It’s a gray day in Charlotte, but I did manage to get a plot bedded up and ready to plant Tuesday before the rains came in. I might try some cover crops managed as “in situ” mulches (cover crops left to smother weeds around crop plants) this growing season.
With in situ mulches, timing is the trick. If I overwinter cereal rye, it goes steroidal on me by mid-spring. So, I’m going to try planting it deliberately late (like now) along with a legume, probably winter pea. Then I should be able to cut it while it is still manageable, before it tillers.
Soil temps should be warm enough for germination now, my thermometer says.
I had some notable success with rye mowed short as a “mulch” at the Urban Ministry community garden in May. We transplanted tomatoes into the rye stubble and piled up the straw in the paths. Worked very well. The rye completely dies out in our summer heat.
Since I didn’t put in fall cover crops this year, it also gave me a chance to spade some plots (not much area, 1200 square feet) in November and give the freezing-thawing cycle a chance to work on the soil while there’s very little risk of erosion or nutrient loss. And now, I’ll come in with something growing (besides weeds—though some weeds are very valuable cover/nutrient-mining “crops” themselves). The soil tilthed up very, very nicely. It also gave me a chance to mix lime into the topsoil. With pH 5-ish soils, we need to do that every three years or so. Or grow blueberries. —Don Boekelheide, Charlotte, North Carolina
Last week we drove up to Peaceful Valley Farm Supply in Grass Valley. I buy some seeds from them but mostly use them for soil amendments, cover crop seed, and fertilizers.
Came home with about 500 pounds of stuff including 200 pounds of winter rye. A 6-acre piece near my garden has come back into the family after several years of benign neglect. My middle son worked with me last year, but now is spending most of his time on this piece. When people ask me about starting an organic farm or garden I always strongly recommend starting with a season or two of cover cropping to build the soil and reduce the weed seed bank. So we’re actually going to practice what I preach on most of the 6 acres.
I’ve been getting a bit more rigorous about cover crops in my garden as well. About 8 beds got rye grass cover last winter and were very strong in tomato, winter squash, cukes, and long beans this summer.
I didn’t do much buckwheat cover this summer, but where I did I got a great crop in about 40 days. Heck, I had beds lay empty longer than that—which does no good at all. Quick summer cover crops are definitely on my to-do list for next spring and summer.
I’m also playing with mustards as a cover crop. Harvest a few baby greens before turning most of it under. The leaves are tender and break down pretty quickly. Next thing I want to try is rolling the mustard down and transplanting into the mulch instead of turning it under. I really need to work on weed suppression as opposed to hoeing, digging, pulling… Hand weeding is getting kind of old and I am too!