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cover crop selction help

 
Willy Walker
Posts: 89
Location: Foot of the Mountain, Front Royal VA
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chicken fungi hugelkultur
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I am planning on using a cover crop to turn a portion of my yard into a growing area. It is rough and weedy now. Normally in fall the weeds die back, I am thinking if I scratch in a white clover or rye that they would do the first stage dirty work of getting things started. I also plan to use my chickens to condition the ground a bit as they do wonders scratching it up. My question is what would be the best choice crop for such the process. I am even open to going through a few cover crops to properly condition the soil before I plant. Something to get things started, next something to break the soil with deep roots, then a chop and drop and finally a nitrogen fixer. I want to use no till techniques and time is on my side. the are is semi shade with more sun than not and it rains often in our location. Ideally in the end i will be growing herbs, supplemental chicken feed, beans, seed crops, possible melons and bug traps.

climate zone 7

Any help on the best path forward?
 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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There are many good choices, and in Zone 7, you should have lots of time to get it going well.

Often, buckwheat is used as a 1st crop. It is very quick growing - about 30 days from "sow to mow".
I Would suggest mowing your weeds close to the ground, then sow buckwheat. Mow it down before it goes to seed.
Then plant it again. It grows so fast that it should smother the weeds out - they'll never see the sun!
As long as you mow it down before it goes to seed, it shouldn't take over the patch.

For a late summer planting, 2 crops come to mind:

Either Austrian Winter Peas or Hairy Vetch for the first choice. Either one should add a lot of nitrogen to your soil, and both should overwinter in your climate.

The other choice is Daikon Radish. Count back the days from first frost. You want it to mature before the frost kills it. Just leave it in the ground. The huge roots (18-24" deep x 2-4" diameter at the surface) will decompose in the soil, adding organic matter as well as 'tunnels' for oxygen/water, and worms to do their magic the following seasons.

For a good read on cover crops, this free PDF is well worth the read:
http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition

On that page, you can either download the PDF, or read online the HTML.
The online version is handier to read, as it has live links, which allow you to hop back and forth between plants, tables, etc.

Good luck.

 
Willy Walker
Posts: 89
Location: Foot of the Mountain, Front Royal VA
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chicken fungi hugelkultur
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Thanks, that is great information. It sounds like after I trim my current weeds real short, I can just broadcast the buckwheat? I did read that I will want to plant heavy to help choke out the weeds. I see where they recommend a planting depth, I am assuming I can just cover the area with a straw like grass seed?

I actually have several areas that I want to do this to. So I may try a few different routes with the various cover crops. All in for my plans of growing food not lawns.

any favorite cover crop suppliers?
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I've had really good luck with buckwheat, doing just as above. Mow the lawn low or chicken it til almost bare and sow the buckwheat. I also throw in clover, sunflowers, greens of all sorts, mangles, field peas, squash, pumpkin, radish, beans and even leftover seeds from past years' gardens. Collards and other brassicas do pretty good too. I'm impressed this year that a lot of basil has come up as well. I never have luck growing it in pots or direct planting, but just chucking out in the field with all the other stuff seems to make it happy. go figure

Instead of mowing the buckwheat, I walk through the area just bending it over at the ground when it flowers. It takes a little longer to die but the other things that are growing under it benefit from the mulch and sunlight without having root disturbance or being accidentally chopped up.

After the growing season, I put the chickens back on it to clear the bugs, seeds and weeds. They do a little manuring and then it's covered in a blanket of snow til May. In spring, I just tidy up a bit and plant my food stuff. Done.

I've done this in two areas so far and have more than quadrupled my growing area. The thing I really like about this mix is that there is a lot of variety to help feed the soil, insects, chickens, pigs and me. An added benefit is that if you are strategic about it you can also harvest seed to save for the next year, before you let the chickens back on it in the fall.

The only thing I wouldn't use is something that runs a lot like pole beans or morning glory flowers, Unless you have trees or something for them to climb. They tend to climb all over the other stuff and smother it, or at least make walking difficult.

Best of luck



 
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