A farmer holds up a piece of his winter wheat crop.
Are you battling with too many weeds in your vegetable garden, or has your soil becomes rock hard in the growing season? Try cover crops this fall to revitalize the garden soil for next year's growing season.
A cover crop is a fast-growing plant whose biomass adds organic matter into the soil and improves the soil tilth. Its root system allows for better air and water movement in the soil and prevents soil erosion. A cover crop also smothers the weed growth and prevents the seed germination. Some cover crops also add soil nutrients.
Winter rye is a popular cover crop that has a unique functional use in the garden. Winter rye is a fast-growing, cold hardy grass and is best to be seeded in fall from August to October. It germinates quickly and will continue to grow again in the following spring. It develops an extensive root system that can add excellent organic matter into the soil and also produces allelopathic chemicals that prevent weed seed germination. However, on the downside, its root system can be tough to rototill into the soil.
Each year, devote certain weedy areas of your garden for cover crop use. Before you incorporate winter rye in fall, rake the soil and remove any large stones and debris. Broadcast the winter rye seed at the rate of 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet and rake the seed back into the soil. Water the area lightly. In spring, mow the winter rye before it begins to flower. Then rototill (or use a shovel or pitch fork) the plants and its biomass residue into the soil. Allow two to three weeks for the plant residue to decompose before planting any transplants into the soil.
Another excellent cover crop for fall seeding is winter wheat, which also provides a good organic matter for the soil.