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Cover Cropping Favorites

Cover Cropping Favorites

Cover crops can transform your empty bed into a rich space for planting. You can buy ready-made mixes or make your own. Here are some of our favorites.

Cover crops generally fall into two different types- nitrogen-supplying legumes and grasses that provide other nutrients.

 

Legume roots are covered in nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which supply carbon and nitrogen to the soil. Grasses and cereal cover crops don’t contribute extra nitrogen to the soil, but they do produce lots of organic matter, or carbon. You can buy ready-made mixes or make your own. Here are some of our favorite cover crop plants:

LEGUMES
  • cowpea
    protects soil from erosion
    smothers weeds
    excellent source of nitrogen
    great when sown before fall crops
    attracts many beneficial insects
    taller, vining types are more vigorous and best suited as cover crops
  • fava beans
    germinate and grow very quickly
    add nitrogen
    tops are good in compost piles
    edible beans and leaves
    roots can be left in the ground
  • field peas
    high nitrogen-fixers
    succulent stems break down easily and are a quick source of available nitrogen
  • clover
    easily planted into established crops
    acts as living mulch
    creates loamy topsoil
    adds a moderate amount of nitrogen
    helps suppress weeds
    breaks up heavy soil
  • bell beans
    add large amount of organic matter to the soil as “green manure”
    residue stays in soil longer than other leguminous cover crops
    improve heavy soils
    best time for tilling under is at blossom
  • sweet blue lupin
    high-efficiency nitrogen-fixing legume
    great planted in advance of planting heavy feeders (i.e. tomatoes or corn)
    aggressive taproot that improves soil structure deep down
  • vetch
    popular choice
    has pretty flowers that attract bees
    dense carpet of foliage shades the soil nicely as a living mulch
    fixes nitrogen into soil
GRASSES OR CEREALS
  • rye
    hardiest of cereals
    inexpensive
    easy to establish
    can be seeded later in fall than other cover crops
    provides lots of carbon-rich dry material for your compost pile
    has an extensive soil-holding root system
    suppresses weeds, keeps nutrients in the soil
    ideal especially for poor, sandy or acidic soil
    widely adapted – grows best in cool, temperate zones
  • barley
    inexpensive
    easy to grow
    provides exceptional erosion control and weed suppression in semi-arid regions
    can fill short rotation niches
    protects topsoil during drought
    improves soil texture
    good for reclaiming overworked, weedy or eroded fields
  • buckwheat
    grows very fast – maturing about 30 days after germination
    flowers provide very valuable late-season nectar source for honeybees
  • oats
    low-cost
    reliable fall cover
    provide quick, weed-suppressing biomass
    can improve the productivity of legumes when planted in mixtures
  • mustard
    grows rapidly, living mulch
    deep roots find and concentrate nutrients in soil
    good winter cover crop