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Clover vs buckwheat vs…. Squash… vs.. other?

 
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There is so much to learn in permaculture I wish there were simple cheat sheets. I’ve read some Sepp Holzer and love what he does but I find his books, and others, are too wordy when I’d rather read a manual

Ive used clover as a nitrogen fixing cover crop, but I read elsewhere how large crawling plants like squash are great cover crops too. I’m confused because I understand how a squash plant can ‘cover’ an area, but how could this limited root interaction (for lack of a better word) compete with smaller plants, and wouldn’t something that fixes nitrogen be preferred?  And if it’s the shade a squash plant provides which is beneficial, still isn’t something like clover even better?

I’ve recently learned about Buckwheat and want to try that, but in a backyard where is this type of cover best used (or squash for that matter) compared to, again, clover

I’ve seen YouTube videos of using buckwheat even in raised beds.  So I know it can be done in a ‘backyard’.

But I’m trying to understand when to use what cover crop where!  Can someone please help me?
 
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Hello Seth! What a great question. I looked at your profile but didn’t see a location so here is my non-technical opinion for zone 7b.
In the next two months I’ll cover my gardens in a mix Austrian winter pea, crimson clover, mustard, daikon, winter rye and vetch. Another one of my favorites is dichondra but it shows up on its own. Three of those are nitrogen fixers, the rest are for biomass. They can all be chopped and dropped or left until June at which time they die anyway.
In the spring my white Dutch clover shows up but the coverage is spotty in the beginning. That’s when I plant buckwheat along with it. By the time the clover is robust the buckwheat is already above it and doing great. Since I do not till direct seeding into those is tough. I use those beds for transplants like tomatoes or peppers.
If I need a summer cover in other places cowpeas, sunn hemp and cheap bird feed is my choice.
The sunn hemp and cowpeas are for nitrogen and biomass. The birdseed is for biomass and grain for wildlife. If their eating homegrown birdseed their not eating my food crops.
This was a subject I struggled with for years. Like you I read Sepp Holzer’s work and watched all the videos I could find. He’s always going on about plant families and cover crops but never said what was in them. My mind needed details! Luckily someone ask Zach Weiss the same question I would have ask. What exactly is in his mix? Mr Weiss responded, “Everything.” That’s when I started throwing all of my winter seeds in one bag and my summer in another. With a couple years of tweaking I was able to tell what worked here and what didn’t.
I hope this helps and not confusing.
 
Seth Marshall
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Hi Scott, that was incredibly helpful, thank you!!  

After I submitted that question I thought about editing it to include my zone (I am Zone 4 in Colorado at 8,000'), but I was afraid if I edited the post it would have to wait for moderator approval.

I love those ideas and your method makes a lot of sense.  You mention seeding crimson clover but that White clover comes up in the spring.  Was the white clover already there?  What happens to the crimson clover and isn't it a perennial?  Why do you reseed it unless it doesn't come back (or unless you just want more every year)?

The birdseed is a great idea!  I wonder if I can find local varieties?  Maybe that isn't so important considering I'm feeding the birds with store bought birdseed anyway that might not be locals.

These are great ideas and I look forward to reading many more.  I'm curious about biomass for my zone too.  And dynamic accumulators (unless that's essentially the same as bio mass)  
 
Scott Stiller
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I’m happy it was helpful because like Sepp, I can get a bit wordy. 😂 It’s a problem I continue to struggle with.
Dutch white clover is perennial here plus it self seeds. Crimson clover is just an annual. It can reseed but doesn’t do great.
Here’s an idea that will make it simple for this year. Go to your local outdoors center and buy a bag of deer plot mix. You can be sure that what’s in that bag will grow strong and healthy in your zone. I have a lot more time to get my seed together but zone 4 is a whole different thing.
I imagine winter peas would do good for you but I’m not sure about other biomass. Plus, those peas are excellent fresh eating!
 
Seth Marshall
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Thanks!  I didn't realize crimson was an annual.  Deer plot mix sounds interesting.  I would be curious to see whats in it.  As for biomass, I have a few ideas that I think would work: Borage and Yarrow are native.
 
Scott Stiller
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Those are both excellent choices Seth! Both are dynamic accumulators and great for pollinators!
Hey, I want to hear about what you decide on and I’d love some pictures. No matter how long it is I’ll be notified when you post results. I feel like it’s going to be great and quite a learning experience for us both.
 
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I back up scot in the use of bird seed. In connection with my chicken tractors I use Bird seed in the spring and wheat in the summer and fall. In summer I begin to feed from the bird seed that the chickens plant and in the late spring I am feeding from the wheat that overwintered.  Yes both the birds and deer help themselves to what bird seed grows.
You will notice that below our name beside the post there is the information about our growing zone and things like elevation.  To get that for your self click on the profile button at the top of the page and fill in what information you would like others to know when you make a post, ten you will not have that sunk feeling that you forgot to include it.
Because we are each in a unique situation the cheat sheet is what we have recorded of our experience for future reminders.
 
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The cover crop that you create depends on the use case similar to how a pasture mix for goats vs cow vs pig would be different.

