When gardening, it can be difficult to keep the soil healthy enough for plants to grow properly. Some of the nutrients that are desperately needed for plants to grow include nitrogen, calcium, manganese, and carbon. While fertilizer and compost are both options to help return the life back into your little slice of earth, you may want to think about another method.
Rotate Your Crops
Have you ever considered planting nutrient-giving plants between the nutrient-draining ones? One basic way to ensure that the land isn't overworked is by rotating your crops. With this process, you can replenish the nutrients plants desperately need.
The idea is simple. Avoid planting the same crop in the same area during back to back seasons. For example, if you plant cucumbers in the spring, choose something else to go in that area in the fall, like squash. If you plant the same crop back to back, the second crop will not do as well because the nutrients have not yet been replenished. The crop rotation technique is not only for large-scale farming, but can also help home gardeners as well.
Give the Soil a Vacation
Another tip in regards to rotating crops is to let the soil rest between seasons. Typically there is about a month or two in the summer where you should wait to plant anything. In the winter, you should also wait a while before planting spring crops. During these breaks, it may be too hot or too cold for your plants to thrive. This time-off will give the soil an opportunity to regenerate on its own.
Grow Cover Crops
Sometimes the soil needs more than a break. For such an issue, grow some cover crops in the space. These plants add organic matter to the soil and make it extra healthy for the next season of crops while also offering a variety of benefits depending on which you choose. Cover crops can reduce erosion of your soil and keep weeds at a minimum. Some cover crops also serve as disease defense and a natural pesticide. Some of the most popular cover crop types include legumes, grasses, and mustard.
Cover Crop Varieties
Legumes include many types of beans, peas, and clovers. They are good for replacing the nitrogen that was lost from the last growing season. Legumes that are especially good for renourishing purposes are alfalfa, fava beans, and lupin.
Grasses help to break up tough ground with their roots. Keeping the soil workable is important so that the land is not so hard to till before the next season. Grasses that work well as cover crops include sorghum-sudangrass, rye grass, wheat, barley, and oats.
Mustard has a plethora of benefits. Mustard plants contain a chemical that repels many types of insects. It's often successful at preventing soil-borne pests from invading your piece of land. It also can keep your crops from inheriting some diseases and even weeds.
How to Plant Cover Crops
You should plan to plant a cover crop at least four weeks before the first frost. Those four weeks will give the cover crops the time they need to become established and not die off in the frigid temperatures.
When it is time to plant seasonal crops again, you will need to know what to do with the cover crop. You can either till the cover crop into the soil or cut it down as mulch. Both of these options will increase the fertility of the soil. The best time to till the cover crop is when it has reached its peak growth, called flowering. This will look different for different cover crops. The tilling process needs to be done 2-3 weeks before planting your next set of fruits or vegetables.
By simply incorporating crop rotation and cover crops into your yearly gardening routine, your garden will thrive and thank you for giving it the fuel it needs to perform at its best.