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Cover Crop and No Till Garden

Gardening Reference » Gardening in 2006
by LandOfOz on May 25, 2006 09:59 AM
I've been reading a book called Weedless Gardening and am seriously considering trying a "no till" approach to the soil. Has anyone tried this? Does it work well?? I think that it would be good for my soil for a while, but I'm not sure if the sand (aka my soil) would ever get "diluted" enough to hold water...

This late summer/fall I'm planning on planting a cover crop in my garden. I like the idea of planting something that will keep the dirt covered as well as be beneficial to the soil. I've been reading on the subject and am not sure what plants to use. I'm thinking about crimson clover, rye, buckwheat, and hairy or woollypod vetch. I'd prefer the clover or vetch just because it'll look nicer than the grains would but I don't know what would be most beneficial to my sandy, nutrient deficient soil. [dunno] Any suggestions, comments would be appreciated!

Sarah

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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by Longy on May 25, 2006 06:21 PM
Hi Land of Oz. Just want to clarify something here.
A cover crop is a crop that you plant to be a living mulch. It will self seed and sow and die off in winter, to sprout again in the spring. It's useful, for example, under fruit trees to keep weeds at bay and if a legume, to supply nitrogen to the fruit trees.
A green manure crop is an annual planting that you don't allow to seed, you slash it back into the soil and it adds organic matter as well as, in the case of being a legume, supplying nitrogen for the soil.
Of the examples you suggest above, i think they are good green manure crops. I'm currently using wooly pod vetch and oats. The vetch being the legume and the oats giving it support as well as pulling nutrient from deep in the soil. The idea is i will cut these down when the vetch is about to flower and dig it into the soil, then plant vegetables in that soil. Probably nitrogen lovers like brassicas.
So in a no till situation for vegies, i'm thinking you are after a green manure crop for vegies. Am i right?
Either way, it's an excellent soil improver and costs little. Especially in sandy soil as you say you have. The best results with green manures though, come if you dig it into the soil, so if you wanted to do a no till, i'd slash it down and cover it with lucerne hay or similar instead of tilling.
You can always improve sandy soil. It's just a question of volumes of organic matter and a green manure crop is a great way to start.

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The secret is the soil.
by LandOfOz on May 26, 2006 02:34 AM
Thanks for the clarification, sometimes I am a little muddled. Yep, I am after a green manure crop for veggies. I was thinking maybe covering the slashed green manure with about an inch of compost to help hold it down and also make it part of the soil. Where did you get your woollypod vetch and how much would be enough for a 10x20 (or larger) area? Thanks so much for sharing your information! I really need a lot of help!!

Sarah

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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by Longy on May 26, 2006 08:12 AM
OK. A green manure crop is , as i said, best turned back into the soil. So for a no till idea, you'd need to build on top of it once it has finished. Compost is fine to use, more than an inch, up to 6 inches is still OK, but you don't want to leave it exposed to the elements, so you'd be best off mulching it. Manures would be useful too to bulk out the compost a bit if you don't have lots.
So if you grew a green manure crop, slash it down, bury it in compost and manures and then mulch the lot with lucerne, you'd have the makings of some decent soil. It's basically lasagne gardening.

I purchased my seed from an organic supplier on the net. Mail order organic stuff. There'll probably be one in your state.

10' x 20', mixed with oats, you'd do the area with about 3 cups or so of seed and that would be quite heavy.

It's a pleasure to make suggestions. I hope they are of some help.

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The secret is the soil.
by LandOfOz on May 26, 2006 01:51 PM
What is lucerne? I googled it and found out that it is 1) a car 2) a city in switzerland and 3)some shopping place in new york city, somehow I don't think either of those will work well on improving my soil. [Big Grin] I even looked at a few online seed places and didn't find anything for it. I have an idea, just a minute... Okay, so it is alfalfa, can I use any kind or what?? [Confused]

Thanks,
Sarah

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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by Longy on May 26, 2006 08:33 PM
If you can buy some that has been spoilt by the weather, you'll get it cheaper. Ask at any hay supplier if they have spoilt bales. It's great for soil. Yep, any kind is fine.
A city in Switzerland sounds nice. I'm sure that would be good for something if not your garden.

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The secret is the soil.
by ranger on May 27, 2006 02:20 AM
Every tillable area of my garden gets a heavy sowing of winter rye every October. The rye germinates and grows quickly,it actually grows in winter if not snow covered and 33 degrees or more and stays a nice shade of green even in winter. late winter early spring (March) it takes off and grows into a nice thick mat of bright green grass. Mid to late April I mow (mulching mower) it down,spread a load of COW manure (2" or so)and let it set for a week or so. Give it a once over with the tiller, let the worms do their thing for a few day and give it a good tilling. My soil is very nice. I've been working this garden for 20 years and I'm approaching 20,000 SF, of which approx. half is perenials. I plant buckwheat in summer in my paths and till it in before it sets seed, buckweat will die off at first frost so it will not grow in cold climates during winter. This is all just a hobby and I learn a lot every year.
ranger
by LandOfOz on May 27, 2006 03:20 AM
Thanks for the tips longy, I've copied pretty much all of your info down for future use. I'm so excited to get my green manure crop going!! I'm thinking that I'm going to hunt down some lucerne now 'cause my garden is in desperate need of mulch.

Ranger, thanks for the info. I'm thinking I might toss in some rye, just for variety and too see something GREEN in the winter. I know that winter rye is a popular crop for the farmers in the area so hopefully I won't have too many troubles with it. Although it will require some patience on my part, I'm usually out in the garden in February trying to think of something to do to get the garden going!!

