The Q&A Archives: Cover Crop

Question: Do I need to put a cover crop on my vegetable garden for the winter? If so, what should I use?

Answer: Cover crops are useful for protecting the soil from erosion and preventing oxidation of organic matter in the soil. They provide the added benefit of organic matter when you turn them under in the spring. Other ways to provide protection and organic matter are to mulch the soil with a 2-3 inch layer of compost, manure, dried leaves, grass clippings.

Cover crops' root systems can also help aerate the soil. If planted in the fall with mild winters, they will grow and can be turned under in spring. If winters are severe, they will start growing, go dormant, and then grow again in spring. These are turned under in late spring or early summer. Cover crops need to be turned under before their flowering stage so that the nitrogen in their root systems is kept in the soil, rather than depleted in the reproductive stage. Some hardy choices for winter include hairy vetch (Vicia villosa), winter rye (Secale cereale), or annual ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum).

Continue to add lots of organic matter each year, which over time will not only improve your soil's fertility and drainage, but will also increase it's ability to retain moisture and nutrients. It also provides food for earthworms and microorganisms that do the soil-building process. You can never add too much organic matter!

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