Beneficial Cover Crops Add Nutrients to Garden Soil

As the bounty of your spring planted garden winds down with the changing leaves and colors of autumn don’t forget your living soil. The living soil requires living plants and roots to maintain the diverse biological populations below the surface. In fact, the adage of “use it or lose it” applies when it comes to soil. Maintaining living roots in the soil for the microbes year round will produce healthier soil, less compaction, and higher water infiltration. Mother Nature is an excellent soil conservationist and when she sees a bare spot she fills it, with weeds. So keep your garden from filling with winter annual weeds like henbit, and chickweed by using a beneficial cover crop.

Cover crops in your garden will increase the available nutrients to your garden. Cover crops will mine or scavenge for nutrients in the soil. Nutrient mining is a concept of up taking nutrients from deep in the soil and depositing them closer to the surface for absorption by shallower rooted crops. Groundhog radish does this in spades with the very deep growing tap root of the radish penetrating the earth like a spear aerating the soil and loosening compacted soils at the same time. Groundhog radishes will pull these nutrients from deep in the soil and use them to grow leaves that cover the ground reducing erosion and preventing weeds. When groundhog radishes die, the leaves are deposited at the surface of the soil returning nutrients to the earth and the radish decomposes into a column of excellent organic material. That vertical column of decomposed organic material is the perfect highway for water to travel through and infiltrate our heavy clay soils.

Other crops are capable of pulling nutrients from the air. Nitrogen fixing is a biological activity that occurs with plants in the legume family. Winter peas and clover are plants capable of this activity. Using winter peas, and clover in your garden as a cover crop will pull nitrogen from the air and put it in the soil for other crops to use. Farmers have known this for years, and that is why they rotate crops between soybeans (a legume) and corn (a high nitrogen user). When it comes time to plant your tomatoes and peppers next Mother’s day just turn under the winter peas or clover with a shovel, and it becomes green manure under the surface of the soil. Anytime you can add organic material to the soil of your garden, increased yields will be your reward.

Don’t leave your garden soil a barren wasteland all winter; feed the living soil with a cover crop. Come on down to the Grass Pad your fall seeding headquarters and we can figure out what kind of cover crop suits your needs the best. By introducing crop rotation and the use of cover crops, you are creating diversity that will support the life beneath the soil. The time to plant is now, the longer the plant has to grow before winter sets in the more roots and foliage it can produce. Healthy soil is dark in color and crumbles in your hand, if your garden is not that way you need the added organic material that a cover crop can provide.