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Jason's cover crop evolution

 
Jason Silberschneider
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This summer I've been busy putting in vegie rows (and by rows I mean alongside the paths, winding every which way) and have been experimenting with developing an ideal cover crop for area to go in between, amongst, and over my newly planted vegies.

I started off with a basic buckwheat and sunflower mix for my tomato and lettuce plants, as in figure 1. This seemed to work ok. My plan with starting with only 2 seeds was to also learn to identify seedlings as they emerge. By adding seed types gradually to the mix at a time, I won't get confused by the array of seedlings, as I would already recognise the previous ones.

Figure 2 shows the addition of chickpea and linseed to the buckwheat/sunflower mix. I already know what chickpea and linseed seedlings look like, so there was no chance of confusing them. They were a cover crop for capsicum, a different type of lettuce, basil, and a lovely olive tree in the middle to soak up all the attention.

Figure 3 shows the the next step of adding soybean to the mix, surrounding an almond tree grown from seed. Strawberries and lettuce are the main vegies being covered here.
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Figure 1 - Buckwheat and sunflower cover crop over tomatoes and lettuce
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Figure 2 - Addition of chickpea and linseed to the mix, over capsicum, lettuce, basil, and an olive tree
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Figure 3 - Soybean addition, over strawberries, lettuce, and around an almond tree
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Figure 4 is my most recent evolution, with the addition of quinoa to the mix. I've never grown quinoa before, and the seedlings are yet to emerge. These are amongst strawberries, chard, and zucchini. Exciting times ahead.

To summarise, my current cover crop mix consists of:
Buckwheat
Sunflower
Linseed
Chickpea
Soy
Quinoa

My next vegie strip will possibly have the addition of chia, as I have found an organic - verified sproutable - source.

Figure 5 shows a lovely example of eggplants growing very well in an older cover crop of Buckwheat, Sunflower, Linseed, and Chickpea. I'll include some photos of advanced stages later in the summer.
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Figure 4 - Addition of quinoa around chard, zucchini and strawberry - not yet emerged
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Figure 5 - More established buckwheat, Sunflower, Linseed, and Chickpea crop around eggplants
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Now a closer look at the cover crop sowing process itself.

Figure 7 shows the tupperware cointainer full of $35 worth of seeds from the organic store. This is my latest evolution, consisting of buckwheat, sunflower, linseed, chickpea, soy, quinoa, chia, and mung bean. I actually take my mixing box into the store with me, and dump the paper bags into the box after they've been weighed and priced at the register. The store then get the bags back for re-use, which impresses them no end. They're also extremely curious about what I'm actually doing with the seed mix, and I have a feeling I may have infected a few brains with the concept of at least polyculture, if not cover cropping itself. Especially when I tell them that it keeps weeds away from my vegetables, as well as fertilising them.

Figure 8 shows exactly how densely I put the seedmix on the ground. There is NO exposed soil once they begin to break the surface.

Figure 9 is the result after just running my fingers up and down the area a few times to mix the seeds in a bit. Shown here is also a sweet potato that has been left to sprout, and is now ready for planting. Just behind the area you can see a fence panel from the east side of my walipini. Ground level for the walipini is 1.2 metres below this planting. The sweet potato vines will grow up the fence and over the wire roof to provide shade from the summer sun (Currently southern hemisphere summer). As winter comes on, the vines will die back and begin to expose the walipini to the warming winter sun.
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Figure 7 - Tupperware container full of organic seedmix
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Figure 8 - Very dense spread of seeds on the new soil
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Figure 9 - Seedmix is gentle mixed in by hand. A sweet potato about to be covered in soil
 
Kai Duby
Posts: 44
Location: Colorado~ Front Range~ Zone 4/Wheaton Labs
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food preservation forest garden woodworking
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How are these coming along? It's so dense but everything looks like it's doing so well!
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Sorry for the delay, Kai, I had to do a crash course in mergin layers in GIMP. I really should grok it one day when I have a spare week...

The first picture shows how my sunflowers and buckwheat have run their course and died off, leaving the capsicums to thrive after being protected from the harsh summer sun. Buckwheat and sunflower plants will now decompose and add nutrients to the soil, while their seeds will volunteer another cover crop when the rains appear.

The second picture is a rather stark before and after comparison of what a thick sprinkling of seeds can do. The sweet potato is pushing vines everywhere, and a grape has begun climbing the fence from the right.

The third picture is shows my eggplant cover crop also dying off, and also a thick pumpkin bed behind that was planted at the same time as the eggplants.
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Jason Silberschneider
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And who doesn't love a cover crop mandala?

This time protecting albizia and apple trees somewhere under all that.

To the left of the mandala is one of my unpatented Poogelmids which will be soaking up the winter rains and feeding the new trees.
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Cover crop mandala
 
Kai Duby
Posts: 44
Location: Colorado~ Front Range~ Zone 4/Wheaton Labs
6
food preservation forest garden woodworking
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Thanks for the pictures! Seeing such green, successful cover crops makes me anxious for spring here in Montana!

It looks pretty dry where you are. What do you think has been the most productive cover crop for you so far? Also, is all that good looking soil the result of multiple years of cover crops?

Edited by moderator to remove a gazillion blank lines...
 
Jason Silberschneider
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Definitely soy! I'm very impressed by how high, quick-growing, and aggressive organic soy is. The fruit trees seedlings and vegetables that I've nursed over summer just get buried in the leafy expanse of the soy, and emerge at the end of summer looking great. Chickpea and mung bean have been so-so in my plantings, it's definitely been the soy that has done the hard work. It really seems to like the impoverished soil.

Not sure where you're getting the impression of good looking soil! Directly where I plant my vegetables is mushroom compost that I've placed in the trench that I dig and pile behind to make a kind of mini-hugel. This is just to give the vegetables something to get established in, as they would simply die in the existing gravel that passes for soil on my property. The soy doesn't seem to mind the gravel, though.
 
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