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Novice question about cover crop

 
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Last fall, I planted a cover crop in our raised beds and field beds. It was a mix of vetch and other such things (can't remember what was in it!).  Now I have  a crop of 6 inch high vetch, etc... I am ready to plant... what do I do with it? Do I just turn it over and plant?  

I did plant one bed already.  I was putting in raspberries, so I pitch forked it, pulled out all the green things and then planted the raspberry canes.  I don't think that was the right thing to do....?
 
pollinator
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From one rookie to another...

What I did was mow it all down with a stirrup hoe and then throw the plant matter into a compost pile. You could definitely turn it under but in my case I don't have a lot of "greens" for my compost pile. It's kind of a split the difference method in my mind. The roots, and theoretically the nitrogen modules, stay in the soil to provide structure and the above ground mass goes towards next years compost (which I throw down after mowing the cover crop, before planting veggies).
 
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I think the most standard answer is to hit the bed with a crimper and then plant into the residue.
 
Eileen McGurty
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Christopher Weeks wrote:I think the most standard answer is to hit the bed with a crimper and then plant into the residue.



I cut everything down and the clippings are now lying on top of the beds with the roots of the cover crops still in the soil.

What I don't understand is how that helps keep things "weed" free. Won't the cover crop grow back and act as a weed unless it's completely removed from the roots -- like other "weeds?"  

Part of why I planted the cover crop was for the N and part of the reason was to keep weeds down.
 
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In many ways, weeds are as good a cover crop as any.  Just do the same thing, chop them down before they set seed, leave them lay, and plant in the area.
 
Christopher Weeks
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Eileen McGurty wrote:What I don't understand is how that helps keep things "weed" free. Won't the cover crop grow back and act as a weed unless it's completely removed from the roots -- like other "weeds?"



I'm not an expert, but my reading says for the right cover crop mix, a roller-crimper (or some hand-operated approximation in most of our cases) with the dull blades out, will crush the plants rather than severing them which causes them to lie down like mulch, preventing the next generation of weed seeds from germinating, and also challenging the plant's ability to heal from the abuse and become weeds. You're right, the root systems will attempt to throw up more top-growth, but with the plants broken, but not cut, they're really bad at it. In the case of your cut cover, I think you can expect more trouble. In your situation, I'd probably wait and see what happens and then cultivate as needed with a hoe and leave them lying on the bed. Good luck!
 
Dan Fish
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So the way it works for me is that after I mow the cover crop I bury the nubs about an inch deep with compost in preparation for my vegetables. The act of chopping with the stirrup hoe also cuts them off below ground level so they are probably 1.5 inches under, overall. Some of them do pop up again but it's nothing to just chop 'em when I am out there. I would say 2% of the cover crop pokes back out.

My soil is still mostly clay so I like to let them grow alongside my veggies until they either are about to flower or they start to actually intrude, size-wise. Then during the growing season I just chop em and slide them under the mulch as worm food.
 
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Thanks for the ideas here. I have an interesting interplanting experiment is happening here in two 100ft2 garlic beds that are next to each other. Soil, sun, water, spacing, mulch and planting date are exactly the same. Both were planted last October 10 and it is now May 10. Both garlic beds have the same mix of garlic cloves. The only planting difference is that one bed was scattered with vetch seed in October and the other none.
The bed where garlic is growing with the vetch (no trimming) is profoundly healthier at this time. The bulb and stem size in the vetch + garlic bed is about 30% larger than the no-vetch bed. The greens are larger and about 30% taller. The vetch is providing some shade (our UV light is very high) to the vetch-bed-bulbs bulbs continue to grow; scapes have not yet appeared. The no-vetch bed is already producing scapes and the leaves are beginning to turn: maturing faster yet smaller.
I interplanted corn and vetch seed together in another garden for the first time on May 8 this year. I will see if interplanting corn and nitrogen-fixing vetch seed together will improve the yield. So impressed with the difference between the two garlic beds, I plan to let the vetch go to seed after corn harvest and let it improve the soil indefinitely while rotating other veg as usual.
Good luck with your experiments Eileen!
 
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Since you're new to cover crops, I  thought I would mention Helen's gardening course.  She talks a lot about cover crops and how they help build diversity.  I know when I started out with gardening and getting into the complexities of it, I was a sponge for knowledge.  I still am!  Here is a clip from The Garden Master Course for you to check out if you're interested.
 
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I'm new too! We turned our cover crop over and are letting it rot for a few weeks before planting. We thought about mowing it down, but we have community garden plots and no way of actually mowing. So we'll see how the turning it over goes!

I'm also interested about the interplanting with the garlic. Are you planning on removing the vetch at any point, or leave it the whole time?
 
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In my eyes it's best to always have something grown and growing. If you can let it just be crop plants and pollinator attracting flowers, great. If you need a non-yielding cover crop that's okay too. If you don't put it in, nature will.

The real question in my eyes is how do we manage these growing and grown plants. They will compete for resources. Crimping as Christopher suggests keeps them suppressed so that they're unable to out-compete the growing yield plants for sunlight. Chopping them will do the same thing but encourage re-growth. The advantage of chopping is that it increases the rate at which the chopped material decomposes, and thus re-feeds macrobiota (larger than microscopic creatures). That might not be what you want, especially if you have slug or snail problems. However I've found that in my case the snails prefer the chopped material over the growing plants anyway, so it hasn't been a problem, especially once the soil in my garden beds reached a healthy balance.

The other option is to lay down a heavy layer of mulch to suppress all growing plants. This will last as long as your mulch for suppressing things growing underneath, but eventually blown-in seeds will begin growing on top.

There is no permanent maintenance free solution that I have ever seen. I think the best we can do is find the solution that we are best at providing that also serves the life systems we're working with and gives us the yield we need.
 
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Eileen McGurty wrote:I cut everything down and the clippings are now lying on top of the beds with the roots of the cover crops still in the soil.

What I don't understand is how that helps keep things "weed" free. Won't the cover crop grow back and act as a weed unless it's completely removed from the roots -- like other "weeds?"  



One way it works is that by covering the ground, you don't allow sunlight to hit, which is a major impetus to start weed seeds germinating.

The shade the cover crops provide also maintains soil moisture, which is what soil microorganisms need to survive....that, plus something to eat (organic matter).  So you're doing multiple good things.

Also, it prevents raindrops from compacting the soil by falling on naked ground.  So even if you get some new weeds coming up (you will; you always will), they will be easier to pull out, if you choose to do that.

However, having living roots in the ground allows a passageway for air and water to flow, and the roots get broken down, increasing both organic material and microbial life (if kept moist and cool).

I'd suggest you get to know weeds in your area, because many of them are free food, for people or animals.  Or sources of medicine, or attractants for pollinators, and if you learn to figure it out, they can also tell you what's missing in your soil, or the conditions thereof.

One example--thistle or dandelion, with long tap roots signify compacted soil.  Nature (apparently FAR smarter than humans--which should be increasingly obvious these days!) grows stuff to fix the problems therein.

Humans just need to learn to read Nature's language.

By the way, some "weeds" will grow back if cut low on the stem.  Some will not.  I like the regrow types.  I can chop and drop the regrowth around plants as they get bigger, as yet another option.
 
Alina Green
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After I posted, I started to watch this video and laughed at the perfect timing of the first few minutes of it:

 
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