A plot of ground left idle for six weeks or more begins to lose its rich soil value. The elements, snow, wind, and rain, filter out the valuable nutrients that benefit plants. A sure-fire way to prevent this loss is to keep the soil healthy by using green manure, a method of planting a crop that benefits the soil.
The practice of implementing green manure to benefit gardens and crop fields can be traced back to the fallow cycle in crop rotation. It was discovered that leaving the ground idle did not necessarily improve the soil and the wind swept the top soil away causing erosion. Planting a cover crop and then digging it under offers many advantages. The obvious benefit of green manure is that it keeps soil erosion at bay.
Besides holding the top soil, the cover crop or green manure holds water and aerates the soil giving the soil a much needed texture. Cover crops suppresses weeds which if allowed to self-sow compete with wanted crops for valuable nutrients in the soil. As forage for pollinating insects, green manure that flowers assists in the continued existence of the always-important bee population. Legumes offer an added advantage. Crops like crimson clover and alfalfa have the ability to absorb nitrogen from the air and change it into a plant food that benefits all the plants around it. With so many advantages there's no reason not to use green manure.
Before you begin planting decide which cover plant you'll need. Cover crops used in the spring and summer must be fast growing and not intended for long use. They're mostly used to fill in an area for a short time. Less hardy, the plants listed for spring and early summer covers cannot abide frost. The following is a list of covers that can be planted in the spring and early summer:
- Fenugreek (legume)
- Crimson Clover (legume)
- Mustard (legume)
- Bitter Lupin
Remember, legumes have the added benefit of absorbing the nitrogen from the air and converting it into plant food.
Planting in late summer and fall require growing a plant that can withstand the rigors of winter. Winter wheat, planted in autumn, serves the purpose of covering the ground to keep soil from eroding as well as being a cash crop. You can utilize the same idea in the garden by sowing the following plants in late summer or autumn.
- Alfalfa (legume)
- Red Clover (legume)
- Winter Rye
- Alsike clover (legume)
Start by working your soil, readying it for planting. Sow the seeds and water to give them a good start. As the plants begin grow, weed the garden and continue watering as needed. Before the cover begins flowering or if you're in need of the area, cut the crop down and work it into the ground. It's best to leave the newly worked area idle for about two weeks. This time of rest allows the plant material to begin decomposing and releasing the much desired nutrients into the ground. As soon as the rest period is up, begin planting your favorite vegetables.
An organic garden relies on the goodness of nature and a little help from the gardener to sustain it and keep it in tip-top condition. Using natural methods of fertilizing and building the soil keeps the garden in balance. Without rich life giving soil a garden becomes a hard barren womb where little grows successfully. Standing by and watching soil fly away with the winds seems a shame. Knowing that your garden holds water and is aerated offers you a sigh of relief that you’re hard efforts at growing organic vegetables and fruits will be amply rewarded. Green manure utilizes plants to help plants and in essence helps the gardener.
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