Cover crops is a hot topic in agriculture. Cover crops can be an important component to any home garden. They are used for various reasons, including building the soil, controlling soil erosion, and limiting the initiation and spread of certain diseases and insects in the soil. Lets discuss some things to consider about cover crops in the garden..
What are the benefits of a cover crop in my garden? This is an excellent question. Cover crops can improve soil structure and reduce surface crusting and erosion. The water holding capacity of your soil can be increased with the use of cover crops. Weed suppression is a great attribute of cover crops. Cover crops can provide nitrogen if you use a legume cover crop in your garden.
What type of cover crops can I plant? I am glad you asked. There are two general types of cover crops. Legumes and non legumes. Legume cover crops add nitrogen to the soil. Examples of legume cover crops include clover and vetch. Crimson clover is a commonly used cover crop for gardens. It matures earlier and can produce about 30-50 lbs of nitrogen per acre.
Rye and wheat are non legume cover crops. These cover crops do not fix or produce nitrogen but they can suppress small seeded weeds such as pigweed. Rye and wheat require a nitrogen application to produce biomass.
What time of year do I plant my cover crop? If you are going to select a cool season cover crop then consider planting after the summer garden is completed. The non legume crops should be planted in early October to mid November. The legume cover crops should be planted mid September to October.
What is a seeding rate for my cover crop? If you look at cover crop information you will see alot of combinations or multiple cover crops planted at the same time. A common mixture would be rye or a cereal grain planted with a legume such as crimson clover.
A typical mix might be 3 to 4 pounds of a cereal grain with 0.25 pounds of a legume per 1,000 square feet. For a garden as large as an acre, you can go with 50 pounds of cereal grain and 5 pounds of clover per acre.
An important consideration is the use of a legume inoculant. Specific Rhizobia bacteria invade the roots of legumes, forming nodules where nitrogen fixation takes place. These bacteria are specific for different legumes and can be purchased to inoculate legume seed prior to planting. Inoculant comes in the form of a powder and is actually live bacterial. There are specific inoculants for various types of clovers and other legumes, so be sure to purchase the correct one.
Do I need to follow a soil sample for cover crops? Why yes… If you are planting a legume cover crop then do not add nitrogen. The clover seed should be treated with a nitrogen fixing bacteria or an inoculant. The grass cover crops need nitrogen to ensure they can produce biomass. If you need soil sample bags please contact your local county Extension agent.
If you would like more information about cover crops in the garden please go to the UGA publication Using Cover Crops in the Home Garden by Robert Westerfield, University of Georgia Department of Horticulture, Extension horticulturist and Carmen Westerfield, U.S. Department of Agriculture, district conservationist.