Time to Cover Crop!
I know it’s still hot outside, but believe it or not, fall is right around the corner, and that means cover cropping! It’s important to plant early enough that plants have time to get established before winter.
Cover crops have tons of benefits in the garden. A cover crop can create microclimate, protect tender hard-to-grow crops as a “nurse crop,” prevent the establishment of weeds, improve soil structure and reduce compaction, and add essential nutrients back into the soil. They are also some of the best early and late blooming allies for beneficial insects. On our farm, we rotationally graze livestock on our cover cropped fields.
The trick to effective cover cropping is to plant the right seed, in the right spot, at the right time of year. Keep in mind that if you allow the crop to go to seed it may become a self-sowing weed in its own right, which you may or may not want.
This time of year in our Northern climate, most cover cropping is aimed at improving soil structure for next season and adding nutrients and bulk organic matter back in. Our go-to seeds for autumn are a combo of oats & field peas (and then I make milky oats medicine!), red clover (also future medicine), winter rye, and forage radishes. You will find seeds that are perfect for you, but we like these crops because they feed the soil, the insects, and the livestock; make medicine for the people; decrease compaction and weeds; and increase both bulk and nutrient availability in the soil.
The best day to drop cover crop seeds is the day before rain during the full moon. Simply broadcast the seed of your choice on well-turned fresh earth, then walk over it systematically or rake it in with a hard rake. You want good soil contact.
The inimitable Eliot Coleman has great resources on cover crop benefits and choosing the right crops.
Fedco is a great place to order cover crop seeds.