Cover cropping is the practice of sowing plants on the land for the purpose of improving the soil. Cover crops are often overlooked by home gardeners, but of you really want to maximize the productivity and health of your garden, the answers are in the soil. Cover crops are used mostly for amending the soil, adding nitrogen and organic matter, which can then be absorbed by crops. A great article on cover crops in home gardens: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/Cover-Crops-Soil-Nutrients.aspx
In Monday’s class gardeners looked at a section of the community garden plots at Ethan which is cover cropped with buckwheat. Buckwheat is favored by many farmers because it is a great nitrogen fixer. Other great nitrogen fixing cover crops are vetch and clover, which can be planted in between rows as a living mulch. If gardeners cover crop effectively, they can avoid having to add compost, because the soil will already be so rich. The idea is to never have exposed soil, so that there will not be run off or erosion and the nutrients in the soil will not be lost.
Here is a great chart of different cover crops http://www.johnnyseeds.com/assets/information/FarmSeedComparison.pdf
Cover crops are also used for remediation. For our garden this is especially important with the contamination from persistent herbicides. Green Mountain Compost and the Chittenden Solid Wast District are giving cover crop kits to gardeners and farmers who used their compost this season. For the herbicides which target broad leaf plants, like we have, it is best to use oats.
To sow the rye we clears the plot where were wanted to plant the grain and broadcast the seed, by basically just scattering the seed. We then raked it lightly under to cover with soil and watered the soil.
And remember, this Thursday is a community pot luck! This is the best time of the year in Vermont to find fresh fruits and vegetables, so it should be a feast! Bring a dish and a friend.