The season to plant fall cover crops is fast approaching. In fact, if you have a garden bed that you want to plant early crops in next spring, the time to plant a cover crop to winterkill in that space is right now. Good choices for that area are Daikon radish or oats. You want to plant them early enough so they can put on lush growth before winter sets in. Of course, you would only do that if you live in a climate with winters severe enough to kill those crops, which is the case most winters here in the mid-Atlantic. The areas the winterkilled crops were in will be the first areas planted in early spring next year. Plan for that now because if you don’t plant something then, Mother Nature will.
If your garden bed is not available to plant a cover crop in until after the frost kills what is there now, most likely your best choices for that bed are winter rye and Austrian winter peas. If you are managing your cover crops with hand tools, such as I show in my DVD Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden, you will want to wait until the rye is shedding pollen to cut it, which may be a couple weeks after your last expected frost. You can see why it is important to know what the first crop to be planted next year will be when you plant cover crops this fall.
If the space that now holds your late tomatoes and peppers is destined to be filled with sugar snap peas, early onions, and lettuce in the spring, you could mulch that area with leaves once the frost kills the crops that are there now. The leaves will keep the ground moist, provide food for the earthworms, and prohibit weeds from growing until you remove them in the spring. They will also keep the ground from warming up quickly, so it would be best to take them off two weeks before you intend to plant your next crop and allow the ground to warm up in the early spring sun.
While you are adjusting your garden plan (every garden plan can use adjustment now and then) to accommodate cover crops, make sure to rethink the crops and the amounts of each that are in your garden. Did you have enough of what you really wanted this year? Was there too much of anything?
Even if you don’t do much record keeping, you should know “enough or not enough”. Was it fun to have some zucchini early in the season, but not so much fun later on? Maybe there have been some things you have wanted to grow, but lacked the space. Zucchini is usually plentiful at the farmers markets. You could buy just the amount you need and use the space in your garden to plant something else. Read more thoughts on planning your diet and garden together at Homeplace Earth.
To really think about crop choices in your garden, take the 10-Day Local Food Challenge. For the first 10 days in October you would eat only food grown within 100 miles of your home, with the exception of 10 exotics you can include. The exotics are things that you can’t find grown within the 100 mile limit. I have been honing my diet to a local/homegrown one for so long that when I participated in the challenge last year I found I didn’t need all 10 exotics and even at that, most could have been provided within my foodshed if I had been more diligent.
Homegrown diets are a journey and I hope you are enjoying the trip. We all get in a culinary rut once in a while. Taking the time to really look at what we are eating can prod us to step out of that rut. Plan now to grow as much of your food as you can and get to know your local farmers to supply the rest.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.
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