Signs of Fall & Missing Cover Crops

Posted on Sep 12, 2014 | Comments Off on Signs of Fall & Missing Cover Crops

Fall is peeking out from behind the green leaves. Long before the oranges and reds take over, colors begin to shift from the velvet and verdant greens to summer to a shinier, more silver hue in the newly angled light. Yellow plumes of golden rod wave along the roadsides, fooling people into believing that is what is making them sneeze this time of year, but it’s not.

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Golden rod is a critical food for bees of all kinds as winter is out there somewhere getting in the car to head our way. It produces a funky skunky smelling honey that luckily you are fine to let the bees have all to themselves, as they top off the honey stores their lives will depend on all winter.

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Meanwhile Ada the farm dog is trying hard to protect every fallen apple from the bears, raccoons and deer. She dutifully carries them from the orchard to the front yard where she buries them in the mulch by the front porch. So if it smells like a cider still on the front porch, she’s to blame.

Out in the garden last evening just before sunset I was spreading some cover crop seeds on a bed that will rest over the winter. The seeds feel like bb’s in my hand. It’s a fall mix with the small black vetch seeds, skinny slivers of rye and smooth round austrian winter peas. All meant to keep the soil full of living roots, which is how soils stay the healthiest. Living roots are in never-ending conversation with microbes and translucent webs of fungi, trading nutrients and sugars. Even in death, roots continue to bless the soil with air space and organic matter, making and easier and richer path for the next roots that come along to follow.

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I have a hard time getting fall cover crops in on time. By late summer when the bees are tumbling about on the little purple stars of wild aster, the garden still has lingering tomatoes and sweet potatoes growing as well as late planted beans. Heck, this summer has been so cool there is still parsley and kale growing from earliest spring! It’s possible to underplant the standing crops with the cover seeds, which will dawdle on the outside, but work on getting rooted while they are still shaded. Once the older crops are pulled out, the cover shoots up with the new light.

Still every year I try to have more of the fallow beds covered in plants that will protect and enrich the soil all winter, and maybe most importantly, provide the vital ecosystem for the soil microbes, fungi and worms to flourish right there all winter and be ready to roar when spring planting comes around again.

If I don’t manage to get oats, vetch, peas etc over the beds for fall, I cover them in a thick layer of chopped up straw that the chickens have been working on for me – breaking it into nice short pieces that mat down nicely to hold against the wind, but still allow air flow to the soil, unlike a wet pile of whole leaves. (Shredded leaves work really nice…but with the wind howling through the back field at Five Apple, they wouldn’t stay there long.)

chickens in cover crop

Above is a photo from Larrapin West of a cover crop in full glory and ready to work all winter as well as provide a fun snack for a brief chicken foray. Which reminds me that it’s just cheery in the winter to look out in the icy garden and see it bedded down under that green quilt. Cover crops, even in small back yard gardens, just have everything going for them. And every year, I fully intend to plant more than I actually do. Live and learn and learn some more!

Thanks for stopping by Larrapin Garden.

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