Winter cover crops

I’m thrilled to welcome Tracey from Fuzzy Lop Gardens to Seed and Sprout. Tracey is an avid urban gardener and much like me, finds great joy in spending an evening or better yet, weekend in her garden to get away from the busy “always on” life we live. We share a deep happiness that comes from cultivating our own food and digesting all the new learnings that stem from gardening.

Tracey has graciously taken the time to teach all of us about the importance of winter cover crops. Tracey has become obsessed with her soil and as a result is constantly looking for new and natural ways to add nutrients back into her dirt. When she read about the benefits of cover crops she knew she had to try it. I was also instantly intrigued and asked Tracey a variety of questions so I (and hopefully you) can easily invest in my soil over the winter.

Megan: I’ve heard it is important to plant cover crops in the winter, why?
Tracey: Cover crops are a great way to nourish your soil during the harsh winter. Think of it as a cozy winter blanket! I have raised beds and live in the Pacific Northwest so we get a lot of rain during the winter season. I’m always concerned about rain leaching the nutrients out of my soil. Cover crops are a great way to reduce run off as well as introduce nitrogen back into your soil. The prevent compaction, and keep weeds at bay.

Megan: What are cover crops?
Tracey: Simply put, it’s a fast growing crop that is used to improve soil quality. Their little roots basically recharge your dirt.

Megan: When should I plant cover crops?
Tracey: I like to seed right after I have harvested in fall. I pull everything out to prep for the upcoming winter, add a little compost and throw down my cover crop seed. I try to do this on a day that I know we will get rain so that Mother Nature herself takes care of watering.

Megan: What types of cover crop should I seed and why?
Tracey: The easiest are annual clovers, legumes, peas, oats, buckwheat, and rye, all of which ‘melt’ easily back into your soil. I use a blend or rye (nice deep roots) and legumes. I especially love fava beans because I love to marvel over the nitrogen modules when I dig up their roots.

Megan: How do I plant a cover crop?
Tracey: I like to prep my area for winter, I don’t pull out everything, I basically cut back and try to till as much of the roots as I can. I add compost and work it into my dirt. Once I’ve got my soil worked, I literally throw down my cover crop and lightly rake it into the soil.

Megan: How do you manage the growth of cover crop during the winter? Do I just plant and let it go?
Tracey: Plant it and let it GROW! The only maintenance is to go into your garden on occasion and give it a little cheer!

Megan: What do I do with the cover crop when I’m ready to seed again in the spring?
Tracey: In spring you can mow or cut it down and till it back into your dirt. WA-LA! Instant green manure.

A huge thank you to Tracey for taking the time to make it easier and more manageable for all of us to invest in the most important part of the garden, the soil! I hope we will all get the treat of learning more from Tracey in the near future!

Image from Territorial Seed Company

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