Friday, September 5, 2014

Cover Crops for the Home Garden

The GA FACES article "Fall cover crop will boost spring garden soil's nutrient content", by UGA's Sharon Dowdy, explains that home gardeners who are planning to give the vegetable garden a rest this winter can take a simple step to help next year's garden.  The key is to grow a cover crop instead of simply leaving the garden fallow.

Dowdy interviewed UGA Extension sustainable agriculture specialist Julia Gaskin to get the scoop on cover crops. Gaskin explained that cover crops can add organic matter and nitrogen to the soil. The choice of which cover crop to grow will depend on the needs of the garden.

For added nitrogen, Gaskin recommends crimson clover and Austrian winter peas; to suppress root-damaging nematodes, tillage radishes and mustards are a good choice. Cereal rye (winter annual ryegrass) excels in suppressing weeds.

For all the cover crops, the additional organic matter, from tilling the cover crop under in spring, is a great boost to home gardens. Gaskin explained the gain this way: "Boosting up soil matter is critical for encouraging healthy soil biology, which helps to make nutrients available for plants.”

Cornell University's article "Improve your soil with cover crops" lists additional benefits of growing cover crops in the garden:  "Cover crops help to retain the soil, lessen erosion, and decrease the impact of precipitation on the garden by slowing the runoff of water. They also reduce mineral leaching and compaction, and suppress perennial and winter annual weed growth. The top growth adds organic matter when it is tilled into the garden soil. The cover crop's root system also provides organic matter and opens passageways that help improve air and water movement in the soil."

UGA's Gaskin said that cover crops need to be sown in the garden before the end of September in the Piedmont region of Georgia, which includes Cobb County. For gardeners who are interested in taking a break from tending vegetables, planting a cover crop within the next few weeks can be a great option.

(For fuller information, select the linked article titles above.)