Building Up Your Garden Soils with Cover Crops

Cover Crops for Improved Garden Soils

On this week’s episode, Greg is discussing how to build up the soil by using cover crops. The many benefits of growing cover crops are the increase of organic matter, nematode suppression, and weed control. When building up your garden soils you have to supply the best cover crop that fulfills the characteristics you are wanting to replenish in the soil.

Warm vs. Cool Cover Crops

When deciding which cover crop variety to grow in the garden you also have to think about the weather temperatures in your area. The warmer cover crops we have available are Brown Top Millet, Sorghum Sudangrass, Buckwheat, and Sunn Hemp. The Brown Top Millet variety provides excellent livestock foliage and green manure for adding in organic matter in the garden soils. It is a variety that is ideal for weed suppression, improving soil tilth, adding nutrients to the soil, and improves water retention. When it comes to planting Sorghum Sudangrass it contains deeply penetrated roots that help loosen the compacted soil which in return provides better soil aeration and soil drainage. If you struggle with nematode problems in your garden this sudangrass is an excellent variety that helps suppress nematode populations. Another warmer cover crop is the Buckwheat variety that is known for being fast-growing which allows for quick turnover in the vegetable garden. It can be squeezed in smaller windows such as spring and fall plantings when you want to break off pest and disease cycles to improve future plantings. Sunn Hemp is another popular warm-season cover crop to grow in the vegetable garden. This variety works well in sandy soils or nutrient-poor soil types and is another cover crop that adds improved organic matter and suppresses weed pressures. There are several cool-season cover crops such as Broadleaf Mustard, Crimson Clover, Winter Rye, Hairy Vetch, Austrian Winter Pea, and Tillage Radish. The most popular cooler cover crops that we recommend are the Broadleaf Mustard, Crimson Clover, and Tillage Radish. The Broadleaf Mustard is the top crop to plant if you are needing to suppress nematode populations, weeds, and soil fungi problems in the vegetable garden. It contains a chemical compound known as glucosinolate, which helps eliminate many common pests and diseases. While the Crimson Clover does better at adding the soil nutrients back into the garden soil. The best time to incorporate clover in the garden before you plant heavy feeder crops such as corn, okra, or peppers. Lastly, the Tillage Radish contains long slender roots that will penetrate the hardest garden soils allowing for increased aeration and soil drainage within the vegetable garden. Another benefit of the longer roots is this cover crop can absorb nutrients from the deeper soil layers in the garden.

Planting Cover Crops

The best time to plant warm-season cover crops is during the spring and fall plantings. While the cooler-season cover crops do best when planted in the fall and left to “overwinter” throughout the cooler months in the vegetable garden. When planting cover crop varieties we suggest either broadcasting or using our garden seeder. The most important aspect to understand when growing cover crops is they must be mowed down or cut before they go to seed in the garden. This will eliminate reseeding problems in the future growing seasons. Greg likes to use a flail mower to cut the cover crops and incorporate them back into the garden soil. The green manure that is left in the garden is great because in the south we struggle with organic matter because the temperatures during the hotter months tend to burn it up.

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