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Grow Cover Crops and Green Manures

Posted October 11, 2017

One of the best ways to amend your soil during the fall is to plant cover crops and green manures.  This technique builds organic matter and nutrients in the soil.  It’s like growing compost right in your soil with little work involved.

Cover crops specifically refer to the benefits associated by covering bare ground, while green manures refer to the benefits of adding nutrients and organic matter when tilled into the soil.  So you can see that they are interchangeable.

What cover crops and green manures can do for your garden:

  • Increase soil organisms
  • Increase nitrogen when legumes are planted
  • Offer habitats for beneficial insects
  • Build organic matter
  • Break up compacted and clay soils
  • Save money
  • Protect soil from erosion
  • Suppress weeds
  • Increase pollinators

Cover crops can be planted in the spring, summer, fall and between crops rotations.  Warm-season crops such as buckwheat, soybeans and cowpeas are planted in the spring through summer.  Cool season crops like, rye, peas, clover, fave and oats are planted late summer through fall.  Remember that planting times for particular species will change depending on your climate.

Cover crops can be mixed for a variety of benefits.  Plant a combination that has complementary growth patterns.   A good example of this would be a combination of peas and oats.  Peas will use the oats as a support and both are fast growing.  Peas add nitrogen to the soil while oats provide green manure for a healthier ecosystem increasing soil organism activity.

Ways to incorporate crops into the soil:

  • Till with a rototiller
  • Dig in with a spade or fork
  • Winterkill
  • Mow
  • Chop and drop
  • Sheet Mulch

Crimson clover is a hardworking crop for your vegetable garden that fixes nitrogen for improve soil fertility.  And added bonus, the large deep crimson flowers are beautiful and attract beneficial insects.  Great for spring or fall.

Peas grow quickly and can be planted in the spring or fall.  Peas add nitrogen to the soil and suppress weeds. 

Oats are a fast growing green manure that is ideal for spring or fall.  Oats help hold nitrogen in the soil and act as a support for peas.  Peas and Oats make a perfect combination of cover crop and green manure. 

Buckwheat is an excellent green manure that is great for controlling annual and perennial weeds.  Easy to grow!  Buckwheat requires little water. The white flowers attract many beneficial insects to the garden.  This is an excellent crop for summer. 

Fava Beans may not be thought of as a cover crop, but they are the highest nitrogen-fixing crops and have deep root system to help break up compacted soils.   Seeds can be sown in the early spring or fall.  



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