Cover Crops Improve Garden Soil

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA/DLEONIS
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.

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.