growing season.
• Cover crops add beauty and color to the garden during the months when it is normally bare.
Seeds of cover crops can be found at most garden and farm stores or ordered from seed companies like Burpees. The type of cover crop seeds needed depend upon the needs of the soil and the climate.
A ¼ pound of seeds will provide ground cover for 200 to 300 square feet and cost between $2.95 and $4.95.
To add nitrogen and beauty choose Hairy vetch, either alone or in a mix. Hairy vetch blooms with pretty purple flowers and in the spring will provide nectar and pollen for bees and insects.
A popular mix in Northern climates is a mix of Winter Rye mixed with Hairy vetch. This blend is a little more expensive than rye alone, but provides extra nitrogen and blue flowers from the vetch.
Winter rye is the least expensive ground cover and is great for adding organic material to the garden. An added bonus to planting Winter Rye is that it grows quickly chocking out weeds before they take hold.
Gardeners in warmer climates can benefit from a mixture of Winter Rye and Field