Country Lore: Double Cropping

Double cropping builds rich soil for future growing seasons.

| June/July 2004

I grow two gardens. One garden is for the current year's vegetable crop, while the other hosts a variety of soil-building cover crops over the growing season. This method has helped us rapidly build our garden's soil at our new homestead. Here in Zone 5, I plant oats in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. In late June, I mow the oats, spread a light layer of compost on the clippings, then till the space. I then plant buckwheat. The fast-growing buckwheat gets mowed twice, just as the seed head starts to develop. The second mowing has a layer of compost applied to it before tilling, about mid-September. The garden space is then put to bed for the winter with a nice cover of rye.

I perfected this double-cropping method while gardening in a small space in town. I used a variety of cover crops, planting the covers as the vegetables waned. After we harvested early peas or spinach, we planted a cover crop in its space. I could mow with a hand mower and spade the area with a shovel. My garden soon had the friable soil structure of a garden that had been nurtured for many years.

The practice of double cropping your garden space is a good one. Weed pressure is easily controlled in a cover crop by mowing. The pest and disease cycle is broken by the constant crop rotation, while all these efforts return plant matter back to the soil for decomposition. The soil comes alive with microorganisms, worms and other beneficial insects, and the gardener reaps the harvest created by healthy, happy plants.

Double cropping your garden's spaces is a great way to enjoy summer days by playing in the dirt. Try it!

Ralph Rice
Jefferson, Ohio

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