Here is Vita, chillaxin'...
Yo Vita! How's that chillax goin?
And now something entirely different.. cover crops.
The other day Tammy had a few questions on the cover crops I planted this spring over in the comments on this post. So I thought I'd just answer them here as we are getting into the fall planting season.
Q: I keep reading about them, but don't really know exactly what to do with them.
A: Easy peasy! Call up your local extension agent and ask them what would benefit your soil for your area. Or just ask an old timer. Whatever you do don't ask at Home Depot or some place like that. They will look at you like you are out of your mind. Don't ask me how I know this.
Around here the best thing is to plant winter wheat in the fall. It grows even when the temp is barely above freezing, then really comes on in the spring.
There are whole sciences on the "right" cover crop. But really - any legume will add nitrogen to your soil...and just about anything that grows will provide root systems to help the soil. The wheat works really well here. We also planted buckwheat in the spring because it grows well in our bad soil (mostly clay) and its good for the beez.
Q: Did you just turn it under into the soil?
A: Well, we had to whack it down first. We let it grow out so it was pretty tall. But then we just weed whacked it...and I just used clippers to get some of it up...which I then fed it to the goats (small amounts, in the afternoon AFTER they had their own hay so as not to cause bloat.).
Once it was down to the stubble stage I used the tiller to grind it all under. A determined (or cheap, as I was before I bought the new tiller) person can just use a hoe. But there is a lot of swearing involved in using that method. Then I just went and got the darn tiller. Best money every spent.
Q: How far in advance of planting did you have to turn it under?
A: Six weeks is supposed to be optimal. Any earlier than you'll risk not having the nitrogen available for the new plants - or have it sucked out of the soil trying to break down the new organic material. Any later than that you'll be wasting growing time. You can also just let some of your garden go "fallow" - just don't do anything to it and let it grow wild. Its a good strategy for rotational gardening.
Q: And did you have any trouble with it growing back as "weeds" in your veggie garden?
A: No more than any of the other stupid weeds! Dang it was a bad weed year. But really, nope most of it just crunched down in the soil. I was actually really impressed how well it did.
Q: If you have any good links to refer me to that would be great!!
A: Oh golly I love Gene L's work over on http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/ and also any of his books including "Small Scale Grain Raising." I also really like John Jeavons work in "How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits...." Mother Earth News also has some good articles that you can search on their site.
I guess the big thing is.... don't let it overwhelm you. I was a nervous nelly for the longest time about the whole thing and it was hard to find the "real" cover crops at garden centers etc. And expensive to have shipped to me. So I just marched into our local feed mill and asked if I could have 5 pounds of buckwheat? Sure, they said, and it cost me about $4. For heavens sakes. Much better results than the deer in the headlights look I got from that guy wearing the orange apron, for sure.
Now get out there and get your cover crops going! Happy gardening!