Cover crop of buckwheat and corn replenishes the soil. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Cover crops will help nourish your soil

The best cover crops I’ve seen are combinations of a grain and legume

By Mary Lowther

I’ve just pulled out the spent peas and garlic and there’s time for cover crop before the next vegetables go in. I’ve got beans already planted alongside where the peas were, so before they cover the whole bed, I’m sowing cover crop on the unplanted side. On the empty garlic bed, cover crop will grow nicely until the winter brassicas (savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale, for example) are ready to transplant out. Right now they’re growing in pots on a table outside and when I’ve re-potted them and they’re about four inches tall, I’ll dig in the cover crop, add fertilizer and a bit of compost and transplant the seedlings. The bed might not be big enough so I’ll see what other space I can scrounge.

Cover crop is plants grown on bare soil for several reasons: they help clean the soil of possible disease organisms; they add their own nutrients and biomass to the soil; they help prevent soil erosion; and they retain nutrients in the soil. Leguminous cover crops like vetch, crimson clover, fava beans and peas also add nitrogen to the soil if you don’t remove the peas or beans from the pods or if you dig them under before they go to seed.

After 12 years of gardening my back yard, the soil has become so rich that the plants practically grow themselves. The combination of robust compost, organic fertilizer, trace minerals, compost tea and cover crops is making this soil more fertile than any soil I’ve worked before.

The best cover crops I’ve seen are combinations of a grain and legume because grains grow extensive root systems, adding large amounts of biomass to the soil, and legumes add nitrogen. The accompanying picture is a cover crop of corn and buckwheat. I also sowed crimson clover which didn’t sprout, dad blast it. I guess it was old seed that I hadn’t dated.

Most gardening authors don’t recommend corn as a cover crop, but it’s a grain, doesn’t harbour diseases that would affect the next crop and sends down deep roots, so if I turn it under while it’s still succulent, it should rot into a nice seed bed. And besides, I have a ton of corn seeds from last year’s crop. The buckwheat is a grass much like a grain that grows well in the summer and breaks down easily when I dig it under early September. Then I’ll sow the bed with a winter cover crop like winter rye and fava beans that I’ll dig in next spring. I’m leaving the hoops in place to drape Remay over until the seed has sprouted to keep out those rotten Stellar jays with nothing better to do than peck up every last seed.

One doesn’t need specific plants to use as a cover crop though. A farmer I know lets his acreage go to weeds and tills that in, presumably before it goes to seed itself. Though weeds certainly are better than leaving the soil bare, because they go to seed so quickly, it’s vital to dig them under before that. Neighbours don’t like your dandelion seeds blowing into their yards.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowichan’s Waldon Park ready for Gord Closson Classic

the Gord Closson Fall Classic will kick off its second half-century this August 21-23

Sonia Furstenau column: MCFD needs overhaul of requirements for social workers

BCASW advocating for mandatory registration for social workers with B.C. College of Social Workers.

Chris Wilkinson column: An ode to my caregiver

You help keep me safe. You help keep me strong.

Stevenson reflects on her seven years as Chemainus Elementary School principal

Strong community and parent support for the school always evident during her tenure

Crews work overnight to try to put out wildfire on Pender Island

Fire department and B.C. Wildfire Service crews extinguishing fire in ‘extremely difficult terrain’

Cooler days help crews fighting fire on mountainside north of Cowichan Lake

Firefighters making progress, but it’s ‘slow-going,’ says B.C. Wildfire Service

Crews work overnight to try to put out wildfire on Pender Island

Fire department and B.C. Wildfire Service crews extinguishing fire in ‘extremely difficult terrain’

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Most Read