Ground Cover is Good for Gardens, Too

| 10/7/2015 12:47:00 PM

Tags: Cover Crops, Ground Cover, Ryegrass, Buckwheat, Lois Hoffman,

Country MoonSeptember is getting on and most gardens are tapering off. As for mine, potatoes and onions are tucked in the root cellar, tomatoes in every form line the shelves in the pantry, okra and corn are frozen. I only have yet to contend with a few lingering tomatoes and a row of carrots. It has been a good year and I am thinking of trying something completely different to make the garden even more productive next year. Instead of just letting it lay idle during the winter months, a cover crop can help a garden as much as it does farmers’ fields.

What exactly is a cover crop? Basically, it is any number of different crops planted primarily to manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality water, weeds and pests. These crops are also known as green manure. They are easy to plant and require only basic care.

It’s not just what goes on above ground that counts but also what happens with the roots underground. Having a root system in place, as opposed to bare ground, helps retain soil from erosion and helps compaction which is the process of removing voids in the soil to increase density and the load-bearing  capacity.

A cover crop does exactly what its name implies, it covers the ground. Thus, weeds have a harder time gaining a strong hold. Cover crops can also return vital nutrients back to the soil. Farmers, and gardeners, can rely on nitrogen from cover crops to grow next season’s crop, rather than spending money to purchase traditional fertilizer. Heavy vetch and red clover can actually “fix nitrogen” which means they take nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it in the soil.

Cover crop

Gardens take a beating. Tilling, weeding, harvesting and just regular foot traffic tend to destroy soil structure. Much of a garden’s space is “wasted” during the off season anyway so it just makes sense to plant something that will provide a number of advantages when it is worked into the soil in the spring.

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