“Anyone can have dirt. Gardener’s have soil.” ~ Author Unknown
This garden bed is looking a little tired and exhausted, isn’t it?
Frankly, I don’t blame it for looking less than it’s best. This bed was one of the first vegetable patches we put in the garden and has contributed many years of faithful service.
It has been dutifully crop rotated, mulched, manured and composted. The soil in there actually isn’t that bad at all.
But, this bed could use a little oomph. It needs the soil equivalent of a tropical relaxing retreat with a swim-to-bar. A little refresh.
I don’t like to leave beds fallow. Given the heat and sandy texture of my soil, the soil dries out too much if left for a season. All the life that teems in healthy soil is quickly extinguished. Then I have double the job of rehabilitating the sterile, water repelling, barren ground back to health.
Luckily, there is a happy solution.
Plant a cover crop, or green manure patch.
A cover crop will improve soil health in many ways. They cultivate soil microbiology, encourage earthworms, build organic matter, produce nutrients, suppress weeds, prevent leaching of existing minerals, aerate compacted soil and provide a fantastic, revitalised foundation for your next few crops.
Rain is on the way this evening and tomorrow, so it is the perfect time to prepare the middle bed for planting.
I will be sowing a mixture of;
- Broccoli Rapa
You can buy packets of pre-mix green manure at any nursery, but it is much cheaper to mix your own. You could actually use just any one of these varieties as a cover crop, but a mix encourages a bit of diversity. These seeds will grow well in my cooler months, but I may have to experiment with a more robust mix for the summer months.
First of all, clear your bed and rake it over to even the surface.
Then scatter your seed generously into the raked soil.
Lightly rake the seeds into the soil. This help to prevent birds making off with most of your green crop seeds…
Finally, water in your cover crop. And wait.
Ideally, the best time to “harvest” your cover crop is just before it flowers, which may be only 6-8 weeks after planting, depending on your mix. Trimming the crop can keep it tidy and extend the time before harvest.
Remember, we want maximum nutrient in the soil, and typically, flower and seed production draws and depletes nutrients from the soil. Also, since the crop will be incorporated back into the soil, cover crop seeds could quickly become weeds in a newly planted bed.
I planted a simple buckwheat patch in the neighbouring bed some months ago, about mid-autumn. Just as it started to flower, I pulled it out, and layered it on the surface of the soil to create a mat. If you have a larger area, you can mow the cover crop close to the ground or rototill it straight into the soil.
Then I added some clay to the bed and have smothered the lot with lucerne mulch. It should be ready to plant out as soon as the rain stops.
Do you use cover crops? Do you have a swear-by-it-blend? I would love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.