Del Norte Gardening: Plant a winter cover crop in order to protect soil

Triplicate Staff

Del Norte Gardening runs monthly. Paul Madeira and Julie Jo Ayer Williams own Ocean Air Farms in Fort Dick.

As October draws near, there is one job on our minds that takes precedence above all others.

It is the winter cover crop, which we feel is the most important and time-sensitive task that will be the most beneficial to us in the spring.

For those of you who have never heard of a cover crop, we will do our best to explain. A cover crop is any plant, such as winter rye grass or clover, planted between periods of regular crop production to prevent soil erosion and provide humus or organic matter. Also known as a green manure, these crops tend to grow quickly and achieve a large mass of plant, or "organic matter," as is commonly phrased.

In terms of erosion, it is easy to see the vulnerability of bare soil

to the forces of wind and rain. With a tall stand of grass or legume

the soil stands a much better chance of staying put. At the very least,

the cover crop will do a great job of suppressing an entire winter's

worth of weed growth.

Now that we have mentioned a few reasons not to let the garden go for

the winter, we'll let you in on the facts that have shaped our farm's

use of the cover crop.

Lets face it, times are getting tough, prices are going up, and the

last article we read of the economic state of the country predicted a

90-month recovery. That puts us way out in like, 2016. Our point is

that this is a very good time to plant a garden, or better yet, start a

new garden. And the challenge, (for us especially) is to do so without

spending more than we're getting out of that garden.

So, back to the cover crop. To restore fertility and maintain

fertility, the cover crop is the best method we have found to add

nutrients with the least amount of expense.

The smallest garden could be amended with only home-made compost, but

for even a medium, and especially a large garden, you have to have a

lot of good compost to cover that area. We plant a mixture of fava

beans, peas, vetch and rye grass in the fall.

Let it grow all winter, usually mow it in the spring, then till it

under and work the soil until it is ready to plant into. The most

fascinating occurrence is that these "legumes," such as clover, fava and

peas, will fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, transfer it to the plant

and with a shovel, push rototiller or tractor, we transfer it to the

soil.

This is the where the economical fertilization is achieved. Not only

is the tall plant with all its mass turned under to decay and feed soil

life, but some of the nitrogen, which naturally occurs in the air, is

now in your garden.

Whether, you are putting your garden to rest for the winter or

considering growing a new garden next year, planting a cover crop will

add many benefits to your soil. Better soil tilth, less weeds and grass

to break into, the "organic matter" to decay and feed, and especially,

the nitrogen burst are all good reasons to try a cover crop.

Plus, they grow well, and we know we have more fun with crops that

actually grow. We put together the seed mixture we use for the winter

cover crop, which, is available in 5-pound bags at Crescent City Hay and

Feed. Happy gardening!

Have a question or suggestion? Email it to oceanairfarms@gmail.com

and it may be addressed in a future column.

14008866
The Del Norte Triplicate
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