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.

COVER-CROP-01-IMG_2539

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.

CoverCrop-02-IMG_2540

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

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8 thoughts on “Cover Cropping

  1. Red Clover is the perfect choice–for nitrogen fixation, as a favorite nectar source for pollinators (sorry, we always come back to the importance of insects in your garden) AND, it is the host plant for the caterpillar of the darling Gray Hairstreak Butterfly. I would post a photo–is there a way to do that??

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