Cover Crops Improve Garden Soil

Planting cover crops and using mulch helps your vegetables grow well and improves your garden soil.

Turning over cover crops preparing soil

You can do your garden, a foul weather favor and save its valuable topsoil with (1) mulch and (2) green manure. These two brands of organic judo will effectively turn Ole Man Winter's blows into constructive forces that will actually mellow and improve the family vegetable plot.

PHOTO: FOTOLIA/DLEONIS

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Look out the window at that weather ...howling winds; temperature cycling through freezes and thaws; snow, hail and sleet cutting the air. It sure is great to be inside a snug house on days like this ...especially if that house has a basement root cellar and pantry well stocked with home-grown, canned and preserved produce.

But wait a minute ...what about the garden that gave you that harvest? If you just left the soil lying out there in the elements, naked, chances are the pickings won't be so bountiful next summer.

You can do your garden, a foul weather favor and save its valuable topsoil with (1) mulch and (2) green manure. These two brands of organic judo will effectively turn Ole Man Winter's blows into constructive forces that will actually mellow and improve the family vegetable plot.

Mulching is especially easy: Just gather up all the plant materials you can find and concentrate the natural process of decomposition where it will have the most effect. You'll be doing the air a favor too by recycling those leaves instead of burning them.

Green manure adds a slightly more sophisticated touch to your gardening program. The word "manure", by the way, suggests the nutrients—which you can liberate—locked in this most basic of Nature's fertilizers.

Sometimes known as "cover crops", green manures are grown not for harvesting but for improving the soil. Some of the most popular are barley, buckwheat, cow peas, millet, winter rye, sorghum, common and yellow clovers, hairy vetch any winter wheat. There are many more. To use them, you simply spade, plow or otherwise stir your garden in late summer or fall. Broadcast the seed by hand and rake it in. Then stand back and watch your winter garden grow.

In the spring—when the crop is still young and tender—turn it under with spade, plow or garden tractor. Do this before the seeds develop, naturally, unless you're trying to turn your garden into permanent pasture.