Time to Plant a Cover Crop

Reader Contribution by Staff

As the summer winds down, you may be ready to let some of your garden beds go until next spring.

But wait! Before you call it quits for the year, consider cover crops. Now is a great time to sow a cover crop or two that will enrich your garden soil over the winter. It’s a remarkably easy and inexpensive way to improve your soil.

Oats are one simple choice for a fall cover crop. Just visit your local garden or farm supply store to pick up some seeds and get them in the ground now. The oats will grow quickly during the cool days of fall, and then winter temperatures will kill them in most regions, leaving a soil-protecting mulch. (In warmer zones, you’ll need to turn the oats under in the spring to kill them.)

Other good choices for fall cover crops include Austrian field peas, barley, crimson clover, rye, vetch or winter wheat. If you need a source for seeds, a good one to try is Peaceful Valley Farm Supply. Want to learn more about cover crops? Check out these helpful sources:

Cover Crops for Home Gardens This cover crop cheat sheet from Oregon State University is a quick way to figure out what to plant when.

Eight Strategies for Better Garden Soil This recent Mother Earth News article from writer and homesteader Harvey Ussery is a great overall summary of how to improve your garden soil, including specific cover crop suggestions.

Overview of Cover Crops and Green Manures This publication from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service explains all the details of cover crop use, especially as it relates to farmers and market gardeners.