As vegetable gardeners transition from summer to fall gardens, it’s important to not forget your soil. A good way to build the nutrients and organic matter in your soil is by using cover crops.
Cover crops are planted in late summer or fall in bare areas of your garden or between plants. They hold the soil in place to prevent erosion and, when tilled under in spring, add valuable fertility and organic matter. Depending on your location, some cover crops will survive the winter and continue to grow in spring, while others will die in winter.
Green manures are crops grown in summer and tilled under that year to add organic matter.
Here are 11 Good Gardening Videos focusing on different aspects of growing cover crops in various parts of the country. Enjoy and get sowing.
Videos chosen and described by horticulturist Charlie Nardozzi, Edibles Editor for Good Gardening Videos.
“Cover Crops for Backyard Gardens: Why, When, What, How to Plant“ by CaliKim in Southern California. Kim talks about why cover crops are important for building and protecting your soil, the types of seed to use in her area, when and how to plant. She demonstrates sowing Dutch white clover seed.
“Building Soil Fertility with Fall & Winter Cover Crops/Green Manures“ by Patrick Dolan at One Yard Revolution near Chicago, IL. Patrick talks about using legume cover crops to produce enough fertilizer for his plants. He discusses inoculants for legume cover crops to help fix nitrogen, seed mixes containing oats, vetch and peas, plus the use of leaf mulch to protect the cover crop in winter in the North.
“Cover Crops to Recharge your Soil this Winter!” by GrowVeg. This English video is a good basic overview of the benefits of growing cover crops, including reducing weeds and adding organic matter. Covers the benefits of sowing one type of cover crop and sowing mixes. Included is an online garden planner on when to plant your cover crops.
“How to Improve Soil Using Cover Crops” is Joe Lamp’l short overview of what cover crops are and how they help.
“Cover Crops: 16 Demonstration Plots and their Seed Mixes” by the University of Wisconsin. Kevin talks about the demonstration of 16 different cover crop species and mixes grown at a local farm, walking through some common and unusual cover crops that you might consider trying and the best mixes of legumes and cereals.
“Cover Crop Trick” by Stacey Murphy in Brooklyn, NY. After reviewing the benefits of cover crops, Stacey talks about a trick she uses to allow her to sow fall crops AND cover crops at the same time. She calls it undercropping. She sows cover crops under larger plants that will eventually die off, leaving the cover crop behind to grow.
“How I Interplant Nitrogen-Fixing Cover Crops and Food Crops for the Fall“ by Patrick at One Yard Revolution. Patrick is back showing us how he also plants cover crops in between fall vegetables in furrows. Not only does Patrick show how he sows the cover crops; he shows what the bed looks like 2 weeks later. The fall veggies and cover crops are both thriving.
“Cover Crops as Green Manure to Improve your Soil EZ and Cheap“ by Alberta Urban Garden. Stephen shows us how he cover-crops in his Zone 3 garden, including how to prepare the soil and use a mix of peas, clover and mustard, plus how to make your own legume inoculant.
“Planting Cover Crops in Containers – Kale and Turnips” by Planting Freedom in Tennessee. Aaron shows that cover-cropping isn’t limited to garden beds. He sows cover crops around existing plants and sometimes sows the cover crop seeds first in the container. Once germinated, he transplants his fall veggies. The video shows him seeding kale and turnips as cover crops and demonstrating how they cover the soil once germinated, so he doesn’t have to water as much.
“Removing Cover Crops” by Oklahoma Gardening. Kim shows what to do with cover crops that have made it through the winter. While she mentions burning, string-trimming and herbicide use, she prefers to cut the cover crop, such as Austrian peas, and drop the plants on the soil to decompose, which covers the soil AND adds nutrients to it.
“Winter-Killed Crimson Clover as Cover” by Common Ground for Soil Stories in Virginia. Antionette at Laughing Water Farm is experimenting with growing a crimson clover cover crop in her garlic beds. The idea is the clover is first sown in fall before the garlic is planted, with the garlic being planted after the crimson clover starts growing. The clover will die in winter, providing organic matter and weed control for the garlic as it grows next spring.
“Radish Pea Mixture Cover Crop Excellence” by Cover Crop Dave in Indiana. Dave shows the effects of growing a pea and daikon radish cover crop in a farm field. The radishes break up the hardpan soils with their roots that reach 18 inches deep. Although he talks in terms of farm scale, home gardeners with clay or hard-packed soils might want to try a pea and radish mixture as cover crop. Dave has many other videos on growing cover crops.