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Cover Crops-Green Manures & Soil Restoration

With Pleasure I Walk through our small garden, tossing cover crops seeds under the still standing fall plants, knowing the seeds when sprouted will protect the soil from erosion, increase soil tilth, increase bio-mass, and result in some food for both the birds & our family.
My Favorite Autumn Cover Crops for Sowing are Crimson Clover, Fava Beans, & Tyfon Greens.

I often spread a thin layer of straw (not seedy hay), onto any bare soil. Be careful not to bring in hay that can contain seeds from thistles & grasses that can sprout where you don't want even straw can have a few unwanted seeds! I have friends who use the straw to protect & overwinter their tender plants too.

Nature's system protects the soil & does not leave it bare to the rains...either weeds sprout to protect bare soil, or in the forest & meadow, there is always something either growing above the soil, or mulch laying on top protecting from the rains effects of compaction & erosion..

Crimson Clover ( Tryifolium incarnatum)- its easy to turn under when its young & tender in the spring, or you can allow it to mature to its bright crimson flowers for the beauty & bio-mass, but that can use up precious food-growing space in a small garden. Sometimes our local farmer coop on Meridian carries the seed, if they don't be sure to request they carry more for fall sowing. I also order the seed from Territorial, along with the other seeds I've mentioned.

Fava Beans (vicia faba) – choose winter hardy types if you sow before February....Along with the smaller seeded cover crop fava's, I also plant a large seeded more edible variety along a fence that grows into tasty fat inner green bean-seeds in spring for steaming or stir fry...yummy! Remember to resist harvesting the earliest edible beans, and mark them for your seed-saving stash.

Tyfon Greens (Brassica napa x) – Edible green leaves when they first spout, and later developing a tough turnip like edible root...These plants are survivors in my garden from winter through hot summers....Some get turned under, some pulled for the compost, and some I leave on the path edges as a mini living fence boundary.

My favorite summer cover crop is buckwheat (Cavopyrum esculentumn) – Sometimes I will actually sow it in late summer, and even though it dies back in the winter, it covers & protects the soil. In the spring, when its pulled off the soil, there's a great look seeding bed ready from spring crops. The local farmers coop usually has a good supply of this grain cover crop.


Spring & Summer planting May 2011 update:

More cover crops to consider for enhancing your soil tilth & increasing pollinator nourishment for spring & early summer planting, are:

seeds from the grain family- Oats, Wheat, Rye, Triticale;

seeds from the nitrogen-fixing legume family- Field Peas, Edible Peas, Vetch, Medic mix ( Medicago sp & Trifolium sp); and

Insectory seeds like Sunflower, Bee's Friend (Phacelia, tanacetifolia), and other annual heirloom seed that brings nutrients up from deep in the soil or creates a large amount of bio-mass. 

Also consider perennial plants that you can harvest  each year without replanting or cultivating (ie. your scythed lawn of grass/broad-leaf-plants letting it grow tall before scything).


Please add your favorite crops that I've not mentioned.

Resource Books for more info:
"The Soul of Soil – A Guide to Ecological Soil management “ - Grace Gershuny & Joseph Smillie
"Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades" – Steve Solomon
"Food Not Lawns – How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden & Your Neighborhood into a Community” - H.C.Flores
"New Organic Grower - A Masters Manual of Tools & Techniques for the Home & Market Gardener" - Eliot Coleman

'Cover Crop Gardening-Soil Enrichment with Green Manures' – Garden Way Booklet A-5 ISBN 0-88266-179 5

'Grow Your Compost Materials at Home' – John Jeavons – Ecology Action Mini-Series #10

'Green Manuring- Principles & Practice' – Otto Schmid & Ruedi Klay – Woods End Agricltureal Instititue pub.#2

'Green Manures – A Mini-Manual' – Johney's Selected Seeds Research Department

 * Online Library of out-of print books on Soil & Health compiled by Steve Solomon

* Online Resources, Videos, Libraries for Permaculturists/Edible Forest Gardeners

*                       *                       *                             *                         *                             *
Garden Caretakers Location: Cascadia Bioregion within the NE Pacific Ocean Ring of Fire –
Salish Sea watershed (far downstream & west of Mt. Baker)
Climate: Pacific Maritime Elevation: 300' Latitude: 48-49 degrees
Biogeographical Province: Nearctic-realm: Sierra-Cascade – Temperate Needle-leaf Forest

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Comment by Heather K on May 24, 2011 at 10:35am

Spring time planting of cover crops in our gardens & farms: Consider planting green manure crops to enhance your soil tilth & increase insectory pollinator nourishment-

Seeds from the grain family- Oats, Wheat, Rye, Triticale;

Seeds from the nitrogen-fixing legume family- Field Peas, Edible Peas, Vetch, Medic mix ( Medicago sp & Trifolium sp); and

Insectory seeds - Sunflower, Mustard, Bee's Friend (Phacelia, tanacetifolia), and other annual heirloom seeds that brings nutrients up from deep in the soil or creates a large amount of bio-mass.

