October 12, 2012

Got it Covered

After adding a few new raised beds this spring, we're up to about 20 or 25 distinct food planting areas on the homestead and I'm looking at all of them thinking there is no way I have the energy to fill them all with winter or early spring crops. What to do with the areas that won't be in vegetable production over the next few months? I have two choices as I see it. I can amend the soil, cover the beds with thick layer of straw, and just let them rest until March. Cozying up with a soft, thick blanket sounds kind of nice to me right now!

The other choice is to seed the otherwise dormant extra beds with a cover crop, something I've never tried until this fall. Cover crops--also referred to as green manure--reduce soil erosion during the rainy season by keeping bare soil covered with a carpet of green. Most also fix nitrogen in the soil, and my soil always needs more of that. If you cut and turn them under (usually right before they flower), all that nitrogen and green matter goes right into the ground to increase the levels of nutrients and organic matter in the soil. Many cover crops also attract beneficials to the garden. All in all, sounds like a great option.

Cover crop in a raised bed

While I have already covered a few of my beds with straw this fall, I also decided to try cover cropping some beds with Crimson Clover, which is winter hardy and can be planted in the fall around here. (Crimson Clover does have red flowers, but is NOT the same as Red Clover, which spreads by runner.) I bought a 1 lb bag from Territorial Seed Co. along with my seed garlic, but there are lots of options online and you can probably find some at either Higby's in Dixon, one of the other area feed stores, or maybe even Davis Lumber, Redwood Barn or other local nurseries. If you want to try something other than Crimson Clover, use the comparison chart (PDF) on Johnny's Selected Seeds website to learn about the benefits of other types of cover crops.

Germination was slightly erratic without rain

One thing I've learned about planting Crimson Clover in our area is that germination requires very moist soil, and of course we don't have that yet unless we are using hose water. The crop in the photo above was planted about 5 weeks ago, and since we haven't had any rain, I've had to water that bed regularly to get all the clover to sprout. Next time, I'll wait to spread the seed until right before there's rain in the forecast. That way, no hose water is wasted where rain could do the job instead. It will be a bit of an experiment (what isn't in the garden??), but I think October-planted clover will do just fine. Now we just need that rain!

Are you putting your beds to bed for the winter, or are you growing veggies over the cold months?

1 comment:

  1. After investing in Earth Boxes and an automatic drip system, I wouldn't have the nerve to tell Hubby "Oh, never mind". Yes, I will plant kale, herbs, swiss chard, mustard, and ??.