Cover crops enrich soil

  • Follow Gardening

If you have a vegetable garden and grow only summer vegetables or only a few fall crops, consider ways to enrich your soil for next year’s growing season. One of the best things you can do for the garden is to plant a cover crop in it.

Cover crops conserve nutrients, support high biological activity and produce superior soil structure. When you plow them into the soil, they’re sometimes called “green manures.”

Green manures offer succulent growth, which decomposes easily in the soil, releasing nutrients. While they’re smothering weeds, they keep nutrients from leaching and protect the soil over the winter.

Cover crops are any plant you sow into the garden that improves the soil. The benefits depend on the plant type and how much you grow. Annual cover crops are usually grown as green manures. That is, they are turned into to the soil while still green, normally just before they flower. Their greatest value is usually in the top growth. But the roots are often beneficial too. If nematodes are a problem in the garden, you can reduce their numbers by planting a cover crop.

Varieties of green manures are chosen for their fast vigorous growth and high production of green, succulent growth.

The green matter decomposes quickly in the soil. When it does, the result is a flush of biological activity and a quick release of nutrients, some of which the roots may have accumulated from the subsoil. The succulent residues replace some of the humus, building a dynamic soil system.

The downside of growing a green manure is that it requires the garden to be left idle for a time, and that can be unpopular with many gardeners.

Crops other than legumes may be grown as “smother crops” to control weeds. Commonly used as a winter cover and catch crop, they protect the soil from erosion and conserve nutrients that would otherwise be lost.

Traditional choices for green manures are clovers, buckwheat, small grains such as rye and oats, and annual grasses such as ryegrass and wheat.

Sometimes legumes are grown for a cover crop. Australian winter peas are a good choice to improve the soil.

The green manure sod not only feeds soil organisms, it also protects the soil from direct sunlight and rain.

Over the years, the combination of the high biological activity and the extensive root system of grass leads to a superior soil structure and a slow, but steady increase in soil humus. When a green manure sod is plowed under, a rapid breakdown occurs with a sudden release of nutrients stored over a long time. That’s why a cultivated crop following a green manure sod is usually very successful.

BRING HOUSE PLANTS INSIDE

With the threat of frost last Sunday and Monday mornings, you may have brought all your houseplants inside. I did not have any frost at my house Sunday morning, but there was plenty when I arrived in Columbathat morning.

I hope you checked your plants for insects or lizards before you brought them in.

Unfortunately, most people don’t. Certain insects can cause damage and sticky honeydew and lizards can be hard to see since they blend in so well with the plants. I know many of you ladies are scared of lizards, but they are harmless. We have no venomous lizards in this part of the country. If you find a lizard inside, the best way to get them out (if you don’t want to try and pick them up) is to throw a towel over them and just take it outside and let them go.

The main insects to look for on the plants are spider mites and aphids. Look at them very closely, particularly on the underside of the leaves. It can help to have a magnifying glass and a white piece of paper. Shaking the plant over the paper can reveal the spider mites. If you find insects, isolate the plants. Several thorough washings with plain water may bring them under control. If not, apply an appropriate insecticide and follow the instructions on the label.


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