Also consider perennial seeds that you can harvest each year without replanting or cultivating (ie. a scythed lawn or meadow of grass/clover/broad-leaf-plants letting it grow tall before scything).


Please add your favorites crops that I've not mentioned. (More recommended books/links in text).

Thanks Walter & Celt & all for what you've contributed here last fall!

Comment by Celt M. Schira on October 8, 2010 at 6:07pm
Small seeded favas, rye, winter wheat, oats and vetches can all go in now and up until the weather gets cold. It's more a function of night temperatures than a particular date. As long as the nights are only in the mid-40's and the days warm up, you should still get germination and a little growth.
Comment by Charles Kelm on October 8, 2010 at 3:55pm
Well, I have fava, rye and buckwheat cover seed now. I guess rye is the only one worth sowing at this late date.
Comment by Heather K on October 8, 2010 at 3:21pm
Buckwheat likes it warmer and is gets killed by frost.
(which can be good If you plant it early enough to get it to almost flower and then when the frost knocks it down you can have a seed bed all mulched and ready for early spring planting by just pulling aside the spring mulch of buckwheat.....but not so good for late fall planting).

Rye grain is less expensive per pound than fava beans, and can be easy to toss out on bare soil & covered with straw even when 'on the run'.
(New growers note, there is a major difference between rye grain and "rye grass"---
we've been talking about rye grain, which is a type of grass grown both for its edible seed and for its soil building uses as a cover crop to increase soil carbon levels. So when you go to the farmers coop to get seeds, make sure you bring home what you want) (please correct me Walter if I'm off on this).

Some varieties of fava beans can also be more finicky about sprouting and surviving through an extra cold winter.
I tend to want my fava beans to produce seed to both eat fresh & dry to save, whereas with rye cover crop in a small garden, I don't mind if it gets cut for mulch or compost or tilled under before it sets seed. Each land & circumstance is different in its needs.
The guidelines on what makes sense differ for small plots, large fields, and also differ on the time/resources of each site.
Hope this is helpful Permi.

When Walter has time he may share his knowledge on growing on larger field areas, and possibly Celt will share her knowledge on smaller areas.

I was away during the earlier fava bean posts, and thank Walter for sharing your wisdom.
Comment by Charles Kelm on October 8, 2010 at 2:45pm
How about buckwheat and fava cover too?
Comment by Heather K on October 8, 2010 at 2:36pm
Rye grain cover crop - Recommendations for the very latest fall dates to plant rye are requested for our maritime seaside & western foothill soil? (What do you think Walter or Celt?)
I haven't kept records but I may have experienced having rye germinate & growing at least 2" as late is mid Nov in a warm year.
For small gardens its fine to give a toss of rye when the fall garden is ready, but for larger acreage it is too expensive to plant pounds of rye that might not germinate from a late planting.
I'd like to find a Extension Service website that list that latest dates to plant to at least get 2" growth of rye grain to at least protect the bare soil from erosion over the winter rains.

In the watersheds that drain into Lake Whatcom (and our urban B'ham neighbors drinking water source), there is a rule of no dirt moving after start of autumn rainy season of Oct 1st......which I witness some folks don't follow, especially those starting a new garden in the fall or terracing.
Comment by Charles Kelm on September 12, 2010 at 3:26pm
Thanks for the info. I didn't know that there were different kinds of fava beans based on time of hear. I guess mine won't do well, so I guess I will pull them. I spelled the other ones wrong. They are called Urucupina and are sold by Greenheart Gardens on Lopez Island. The packet says "A very rare and tasty variety with beautiful psychedelic seeds." Each seed was 40 cents (10 seeds for $4.00). The look wonderful growing, but I guess I can't expect them to mature. I guess I will try to buy another packet and try again in springtime.
Comment by Charles Kelm on September 10, 2010 at 11:32pm
Hey Heather. I bought 3 different types of edible fava beans. I bought Uracapina beans at the co-op which are from a local seed company. I also bought Windsor and Aquadulce from I haven't planted the Aquadulce yet, but I hope to.
I bought a pound of fava cover crop beans yesterday from Houl's Feed and Seed on Railroad for $1.50 a pound. The guy said that some of his customers eat the beans that grow from them. I am not sure I have ever even eaten fava beans, but I am excited about my harvest, and saving some of the seeds.
Comment by Heather K on September 10, 2010 at 11:10pm
The first fava beans I obtained was through Territorial Seed Company. (I have 3 varieties, one field fava bean and the other two edible). I save the earlies beans to replant and to share at our annual local seed swaps. I'll continue to both save, share, and purchase occasionally from professional seed-growers.
Thanks Permi for your comment.
Comment by Charles Kelm on September 4, 2010 at 1:59am
Great post. Thank you. Where do you buy your fava beans which you use as a cover crop?

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