Cover Crops

Organic cover crops create happy, healthy soil. Cover crops like red clover, buckwheat, fava beans (in the picture above), daikon radish, ryegrass, hairy vetch, and peas revitalize the soil with natural nitrates, suppress weeds, improve water retention, discourage pests and diseases, reduce soil compaction, and attract beneficial insects to the veggie garden. Dirt is a dead matter containing clay, rocks, and sand. Organic soil is alive with microorganisms, mycorrhizae, worms, and insects.

Also referred to as green manure crops, cover crops feed all the organisms in the soil to improve the fertility with natural nitrates. Fungi, algai, and bacteria in healthy soil are highly adaptable decomposers, secreting enzymes that convert raw materials into an energy source which converts unavailable nutrients and enriches the soil. Red wriggler worms excrete a highly nitrous fertilizer called castings into the soil. Worm castings are packed with bacteria, enzymes, and minerals that are essential for plant growth and are immediately available to the plant. Every cubic inch of healthy soil is a miniature world of beneficial living organisms that feed all living things on our planet.

Cover crops are an effective and inexpensive way to build better soil for organic gardening. They protect the soil surface from weeds and erosion.  By using cover crops, the flow of rainwater during a storm can be slowed and encouraged to percolate into the soil to improve the soil structure and water table. By reducing the susceptibility to leaching, cover crops keep nutrients in the soil.

Regenerative organic gardeners can continually nourish the soil by rotating the cover crops in their various beds. Rotating the plant family in a garden bed every season, prevents pests and diseases. Factor a cover crop in the rotation and get terrific benefits.  As a cover crop, Fava beans, fix nitrogen into the soil, improve the soil texture, suppress the weeds, germinate quickly, thrive in cold weather, tolerate shade, and feed the microbials in the soil. Fava beans, like daikon radish, have deep tap roots to pull nutrients into the top soil from the subsoil, while breaking up compact clay.

Organic cover crops also attract beneficial insects to the veggie garden. Red clover, Fava beans, and peas have lovely flowers, pods, and leaves that are food for birds, lady bugs, and other beneficial insects. Cover crops improve the air, water, and soil in the veggie garden and combat global climate change by feeding the soil which sequesters and stabilizes organic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Diana Lovejoy

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