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Mulch and Cover Crops for Vegetable Hugels

 
Jaimee Gleisner
Posts: 60
Location: Urbana, IL Zone 5b
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My HK beds are about 5 months old and I had intended to get a nice cover crop planted before winter. It didn't happen. I managed to seed in November, but nothing survived all the snow we had. So I now have bare HK beds that I'm starting to plant my vegetables in to and I'm wondering how best to cover the soil this season. Should I attempt to get clover, rye, etc. growing along with my veggies? Or would they compete? How long would it realistically take for a cover crop to really cover my beds? Or should I go a different route this season with a mulch like wood chips? I can get free, local wood chips and while it wouldn't look very nice, I could cover my beds in those and then scrape them off at the end of the season to plant a cover crop instead. I recently read a study that wood chips put on top of the soil does not significantly deplete nitrogen (this only happened when wood chips were worked into the soil). But, if not wood chips... what else would work well? I don't have access to large amounts of anything else like grass clippings or manure or straw. I'd have to buy and truck in stuff like that. Thoughts? Thanks!
 
mike mclellan
Posts: 93
Location: Helena, MT zone 4
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Jaimee,
I had success getting good soil cover with a commercially available "Beneficial Insect" seed mix. The life these plants attracted was tremendous, the cover grew an average of 8 to 10 inches tall and absolutely covered the soil. I planted several varieties of currants and gooseberries in this particular hugelbeet and none seemed the least bit bothered by the cover. I also had a few tomatoes, and peas in this bed and all seemed to thrive. I figure the biomass added to the bed was significant considering the condition of the soil I used to cover the beds.
You might consider sweet clover as it is fairly aggressive, produces great bee habitat, and fixes nitrogen. It is biennial, so the growth first year will likely be a large clover-like rosette. It has a long taproot so there will be a great deal of root matter to decay deep in your hugelbeet at the end of year two. If it gets too obnoxious for you, just chop it an leave it on the soil. There are some shorter red clovers which are annuals which might help as well. Good luck and happy growing.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Jaimee Gleisner wrote: I recently read a study that wood chips put on top of the soil does not significantly deplete nitrogen (this only happened when wood chips were worked into the soil)

Yip, from my understanding, 'wood chips as mulch tie up nitrogen' is basically a myth.
How tall/strong-growing are your proposed veges? Direct sowed or seedlings?
Maybe an edible cover crop? Does purslane grow in your climate?
A mix of daikon, buckwheat, phacelia, maybe a vetch, lettuces...
I know nothing about your climate though!
 
Jaimee Gleisner
Posts: 60
Location: Urbana, IL Zone 5b
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Thanks! I have some beneficial bug, edible flower, and no mow mixes. I also have some left over rye, Austrian field pea, ans white clover from last year. Perhaps I could just divvy those up into 4 portions, throw them on the beds and see what happens? I don't think we're going to get anymore hard freezes this season, but some lows are predicted near freezing in the next 10 days. This is making germination and growth really slow. Meanwhile my plants are struggling. I'm fighting wind, fluctuating temps, and squirrels galore. Most of my transplants have not survived the week. I direct sowed a bunch this weekend and I hope they will fare better.
 
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