Best Summer Cover Crops

For weed suppression and a major boost to soil fertility, sow these four fast-growing summer cover crops in any patch possible, even during your prime gardening season.

| August/September 2014

  • Sunn Hemp Cover Crop Height
    Sunn hemp, a nitrogen-fixing legume from the tropics, can soar to an impressive 9 feet high in a matter of weeks.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • Cowpeas As Garden Cover Crop
    Sow a patch of cowpeas to set nitrogen between spring and fall plantings.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • Cover Crop Cowpeas For Mulch
    Nitrogen-fixing cowpeas can be grown between spring and fall plantings and then cut to form an excellent mulch.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • Cover Crop Buckwheat In Gardens
    Fast-growing buckwheat forms a dense cover that shades out weeds, and the crop’s blooms bring in bees and other beneficial insects.
    Photo by Barbara Pleasant
  • Garden Buckwheat Flowers Attract Bees
    Growing buckwheat as a cover crop in your garden provides blooms that bring in bees and other beneficial insects.
    Photo by Fotolia/Leonid Ikan
  • Alley Cropping With Sorghum Sudangrass
    On this farm, allelopathic sorghum-sudangrass is grown in alleyways to suppress weeds and produce fodder for compost, while cowpeas fix nitrogen in the space to be followed by food crops.
    Photo by Mark Schonbeck
  • Hand Sickle For Cutting Cover Crops
    In small plots, you can cut cover crops with a hand sickle.
    Photo by Cheryl Long
  • Sunn Hemp Cover Crop Growth
    Sunn hemp undergoes an impressive growth spurt from two weeks (shown here) to four weeks. In dense plantings, it can set more than 120 pounds of nitrogen and 5,000 pounds of biomass per acre—or twice that if you cut the crop back, stimulating branching and additional root penetration.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • Sunn Hemp Crop Grows Rapidly
    Sunn hemp undergoes an impressive growth spurt from two weeks to four weeks (shown here). Plant sunn hemp a week or two after you’d plant sweet corn in your area, and succession sow up to nine weeks before a killing frost.
    Photo by Harvey Ussery
  • Sunn Hemp Flowers Are Yellow
    Sunn hemp’s yellow blooms boost insect diversity. Sunn hemp can be a valuable fodder for livestock, but only if the variety grown is ‘Tropic Sun.’ Other strains contain toxic alkaloids.
    Photo by Glenn Sakamoto Photography
  • Cutting Cover Crops With Scythe
    Use a scythe to efficiently cut back cover crops in large plots. Make multiple cuttings to encourage regrowth.
    Photo by Bonnie Long

  • Sunn Hemp Cover Crop Height
  • Cowpeas As Garden Cover Crop
  • Cover Crop Cowpeas For Mulch
  • Cover Crop Buckwheat In Gardens
  • Garden Buckwheat Flowers Attract Bees
  • Alley Cropping With Sorghum Sudangrass
  • Hand Sickle For Cutting Cover Crops
  • Sunn Hemp Cover Crop Growth
  • Sunn Hemp Crop Grows Rapidly
  • Sunn Hemp Flowers Are Yellow
  • Cutting Cover Crops With Scythe

No gardening practice yields as many benefits as cover cropping, and growing cover crops in every season is as important as producing vegetables for your table. We too often think gardening reduces soil fertility, but in fact, the more you keep live plants growing, the richer your soil will become. Roots exude substances that feed beneficial soil organisms, including the amazing mycorrhizae (see Mycorrhizal Fungi: The Amazing Underground Secret to a Better Garden). Deep-rooted plants draw minerals from subsoil, which makes the minerals available to shallow-rooted crops. Dead plants, including invisible roots, decompose and release nutrients for use by subsequent crops. Plants also prevent soil erosion, and decomposing roots open channels for oxygen and rain, and provide pathways through which earthworms and other important organisms can migrate. Repeated seasons of organic matter deposition will increase soil carbon, or “humus,” which is crucial to soil fertility, friable texture and water retention.

The ecological benefits of cover cropping go beyond soil improvement: Cover crops scavenge nutrient surges in soil that result from tilling in fresh plant matter or manure. They also prevent runoff pollution and “bank” excess nutrients for later crops. These beneficial covers boost biological diversity in and around gardens, a key to naturally preventing plant diseases and insect damage. Plus, many cover crops perform double-duty as forage for poultry and livestock, making a homestead less dependent on purchased inputs.

Too often, gardeners practice cover cropping only in the off-season — for instance, to protect soil in winter — and assume it’s not a summer option. But it is, and planting summer cover crops provides big payoffs.

Unique Challenges of Summer Cover Crops

Drought and heat. Drought is more likely in summer, so gardeners must choose cover crop species that not only thrive in heat but are also drought-tolerant. Hot, dry soil is also inimical to seed germination, so no summer cover is likely to succeed without a little loving care.



If you broadcast seeds, first work them into the soil, then tamp the soil down with a rake. Even better, drill the seed by hand: Open closely spaced furrows with the corner of a hoe, dribble in seed, cover and tamp. Water immediately and as often as needed to keep the top quarter-inch of soil damp until germination. After plants become established, apply a light mulch to cool the soil and conserve moisture. You can also take advantage of shade offered by an existing crop, such as spring-planted broccoli, by seeding a cover crop into the same bed a couple of weeks before you remove the main crop. Most cover crops are adapted to close planting — the closer you plant, the sooner a tight, shading canopy will form.

Limited space. The greatest difficulty with summer cover cropping is revealed by the first question every gardener asks: “We’re already pushing the garden for maximum production — where do we find any unused space?” First, try hard to dedicate at least one bed in your rotation to growing a cover crop through an entire summer season, or maybe even a whole year. You’ll be amazed by how much an uninterrupted year under cover will do for your soil — and your future crops.

clickclonecash
8/21/2014 3:29:29 PM

Click Clone Cash https://medium.com/click-clone-cash-im/1d4f135e7abe http://intensedebate.com/people/clickclonecash http://www.storenvy.com/clickclonecash http://www.bookcrossing.com/mybookshelf/clickclonecash http://www.vegaschatter.com/user/clickclonecash https://flattr.com/profile/clickclonecash https://issuu.com/clickclonecash https://groups.drupal.org/user/2820893 https://theconversation.com/profiles/click-clone-cash-135585/news http://pahma.berkeley.edu/delphi/modules/auth/profile.php?uid=100338 https://kdp.amazon.com/community/profile.jspa?editMode=true&userID=466397 https://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/user/viewprofilepage/user-id/2199062


Mahrud
8/13/2014 10:01:39 AM

you can get Buckwheat at Johnny's seeds in their Farm seeds section. Myself, I buy the Fall Green manure mix. :)


Ballyshannon
7/25/2014 1:36:00 PM

This sounds great! But I wonder where one gets sudangrass seed, or buckwheat for that matter.







Mother Earth News Fair Schedule 2019

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: February, 16-17 2019
Belton, TX

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!

LEARN MORE








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters