Adding a few simple cover crops to your outdoor grow can benefit your plants in so many ways. Cover Crops are known to:
- Slow soil erosion,
- Improve the health of your soil
- Enhance your plants’ water availability
- Control weeds and pests
- Increase root production
- Increase your overall yield
How? By sewing a cover crop into the soil of your main crop. Here, we’ll explain how cover crops will help the quality of your indoor and outdoor soil-based plants.
Why plant cover crops?
Various plants will do various things for your crops, but the thing all grows with cover crops have in common is that they create a pretty smothered crop. When your garden is compact with main crops and cover crops, weeds often lose the battle of water absorption, which greatly reduces the number of weeds in your grow.
Some cover crops help cut down on fertilizer costs, as they will give your soil a boost of nitrogen by scavenging and mining soil nutrients. Other plants speed infiltration of extra surface water, which will enhance nutrient cycles.
From warding off pests to helping your plants mine for nutrients, cover crops will help improve the quality of your plants and your harvest.
But in order for cover crops to help you’ll need to figure out what kind of deficiencies your plants could be going through. Then you’ll want to find the right crop for the job
What cover crops should I plant?
You can tell a lot about your plants by the way they look, so before you go sewing seeds into your crop, first identify what your plants need.
When your plants are looking a little yellow, chances are they need some extra nitrogen. If that’s the case, grains like rye and wheat will help in good root growth because they are great at scavenging for nitrogen through your soil.
Sod crops are also good for nutrient scavenging, and mustard can release biotoxic chemicals when they break down, which can reduce disease and even loosen compacted soil.
If your plants are starting to brown and break apart, then your plants aren’t receiving the nutrients they need. This is often because outside your plants are fighting against weeds for nutrients. Not only will legumes reduce and prevent soil erosion, but they’ll suppress weeds so your crops can get everything they need to survive and thrive. Legumes that work best are red clover, white clovers, field peas, and cowpeas (which can also boost your nitrogen availability, too).
A great feature of cover crops is that no matter their use once they die they’ll break down and add nutrients to your soil.
Utilizing your cover crop
Now that you know what kind of cover crops to plant, it’s time to see when you need to plant them because while cover crops are helpful in suppressing weeds you don’t want them dying before they can do so:
- Start by determining the harvest time of your main crop.
- Then find out how long it takes for your cover crop to grow and begin to die.
- Based on these calculations you’ll want to plant your cover crop just in time so they’re growing with your plants and not against them.
For example, if you use rye you should plant it early enough in the fall so that they don’t freeze in the winter (usually done for early-ripening plants). However, cloves might need to be sewn a season or two ahead to ensure it grows nice and thick to help your longer-ripening plants.
Remember that when you’re using cover crops it’s important to use plants that will survive seasonal conditions. Again, you don’t want to plant rye in the dead of winter because it naturally grows well in the spring and summer. At the same time, plants like cloves can be planted at nearly any time of year because of their resilience.
So what happens to cover crops once I harvest?
Remember that after you’ve harvested your cash crop your cover crop will still probably grow. These plants will provide your soil and future crops the same benefits your first cover crop harvest did, but how they get those nutrients can be all the difference when you’re working with a time limit.
The all natural way of making “green manure” is to simply let your crop die off and decompose back into the earth. However, letting a crop naturally breakdown can take a long time. Think about how long straw takes to break down in a field. It eventually will break down, but it’s going to take a while, and if you need to harvest fast you may not have the time to let Mother Nature do her work in your garden.
If this is the case your best option is to chop those cover crops and compost them.
Doing this may leave a few nutrients behind (some things can only be released during the gradual breakdown of plant material), but this will make a majority of the nutrients in the cover crops available for use in your next grow