Cover Crop Techniques for Improved Soil Health in Your Garden
Cover cropping is a great way to improve soil health and fertility. It can also help with weed control, erosion prevention, and water retention. Last year, one gardener tried out a tillage radish winter cover crop in his 200 sq. ft no-till garden. The taproot went deep into the soil and drainage seemed very good. The only downside was that the foliage decomposed quickly, leaving bare ground from April through May. To combat this issue, he added 12- 40 pound bags of cow compost.
This past weekend, the gardener pulled up all his plants and mowed down the grass mulch he used during the summer. He then used a garden fork to loosen the soil without turning it over before scattering tillage radish seeds and adding hairy vetch for coverage until he could plant tomato and pepper plants. In the past, he has killed off the vetch by simply mowing it down before planting into it.
The forecast called for moisture in the coming weeks so germination should take place within a few days to a week. However, due to being two weeks late in planting this year, he hopes to get good growth from his radishes and that the weather holds out for the next five or six weeks.
Other gardeners have had success using cereal rye and peas as a winter cover crop. They cut it down when the rye heads appear in early spring. Wheat/rye/lupin mixes have been attempted but lupins donât survive long enough if planted too late in cold weather. Radishes need 60 days to grow large so they may not reach desired size if planted too late in colder climates.
For those living in areas with low to mid 20s overnight temperatures and warmish days, diverse cover crops are possible since most plants wonât die over winter nor will they grow much either unless planted far enough ahead of cold weather setting in. Grandchildren can keep us young and busy but napping more during the day after they leave is sometimes necessary!
What did you do for your cover crop last year?
I did a tillage radish winter cover crop. The taproot went deep into the soil and the drainage seemed very good. Only downfall I could see was the foliage decomposed very fast and left me with bare ground through April into May.
How did you prepare your garden this past weekend?
I pulled up all my plants and tossed them in the trash, mowed down the grass mulch I used this summer, used my garden fork to loosen the soil without turning it over, scattered my tillage radish seeds and added hairy vetch so I'll have coverage until I can plant my tomato and pepper plants.
How do you kill your vetch in the past?
I just mowed it down and then planted into it.
What is your expectation for the growth of your radishes?
I'm hoping I get good growth from my radishes and the weather holds out for the next 5 or 6 weeks.I'm 2 weeks late planting this year.
What is the climate like where you live?
Our winters are mostly in the low to mid 20s overnight with warmish days so the ground never freezes here.
What other cover crops have you tried before?
I have used winter rye, cereal rye and peas, wheat/rye/lupin mix, and hairy vetch as a winter cover crop.
How long does it take for radishes to get large?
Radishes will winter kill and they need 60 days to get large.