Phil: New location, it got cold again. Hey
guys, it’s Phil from smilinggardener.com. If you haven’t picked up my free online
gardening course, you could do that right on the Home page of smilinggardener.com. Today
we’re talking about cover crops for garden. The least expensive organic fertilizer in
the world is cover crops because just for a little bit of seed, which costs hardly anything
you can do your whole garden and there are a lot of fertility benefits to cover cropping.
So what a cover crop is, is when you plant some seed out into your garden, usually during
the offseason when you don’t have any vegetables or anything else growing and you’re doing
for various reasons but usually to improve the health of the soil and of the garden in
general. Cover crops have a lot of benefits. One of
the main ones I often think about is with fertility. If you were to leave your bed without
any plants in it over the winter, it will lose a lot of nutrition especially if you
get a lot of rain during fall, winter, spring, but if you have a cover crop in there, it’s
going to retain those nutrients up into itself and then we’re going to return that cover
crop to the soil in some way and so those nutrients are going to stay there. Likewise,
it’s also increasing fertility by getting nutrients out of the soil.
The next one is weed and pet control, which I was talking about a couple of weeks ago.
With weed control, just by having a crop there that densely covers your soil, it’s going
to shade out and crowd out a lot of weeds from starting in the fall and again in the
spring, but also many cover crops exude these compounds, we call them allelopathic compounds;
basically these toxins that stop other seeds from germinating, so it controls weeds that
way. Then with predators, there are many different ways, probably through some compounds that
it exudes, they’re going to control some predators but also by attracting beneficial insects
into your garden and the last one is with organic matter.
A cover crop is photosynthesizing and becoming big and taking in carbon and we’re going
to return that carbon to the soil, it’s going to be organic matter. So there’s a
lot of fertility increases with cover cropping. So there are many benefits of cover crops.
I just listed some of the main ones there and really, they just are about improving
our soil and improving plant health, improving garden health.
What I want to do now is list the two different main kinds of cover crops which are legumes
and grasses. So legumes are nitrogen-fixing plants, which means, they house these little
bacteria on their roots and those bacteria can take nitrogen out of the air and turn
it into nitrogen that can be taken up by plants. So they will use a lot of that nitrogen on
their own. They may give a little bit up to the soil while they’re growing, but mostly
it’s when we turn those cover crops in or do something with them before they’ve gone
to seed that that nitrogen gets put back into the soil.
One of my favorites is called vetch, which you can kind of see over here and which I’ll
hold up to the camera. It’s like this and it grows kind of like almost like a vine.
It really grows around and it will grow up any kind of trellis or any kind of other grass
that might be around it and it’s a really good nitrogen producer. It’s one of the
best in terms of making a lot of nitrogen. This is a red clover, an annual clover that
is another good nitrogen producer. A white clover is often a perennial clover and it
will be used – it could be used in a lawn or it could be used in an orchard, as a crop
it’s going to come back every year and continue to produce nitrogen.
It’s starting to rain here a little bit. Now we’re on to grasses. What I really like
about grasses is that they grow big and fast. They create a lot of organic matter for the
soil, they control weeds really well because they grow really big and fast and also because
they exude these allelopathic compounds into the soil and they also are really good at
holding nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil, whereas clover is about creating the
nitrogen, the grasses more are really good at holding that nitrogen and keeping it from
leaching out. Two of the main grasses are cereal rye and
annual ryegrass. And they’re both know for having these toxins that are really good at
controlling weeds and they’re just very commonly used throughout much of North America. There
are others, I really enjoy oats. I really love oats. They’re great for climate like
mine, it’s colder and wetter. There are many others.
So the cover crop usually goes into the soil late in the summer or early fall, gives a
little bit of time to establish before winter and then it will really grow a lot in the
spring before we deal with it in the spring. When it comes the time to decide what you’re
going to plant, there’s often going to be some local knowledge for your area. The farmers
will know, but really what you need to do is just go to your – do a little research
online or go to your local garden center and they’re going to have crops that are appropriate
hopefully. It doesn’t matter that much. That’s why I always say – just pick something
and get some kind of crop always covering your soil. What I like to do is mix a legume
and a grass and then I get the benefits of both.
So I might do a rye with a vetch, or a clover with an oats, and when spring time comes,
those crops are going to start growing again and you want to figure out when you’re going
to be planting into your soil which you should always wait for that because we get these
late cold spells like we’re having right now and I’m glad I haven’t planted anything
in here yet, but what I would do is figure – and we’re going to work backwards and
if I’m going to be seeding directly into the soil, a few weeks before that, I want to take
out the cover crop. Now farmers will use herbicides for this if
they’re conventional farmers. Organic farmers will use some kind of a plough and what organic
gardeners will use is this trusty old thing we used to get weeds to, which is a hoe and
what you do is just hoe them down – hoe down, hoe them down just like you would a
weed, maybe lightly incorporate them into the soil.
I’m not a fan of tilling too much, but if I just lightly incorporate them into the top
of the soil, they’re going to break down faster and they’re going to retain more nutrition,
especially nitrogen as less of it is going to be leached if I can lightly incorporate
it. Some of it can be left as a mulch too and if you have too much or for some reason
you don’t want it to be a mulch, you can move it over into a compost pit and that’s
fine too. So it’s just like this. And even just by hoeing it kind of incorporates a fair
amount; gets a little soil on top of it. If you have any questions about cover crops
for your garden, you can ask me down below and I’ll answer. If you haven’t signed
up for my free online organic gardening course, you can do that down below. You can also join
me on Facebook at facebook.com/smilinggardener. Phil out.
Build Soil And Control Pests With Cover Crops For Gardens