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soil improvement with cover crops

 
Tessa Neill
Posts: 6
Location: Central OR, USA
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Hello,

I'm using cover crops this year in some of my beds in the mandala I built last year. I've chosen to use winter rye and hairy vetch, I also threw some turnips to break up the soil down deep and some Austrian pea. My question is what is the best way to deal with the rye. I know it can lock up nitrogen for a bit it's it is added to the soil early on, depending on when you dig it in. Adding the legumes will help with that. It's regrown now- about 6 inches tall. There are two options I'm reading about. One option is to cut it (and chop it in?) when it's about 12"-18" tall, and the other is to wait until it has formed the seed head and starts dropping pollen, then chop it in. I think.

Any help or advise would be great. I wanted cover crops that I could chop and drop, or some that I could just pull out when I wanted to put in a tomato or whatever. Dealing with Rye is a little different because when you deal with it if you don't want it coming back you have to do it at the right time...hoping someone can help with that! I'm also wondering what the best way is to chop cover crops into the soil- what tools work best, etc.

Thanks!
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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I would plant dutch white clover for your nitrogen fixer. They only get to about 6inches with no mowing.
So as long as your desired plant is taller than that you are fine (your tomatoes would be ok)

As for the rye. You have to get it after it flowers, if you cut it before it will still have energy stored and try to pass on its DNA.
if you cut it after it will have exhausted it's energy store and think that it has passed on its DNA.
However you dont want to wait until the seeds are form otherwise it will fall on the ground and germinate.
Once that happen it will be your only plant.
 
Tessa Neill
Posts: 6
Location: Central OR, USA
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Thanks for the reply. I've been asking around and the are a couple ways people work with rye. One is as you suggested, and the other is to dig it in while still green between 12" and 18". Any shorter and it comes back. Someone that suggested I do it this way also said it would be a good idea to pull it up, turn it over and let the sun kill the roots, then till it in. I've decided to give this a try. We'll see how it goes!
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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When I 1st started my garden, that is how I killed the native grass. Use a pick axe/fork to dig it out the turn the roots over. Pray for the sun to be really hot and dry out the roots before it sends out side sucker and revisit it ever other day to weed, never water the garden and hope it never rains and spend crazy amount of time in the garden. It is fun for a tiny garden and very therapeutic. So I know it can work. but it might not be the best for the soil or use of your time. you should do both of them side by side and let us know which one works better.
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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I sow winter rye nearly every fall and till in in the spring. In my case I have to till in 3-4 weeks before I intend to plant my garden (around Memorial Day here in CNY), giving it a chance to break down. In your case, you want the greatest bio-mass so I would let it grow until seed heads begin to form. You will likely need to cut it before tilling it under (otherwise it tangles in the tines).
If you're looking for further soil improvement and to beat weeds, consider a couple of crops of buckwheat this season to till under as well. For buckwheat, when it flowers, let the bees work it for a few days, then cut and/or till under. Wait a week or so to plant a 2nd crop of buckwheat and repeat...then you can plant another cover crop (winter rye, hairy vetch, etc.) for the winter. By next spring, you should have enriched soil with much more tilth.
Another option for winter is to till in and pile on the leaves as cover. Leaves provide organic matter and minerals 'mined' from deep in the soil.
(One fall I piled leaves inside a 12' ring of snow fence in my garden. The following spring as I tilled, when I got to that spot, the tiller sank effortlessly to it's maximum depth. The soil life (critters) had tilled for me [which is why/how no till can be so effective]).
Best wishes for success,
-Mike
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