Turning in Cover Crops

Each autumn I try to do right by my garden; clean up from the harvest, plant cover crops on summer beds, deep mulch spring beds. Usually I fall quite short of my goals. I wait until the first freeze kills the last tomatoes, the last peppers, the last winter squash. By then it’s usually late to plant cover crops.

It is recommended that cover crops be 1) Grown until they flower (to maximize nutrient accumulation), and 2) Turned in 3-6 weeks before planting (to allow decomposition).

Crimson Clover Cover Crop

Crimson clover bed after turning in

Crimson clover bed 4 weeks after turning in

Last autumn I managed a deep mulch of leaves covered with burlap on one little section of bed, crimson clover cover crops on two beds, and fava beans as cover on my three raised boxes. It was, as per usual, late to sow these seeds, resulting in somewhat pathetic growth over much of the winter. In spring, when I should have been starting to think about turning in the cover crops, the clover and favas started to really grow. By April they were luscious. By May they started to flower.

Gorgeous fava flowers

Fava cover crop beds

Fava stubs and cut leaves before covering with dirt

Fava cover crop buried in soil with top dressing to prevent chicken scratching

The fava flowers were so beautiful that I put off turning them in until mid-May, which is really late when you want to plant the bed in tomatoes! The raised beds were low on soil anyways, so rather than turning in the crop I decided to prune it to stubble, layer it with the cut vegetation, and cover it with new soil from a several-year-old pile of decomposing sod.

Qualitatively, the beds with cover crops have soil that is rich with worms, moist, and easy to work. By contrast, the beds with no cover crops are hard and dry. Similar story for the bed with deep leaf mulch.

The clover bed is ready to plant. Ollas stand at the ready. Let’s make it happen!

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