Why autumn cover crops are so incredibly useful

Do my garden beds need cover crops?

Yes, absolutely. Any garden bed will benefit from a cover crop.

But I don't have that much room, why should I do it?

Because cover cropping is a great way of building up fertility in your garden beds, meaning your vegetables are going to be bigger, better, stronger.

Cover crops may just be one of the best tools for growing vegetables. Planting cover crops now will protect your soil throughout winter and will give you better vegetables next summer. Plants really do grow themselves when there is good soil.

Why cover crops? 

Builds healthy soil for healthy plants

By building organic matter in your vege bed, you are going to have more nutrition, better water retention and therefore, better vegetables. Cover crops will help build the best soil for growing. They are great for adding bulk to sandy soils and some varieties will help break up heavy clay soils.

Cover crops are very giving. Some leguminous cover crops like broad beans and lupins will grab nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available in the soil for your other plants to use. Other crops such as buckwheat or alfalfa will sequester minerals from the soil ready for your vegetables. The growing roots of the cover crops will aerate your soil. And some crops will also clean up disease and keep pests at bay.

Reduces heavy lifting and expense

If you're on a small section bringing in extra components from offsite to feed your garden is hard work. Whether it's a load of extra soil, compost or manure and carbon material to make your own, it's hard work. Planting cover crops can reduce the workload, time and transport costs. Because you are doing it onsite. All you need to bring in is seed. It's an inexpensive option that can be delivered by post.

And when your crops have grown, all the while providing the following benefits, then you have all the material you need to build healthy soil right there. Johnny on the spot.

Protects your soil

In most of New Zealand we are blessed in being able to grow food all year round. But that doesn't necessarily mean we should. After your garden has slogged all spring, summer, autumn maybe it deserves a bit of a break? How would it feel being tucked up under a nice fluffy, warm duvet of green stuff so you could take a long gnap and rebuild your strength? Magic, amiright?

Cover cropping will reduce nutrient run-off and protect all the organisms in your soil while they go about the work of repairing your beds and getting it ready for the growing season to come.

They're attractive

Put off by beds of weeds? Well, cover crops will stop weeds from taking over. Cover crops are far more attractive. And if you're feeling creative try 'painting' your garden beds by using different varieties- the fluffy greenish, gray phacelia next to straight, dark green grains.

 

How to cover crop

Prepare your bed

  1. Clear the space of last season's crops and weeds and give the area a rake over. If you've just cut up the lawn to start a vege bed apply a thin layer of compost before you sow your seed crop.
  2. Simply spread the seed across the surface of your garden bed. LovePlantLife cover crops are measured so one small bag is enough to cover 1 square metre.
  3. Give the area a light rake and then gently tamp it down.
  4. Give your seeds a water each day for the next three days. If they don't stay moist they don't grow.

You then have a choice

  • For a fast and efficient boost to your soil structure and fertility - cut it down at the base when it reaches 20-30cm. Leave it right where it lays for a week and then fork it into the bed. Leave it over winter and watch that beautiful green blanket grow. Put your feet up and follow the above instructions in time for spring. 
  • Leave it over winter and watch that beautiful green blanket grow. Put your feet up and follow the above instructions in time for spring.

 

Cover crops for autumn

Broadbeans 

Accumulate large amounts of nitrogen in the soil and produce a lot of organic matter. They are especially excellent planted before tomatoes. The roots breakup clay and compacted soils. And they’ll produce some great food for you in spring.

Oats, Wheat, Barley

Are great for any type of soil, but especially useful for building up sandy soils. Provides lots of organic matter and can be used for mulch

Lupins and mustard

Lupins fix nitrogen in the soil & mustard keeps it there. This mix will stop weeds from growing and inhibits infestations of aphids. Don't plant where you have or want to have grown brassicas, because you want to rotate your crops.

Phacelia

A beautiful cover crop in leaf or flower stage that produces a lot of biomass. Attracts the natural predators of aphids and psyllids. Plant where you want to put your potatoes in spring.