Cover Cropping

I’ve gardened this season in the five raised beds that Jim and I built last fall. While we both agreed that raised beds would – and did – produce better results than the in-ground garden we tilled ten years ago or more, we wondered what to do with that garden.

Our first goal was to destroy the weeds! In early summer, we inveigled the grand kids into helping us cover the garden with clear plastic, held in place with bricks. Not an easy task since the garden is about 400 square feet. Laying the plastic in a Kansas wind was quite a sight! Between the wind and rain, the plastic was in shreds by mid-August and the garden once again choked by weeds.

My first inclination? Let’s make more raised beds! But in one of our vegetable gardening classes, I learned about cover crops.

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The approach is simple. Plant something in the garden that acts as an organic mulch, controls both weeds and erosion, and adds nutrients to the soil. Farmers have used cover crops as part of crop rotation cycles for decades.

Once I did a bit of research, choosing a cover crop was easy enough. Legumes add nitrogen to the soil, which I need to add according to my soil test. I picked red clover (Trifolium pratense L) and we planted it in late September.

The Kansas Extension article on cover crops said that legumes work best with summer vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, corn, and melons, among others). Since Jim plans to plant melons – watermelons, cantaloupe, and maybe a few honeydew – I’m sure red clover was the right choice.

We’re planning to use a ‘strip tillage’ approach, leaving the clover as living mulch. Maybe we’ll have weed-free paths through the garden. And although we may be creating a different kind of weed problem, we want to see the clover in bloom! A different kind of crop – my master gardener mentor tells me that red clover tea is soothing and the flowers are good in salads.

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Now my only remaining question is whether to plant a ‘trap crop’ of squash to attract the squash bugs and keep them away from the melons!

Interested in cover crops? My research may be of interest:

http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0302hsted/covercropskansasstate.pdf
http://extension.missouri.edu/p/g4638

The Acid Test

My blueberries are not growing. Surviving not thriving? I’ve used a powdered soil ‘acidifier’ since planting them last fall, but I started to wonder. Was it doing the trick?

Since learning about the need for soil tests, I got out my trusty trowel and dug up soil from that bed. The results? My pH is 7.5 – way on the alkaline side of things. Since I planned to plant hydrangeas on the east side (same bed), I added sulfur pellets to the soil, side-dressing the blueberries.

And while out picking up the sulfur, I found two “pee wee” Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) that according to the nursery will not require a highly acid soil. We’ll see.

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I love the burgundy color and leathery look to the leaves, although the red is this plant’s fall color. I imagine the new leaves this coming spring will be dark green.

If you wonder how to amend your soil this fall, you may be interested in soil testing. Here are the how’s and why’s from the Kansas State Research and Extension office. Your State Extension Office may offer free soil testing too!

My House an Example of What Not to Do!

Oh dear!

Yesterday’s afternoon EMG class was all about landscape design. The presenter started off with a photo showing what not to do. And there, on the screen, was a picture similar to the one you see below. That’s my house!

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Now I know those yew hedges flanked by what I think are dwarf Alberta Spruce do not make a particularly imaginative landscape. But does it look THAT bad? Too 1970’s? Too ‘the dreaded’ 1990’s?

Fortunate for me, I can honestly claim that I had nothing to do with that particular landscape design. It was here when I arrived. In fact, I’ve softened it up a bit with a planting around the single hydrangea near the front door.

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So yesterday’s afternoon class was a bit of a downer for me. The morning class on vegetables was much better. I’ve ordered seed to plant a cover crop of red clover for my husband’s garden, which currently sports a nice crop of weeds.