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Liberal Use of Cover Crops Key To Maintaining Soil Health

Gardeners from all across the nation are always asking us how they can help maintain the organic matter and the microbial life activity in their garden soils to insure good health for their crops. Our basic answer is the liberal use of cover crops—pages 82 and 83 of our new 2020 Early Spring Catalog—regardless of where you live and your soil type. As we’ve stated many times before, Mother Nature never tolerates “bare soil,” so keep it covered with “cover crops.”

For the past 15 years or so, we’ve tried to promote gardening without chemicals because chemical residues can cause serious damage to soil life, but regardless of your gardening technique, cover crops can help to restore your soil health. Many of our cover crop seed offerings—like the clovers and hairy vetch—also take nitrogen out of the atmosphere through their leaves and convert it into a form that can be released into the soil to be absorbed by crop roots to fuel growth and production.

Most of our cover crops also suppress weed competition and their flowers provide pollen as food to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. Buckwheat, a fast-growing annual, is a fine example, able to smother almost any weed problems and begins flowering within 5 to 6 weeks after seeding to attract pollinators and beneficials. As an added bonus, buckwheat’s pollen can be harvested by honeybees to make exceptional honey.

Hopefully all gardeners already have their fall cover crops in place, but these hard workers can be just as easily utilized in the spring. After tilling in winter’s leftover organic matter in early spring, it is just a matter of reseeding the beds with your favorite cover crops and letting them get established. Prior to planting, go in and cut or mow back the new growth, and then plant directly into the cover crop, which will provide weed suppression and fertilization for your favorite garden crops.

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