How to take down cover crops

Did you plant cover crops in the fall? If so, this post is for you. Now is the time to get those crops into the soil so the nutrients can break down and decompose before you need to plant seeds, in 5 weeks!!

Skip ahead if you have cover crops and want to know what you need to do now.

Why plant cover crops? Cover crops are plants that are grown through the fall and winter to protect your soil and hopefully improve it for the next season. However, they can be controversial. In a backyard garden there is minimal garden space and cover crops may compromise your fall harvest. You may have to remove fall plants pre maturely in order to plant cover crop seeds. There is also a chance that the cover crops will not decompose in time to plant your spring garden. This timeline can be a challenge. I decided to try growing cover crops this year to learn something new. At a minimum, they have already helped to protect my bare soil from erosion and possible leaching of nutrients from the rains.  You can learn more about cover crops in the post, How to put your garden to bed.

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What to do with cover crops now:

  1. Start by chopping down the crop. Use grass shears to trim the crops down.dsc_0106
  2. Use a shovel to lift the crop out of the soil and turn it over into the soil.dsc_0109
  3. Cover with compost. I’m not sure this step is completely necessary. However, I have a compost bin that is full and it never hurts to add more nutrients to build soil. dsc_0112
  4. Finally, cover with burlap so that the crops can break down faster. The burlap allows air and water penetration but keeps it dark, enabling the ecosystem to work harder and faster to decompose the crops. I picked up free burlap coffee bags from my local coffee shop. I cut them down the edge so that they lie flat as sheets of burlap. dsc_0115

Now I hope that these crops decompose in time for planting my seeds in just 5 to 6 weeks!

Other uses for Burlap in the garden:

  • Mulching
  • Protecting the soil during the winter
  • To improve germination rates
  • Coffee bean burlap sacks can be used as planters

What do you use burlap for in the garden?

I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you know if the cover crops decomposed in time for planting my spring garden.

January & February garden checklist

You won’t be getting too dirty in January and February, but you will get busy. Now is the time to plan and prepare your garden. Whether you are starting a garden for the first time, on your 5th year, or starting an herb pot, you want to put a little strategy behind your vision.

Your main task in January and February is to plan and make preparations to be ready to plant seeds and/or transplants in your garden, yard, and/or containers.

Before diving into what you will plant and where, there are a few other important items to-do.

January & February checklist

  • Purchase and plant bare root plants: roses, fruit trees, shrubs, etc. You will see these at your local nursery in February, possibly on sale. If you want roses, blueberries, raspberries, hydrangeas, lilacs, and other fruit and flowers like these, this is the time to make it happen. Learn more about planting bare root plants. 
  • Take inventory of garden supplies, seeds, fertilizers, and potting soil. Do you have what you need to plant seeds? Do you have the seeds you will be planting? Are your gloves still in good shape? Do you have enough fertilizer? 
  • Build structures to support growing plants. Are you planning to grow any plants that climb or need support? Like climbing peas or raspberries? You will need a trellis. Do you want to install irrigation this year? Do you want another raised bed? I have two raised beds and have decided it is time to add a third. I am creating a plan to build this bed before I need to plant seeds in this bed in March. DSC_0183
  • Prune perennial fruit trees/bushes and roses. Time to get everything cleaned up! 
  • Plant onion and leek seeds indoors. If you want to grow your own onion and leek transplants, now is the time to do it. These crops take a long time to grow so it is best to plant as transplants versus directly planting the seeds in the ground. 
  • Finish harvesting any crops that overwintered in your garden. It is time to finish off those leeks, carrots, and beets. Make room to plant in March! img_6704

While you are making preparations to be able to plant your seeds and transplants in March (specific to Seattle), you need to make a plan for what and where you will plant. 

Check out this post to create a plan for what crops you will grow and where they will be planted.

Time to start daydreaming about a yard full of flowers and edible food!DSC_0091