Cover Crops

Sunday, September 25, 2011
Sarah Denkler

Many of us may harvest that last vegetable and then forget about our gardens until spring. We have discussed here that we should be taking soil samples and adding amendments now so that our garden will be ready to go in spring. What else can be done to aid our garden soil?

Think about the area where you have your vegetable garden. Is it a dirt patch after harvest and during the winter? If so you may be wasting an opportunity to aid the structure and fertility of your soil. Think about covering it over the winter and tilling in what you plant now in the spring. This practice is known as cover cropping.

Using cover crops has several benefits for your garden. By growing plant matter and leaving it over the winter you will reduce the amount of erosion that may occur to your topsoil, you will inhibit the amount of weeds that will invade the garden over the winter and you will improve soil structure through the growth of roots into the soil.

Other benefits will be added in the spring when you till in the plant material that covers the surface of the garden. This added plant matter is known as green manure. It benefits the soil by adding organic matter to the soil which improves soil structure and adding any nutrients that are stored in the plant material that is tilled under.

Small grains or grasses that can be sown in September include winter or spring oats, barley and annual ryegrass. Oats should be sown at 2 pounds per 1000 square foot, barley at 3 pounds per 1000 square foot and annual ryegrass at 1 pound per 1000 square foot.

Legumes can also be planted with the added benefit of nitrogen fixation. This provides added nitrogen to the soil when the plant and roots die in spring. These include hairy vetch, Austrian winter pea and crimson clover. Both can be planted in September at 1 pound per 1000 square feet. Crops can be mixed as well if desired.

For horticulture questions please call 573-686-8064. The Extension office, open Monday -- Friday, is located in Kennett, Missouri at 101 South Main Street (the old bank) on the 2nd floor.

University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.

Sarah Denkler is a horticulture specialist with University of Missouri Extension

in Dunklin County.

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