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I think that cover crops have great potential for use in suburban environments, and I’m not just talking about large swaths of green grass that cover our yards…
Many Versatile Uses
Cover crops, such as clover, rye, vetch, grains, certain peas and beans, and many beautiful pollinator-attracting plants, have the ability to pull nutrients from deep in the soil, effectively mining minerals out of the ground and making them available to other plants. They serve as great “green” or Nitrogen-rich compost material, and many will readily regrow when sheared. They can be used as mulch by cutting lush growth and letting it lay on the ground around plants. You can keep unwanted weeds at bay because a well-selected cover crop will choke them out. Many cover crops are drought-tolerant once established, needing little supplemental water, yet casting shade and retaining soil moisture underneath their small canopies. They can serve as meadows…pollinator gardens…erosion control…nutrient retention…I could go on…and on…
There are many books on the subject, a favorite of mine is Gaia’s Garden - A Guide to Homescale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway. Peaceful Valley carries many books on the subject of cover cropping as well.
Nature abhors a vacuum - weeds will make their way to bare patches of soil in our yards, and as nature has designed, break up the earth to allow for larger shrubs and trees to grow with the help of the wind and birds. Mother Nature continually tries to reforest herself, but we can use this to our advantage by planting a cover crop that will stop weeds from germinating. Are you losing a battle with weeds on your property? A cover crop may be the answer for you.
Last Summer my husband and I decided to convert half of our back lawn into an orchard. Now I’m not talking an acre here, just about 20’ x 30’ - enough room for a few drawf fruit trees like most suburban lots. But first, the soil definitely needed to be improved.
In the middle of our blazing Northern California summer, we stopped watering the future orchard site to kill the grass (we could have sheet mulched as well). Once the fall rains came, we tilled the dead grass into the soil, and spread a cover crop seed. With the moisture in the soil from the rains, the cover crop germinated quickly, and covered the area with lush green growth in short time.
In late winter, we tilled this cover crop back into the soil, providing nitrogen, and other trace elements to the newly planted bare-root fruit trees (which have put on quite a bit of growth just since January!). Our next step is to reseed a cover crop around the trees that will cover the bare earth and attract pollinators to our mini-orchard.
I hope that you will consider a versatile cover crop for your many needs as well.
Mar 26th, 2008 at 8:48 pm
Good post being a suburban farmer is a challenge but I am inspired by what you have done with your backyard. Good to see you spreading your wings at Peaceful Valley. My parents live in Grass Valley so I’ll have to drop by Peaceful Valley.
The freshman farmer concept is really neat I fashion what I do after that some even though I don’t grow food I am trying to grow my nursery stock organically. Its a challenge but one worth undertaking.