Sarah

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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by Longy on June 02, 2006 07:32 AM
Well, kangaroos have eaten my green manure crops. h well, the poor blighters are hungry and it's very dry, so i s'pose as long as they poo in garden it's OK right?

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The secret is the soil.
by LandOfOz on June 02, 2006 03:06 PM
Interesting. LOL Somehow, I don't think East Coast means USA... Don't think I'll have the problem here stateside. My biggest problem is a family of bunnies keeps getting into my garden and chomping on my corn and zinnias. I'm searching for a place that sells vetch and rye but nobody seems to have all 3 in stock. I think I'm going to do a green manure beneath my apricot tree too--it could use some TLC.

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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by LandOfOz on June 03, 2006 09:54 AM
Hey, Longy, I found a site that carries a Vetch/Rye Mix specifically for cover crops. It's 75% rye and 25% vetch, does that sound like an appropiate combination or should it be 50/50?

Thanks,
Sarah

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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by Longy on June 03, 2006 04:57 PM
25/75 will be ok. The vetch will get quite rampant compared to the rye. If it was oats and vetch, 50/50 would be more appropriate. Ask them if the vetch has innoculant with it. No real big deal if not, just wonderin'. Innoculant contains live rhizobial (sp) bacteria which do the nitrogen fixing for you. Or some such thing.
Check if the timing is right for these crops in your zone. The vetch is a winter crop for me but i live in a semi tropical area.

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The secret is the soil.
by LandOfOz on June 04, 2006 08:34 AM
I read that vetch is native to my area--we aren't so lucky to be semi-tropical. I know that winter wheat is a big crop here, so I'm assuming winter rye shouldn't be too different. I checked and it doesn't come with innoculant, although somewhere, I do remember seeing that sold with the seeds...I looked at soooo many different sites that I don't remember where... I think that the site I'm using now is the only one that has winter rye in stock. I can't plant it for quite some time but I'd like to have it when I'm ready. Thanks for your info and help! It's so nice to have an expert to talk with (you're more helpful than my local nurseries are!)

Sarah

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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by Longy on June 05, 2006 05:54 AM
It's so nice to have an expert to talk with
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
I'm no expert Sarah. Just a keen gardener who's made lots of mistakes. But your thanks are appreciated and you're welcome.

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The secret is the soil.
by LandOfOz on June 05, 2006 02:35 PM
We just came back from what I call 'pretend camping' (real camping doesn't involve campgrounds, pre-made fire pits, or roads) and I am so annoyed. All over the campgrounds was a plant I immediately recognized--hairy vetch. Everywhere! Here I am combing the internet for hairy vetch seeds and they are growing like wild flower in the country. Grrr!

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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by Longy on June 05, 2006 06:20 PM
Yes the vetch can become a weed if allowed to seed, so make sure you chop it back in or bury it just as it's about to flower. Maybe keep a few to get next years seed.

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The secret is the soil.
by Piedmont on June 20, 2006 11:11 AM
That's funny, you're doing worm composting like me, and now I see you're thinking about a green manure which, is what I'm currently growing.

My Green Manure crop consists of 60% field peas, 25% oats, and 15% hairy vetch. I purchased it from here http://www.johnnyseeds.com/catalog/product.aspx?scommand=search&search=Green%2bManure&item=976G

You should purchase the inoculant, which lets the peas and hairy vetch get a head start on adding Nitrogen. My soil has no life, very sandy as well. The opposite of sand is clay, can you get some clay somewhere to mix with your sand? It'll do wonders for your soil texture as it did me. I got some and mixed it in with my sand and my soil texture must've doubled in quality, now I'm working on putting life into it. The above mix is pretty good, it prefers sandy soil over clay. The peas though, are rather cold climate and probably past when you can grow them. They're best when planted when it's 40-50 degrees outside. Too bad, the field peas are growing faster than the Hairy vetch, have about 4x the organic matter, and like to be extremely crowded. You can plant around 12 field peas per square foot which is a site to see when each grows 3' tall and 2 feet in diameter trust me. It's also a legume, adding Nitrogen. The hairy vetch is thin and not a very high organic matter plant compared to the peas. It grows in more adverse conditions, can be planted any time of year (which at this time, is probably the only thing that'll grow for you), is flood and drought tolerant, field peas struggle in heavy moisture and heat. So, my choice was the field peas for mass, nitrogen, and is cold tolerant, the Hairy vetch for similar reasons but it'll grow in places the peas will not and will come back, and the oats for support and to store excess nitrogen. I'm very happy with how things are going, it's been growing for 2 months and at least a foot tall and growing about 2" per day now.

I agree with Longy, Green manures are made to be tilled into the soil to provide food for worms and bacteria. I'd make the exception for the no-till rule if your soil is dead anyway (like mine). Tilling the entire front of my property with 3 passes I came across only two worms.
by LandOfOz on June 21, 2006 06:34 AM
Kansas is nothing but high humidity and heat--usually lacking on rainfall though--from about May to September. Not exactly pea-friendly. I am hoping to do a rye/vetch mix once everything dies off in the garden. That way I can build up the soil when it's too cold to grow anything else. In some of the empty areas of my garden I put down some super-wet cardboard, covered it with sawdust, manure, and lots of weeds from the rest of the garden (kind of a mini-compost). Hopefully this will suppress the gorgeous and prolific grass that grows in my garden--not in my yard.

I'm glad to see that I am not the only one who doesn't see worms in the garden; yet sees plenty in a box in the house!!

Sarah

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Sarah - Zone 5b/6
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