Below is my default cover mix
Nitrogen-fixer: Legumes/Clovers, etc
Soil Aerator: Daikon Radish, Dandelion, Borage/Comfrey Family, etc (think tap root)
Mineral Accumulator: same as above, and probably anything in the cabbage&spinach family, mushrooms too
Pest Management: mint/thyme family, carrot/celery family, cone flower family, garlic
Pollinator Attractor: same as above,

Cover crop to feed plants actually have alot in common with pasture mix to feed animals. The only difference would probably be that a plant one focus more on nitrogen fixers (80%) vs an animal one would have 50% grass (for pigs/humans probably more squash and root crops like sweet potatoes, etc)
 
Scott Stiller
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I’ve been putting more seeds together in preparation for planting. In this mix we have winter rye, winter pea, mustard, lettuce, vetch and crimson clover. I’ll be purchasing more winter pea and maybe daikon. The second picture contains the seeds of one Danvers carrot. I let a few bolt so I could use them as an edible cover crop.
81476ADE-53DC-4499-AB79-8CEE98956CE7.jpeg
Homegrown cover crop mix
Homegrown cover crop mix
139E223E-FA40-4C82-BED7-E7214C17E523.jpeg
The seeds of one carrot.
The seeds of one carrot.
 
Seth Marshall
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Thanks, Hans, for your advice, and I went ahead and added my info to the signature line!  I should have done that awhile ago but it slipped past me!

And thanks, S Bengi, for sharing with us your particular combination of seeds for a cover crop.  You mentioned as a side-note that "(for pigs/humans probably more squash and root crops like sweet potatoes, etc)".  One of my questions was originally asking why I keep seeing the suggestions for using squash (or any other sprawling style of vegetable) as a cover crop.  Is this only so us humans can make use of it, and not necessarily for aiding the soil?  It would provide shade but I'm guessing if it were for the soil one would be better off using something that fixes nitrogen and has many points of contact (roots to soil, unlike a sprawling vegetable).

Also, I've noticed many of these "cover crops" are annuals.  I know Clover can be a perennial, but is this to make it easier to plant something else after a season?  I guess if something permanent was wanted it wouldn't be considered a "cover crop", right?

Scott, in fact I do have an update!  I called Pawnee Buttes Seed in Northern Colorado, and lo and behold they have their own variety of fall cover crops suited for our environment.  I went ahead and got a Spring Cover Crop too.  I figured the more the better and the salesman recommended it above using Buckwheat for suppressing weeds because with my elevation it can be planted earlier.  I still bought some Buckwheat to try out on problem areas after June 1st.  

I hope to report back with pictures at some point!  Thanks for all your help!

FALL COVER CROP - https://pawneebuttesseed.com/pbsi-mixes/pbsi-fallwinter-cover-crop-mix/
SPRING COVER CROP - https://pawneebuttesseed.com/pbsi-mixes/pbsi-spring-cover-crop-mix/

EDIT: Scott, I just noticed you posted the same time as I.  That's a ton of seeds from one Carrot!
 
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Scott Stiller wrote:I’m happy it was helpful because like Sepp, I can get a bit wordy. 😂 It’s a problem I continue to struggle with.
Dutch white clover is perennial here plus it self seeds. Crimson clover is just an annual. It can reseed but doesn’t do great.
Here’s an idea that will make it simple for this year. Go to your local outdoors center and buy a bag of deer plot mix. You can be sure that what’s in that bag will grow strong and healthy in your zone. I have a lot more time to get my seed together but zone 4 is a whole different thing.
I imagine winter peas would do good for you but I’m not sure about other biomass. Plus, those peas are excellent fresh eating!


yeah i struggle with that too isn't that weird hahahhaaa
 
Scott Stiller
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That’s pretty sweet Seth! Triticale is a new one on me, I’ll have to look it up. That’s a pretty limited amount of plants but I’m really not surprised. I’m glad you found some folks who knew what they were doing to help you out. Please post pics once things are growing!
 
S Bengi
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I think that establishing food forest needs 80% legumes acting as either ground cover or nurse species, but after 7-10 yrs after the food forest is more mature that percentage can be as low as 20-25%.

Cover Crops =
1) 1 grass + 1 legume + forage radish, etc for monoculture corn farmers in the midwest/etc
2) 3 sister guild of corn+beans+squash, where humans get max harvest
3) pasture mix for goat/pig/cow/etc (usually 2+ cool season and 2+ warm season grass and legumes with a few forbs/medicinal)
4) support species for a new food forest
5) support species for a mature food forest

Some folks do a combination of the above + other permutations, other than what I listed.

And yes most of the cover crops self-seed and so we can almost treat them like the are perennials. but yes most herbaceous plants only live 1-3yrs.

I am sure that for some regions squash does better than dutch clover, but mostly folks plant squash because they want an edible harvest. But I don't think that all of the cover crops should be legumes, we need other plant families in the mix, maybe forage radish is you have compacted soils, or maybe more grass, because your soil carbon is low and winter rye will grow during the winter, when squash would have already died off.
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