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 them....as 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 http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/01aglibwelcome.html
* Online Resources, Videos, Libraries for Permaculturists/Edible Forest Gardeners https://transitionwhatcom.ning.com/group/organic/forum/topics/online-resources-videos
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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