At GTC we have been thinking about how to better utilize and maintain our beds over the winter in great detail. In this process, we have made a few attempts to cover our beds with cardboard, black plastic, leaves (a lot of leaves!) or by letting the vegetables themselves to simply die back and and serve as their own form of cover for the winter.
After hosting a workshop this past summer about the importance of soil nutrition, we decided to institute cover crops on many of our beds with rye. Here are a few steps that we utilized if you are considering this crucial step to soil health:
1. Helps Stop Your Garden From Losing Valuable Top Soil
A cover crop keeps your soil from being barren through the winter months. Barren soil is pelted by rains and winds and can whip away the top layer of your soil (usually the best in the garden), and leave you with less “good stuff” to grow your plants next year.
2. Loosens Your Soil For Next Years Crop
A cover crop’s roots can go deep down into the soil and help to break up heavy soils, making it easier for next year’s crop to put down deep roots – which means less watering – better protection against drought, and healthier plants. Annual Rye grows to depths of 18” or more to loosen up that soil. Clover and other cover crops can do the same and are great at fixing the Nitrogen levels in the soil.
3. Adds Valuable Nitrogen To Your Soil
Cover crops, when dug into the soil in the spring – add nitrogen and other valuable nutrients to your vegetable and garden plants. It is an easy way to replenish your soil from what this year’s garden plants took out.
4. Adds Valuable Organic Material To Your Soil
Digging in all of that “green manure” into your soil really helps to loosen your soil. As the cover crop breaks down underneath the soil – it gives your garden and the plants a loose friable soil to grow freely in.
5. Cut down on next year’s weeds!
Cover cropping really helps to cut down on next year’s weeds. By growing a nice stock of an annual cover crop – it crowds out the soil and lessens the chance of runaway weeds seeds blowing in and finding a home in your garden.