Cover Crops


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I used cover crops a few years ago.

It made the soil wonderfully crumbly and easy to work, though the fertility the first year was not what I had hoped for. Plants eat last, and much of the fertility that first year was tied up in decomposing the cover crop after I had turned it under. What I turned under one year was released to the plants the SECOND year, as by then it was fully decomposed. If that makes sense. I have used both Austrian peas and oats as cover crops, and both worked out well.

On the whole I was pleased, as using cover crops made the soil soft and crumbly. I just needed to have fertilized the seedlings that first year.
 
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Cover crop is great if your season is long enough to be advantageous. The other choice is to have enough room to alternate an area each year. Most people wont leave an area fallow. They desire to grow as much as possible. I have grown clover in small areas periodically but have abandoned the practice in my Zone 5.
 
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For here in Kansas, the trick seems to be to plant the cover crop in the FALL, after the earliest vegetables have been harvested. I let the cover crop grow until frost killed it, and then in the spring I would mow down the dead, winter killed cover crop and till it under.

I have HEARD that some people us rye as a cover crop because winter will not kill it, but I always thought that any surviving rye could become weeds. I always wanted my cover crop to be DEAD by the next spring.

Austrian oats add more nitrogen to the soil, which was good, but the oats survived more frosts and so added more organic matter. Those oats were 12 inches tall before they finally died.

Both did good things for the soil, but I had to work for it because using a tiller takes effort. I have a very good tiller, too. It is fun to use when you are tilling a straight line, but it is a very heavy machine, and I feel that weight at the end of each row when it comes time to turn around and go the other way.

I no longer use the tiller for that reason, though last year my son tilled up a bit of the lawn for me so that we could have sweet corn.
 
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I used annual red clover. Double cut. It usually died in the Winter and if not it was weed wacked then rototilled into the soil. I preferred to rottoill in while green but often the short season interfered.
 
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When going to the trouble of growing a cover crop one might as well fix some nitrogen hence the clover. There are other plants that fix nitrogen but clover is cheap and readily available.
 
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I think Crimson red clover might be a good choice, annual planted in fall and turned under in spring.
 
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