While it may be tempting to simply clear out your veggie patch for the winter and leave your garden beds to their own devices, the savvy Powell River gardener knows to use cover crops during the down season. By growing a cover crop during your vegetable garden’s off-season, you’re essentially growing a living mulch that will provide your soil and garden with tremendous benefits in the next growing season. Read on to learn more!
What Are Cover Crops?
Cover crops are an incredible, eco-friendly way to rejuvenate your vegetable garden soil in between planting. Just like us, the soil in our gardens needs a chance to rest and recharge. Cover crops give them this chance by protecting the soil and holding the place of your crops until you’re ready to plant again. Sow the seeds of cover crops thickly to prevent weeds from sprouting, and turn the dead plants back into the soil before planting warm-season crops. We also recommend moving or cutting back any flowering cover crops to prevent self-seeding.
Why Do I Need Cover Crops in My Powell River Garden?
Some of the biggest benefits of cover crops include:
- Preventing soil erosion
- Adding natural compost to the soil
- Improving your soil’s nutrient content
- Attracting helpful pollinators
- Boosting next year’s crops
- Reducing the chances of soil-borne disease
What Are The Best Cover Crops for A Vegetable Garden?
Here are some of the best cover crops to plant in your Powell River vegetable garden and why we love them!
There aren’t many cover crops that can grow as fast as buckwheat, making it a must-have in the vegetable garden. Buckwheat seeds germinate in as little as 3-5 days, meaning you’ll have a dense canopy of cover in no time that will smother those warm-season weeds before they start. Buckwheat also does an excellent job of attracting important pollinators with its beautiful blooms, and–because it decomposes quickly–its nutrients will rapidly return to the soil.
A superstar in the cover crop world, clover has an incredible ability to “fix” nitrogen by absorbing it from the air and transforming it into a usable form. Clover is also a superior ground cover that prevents weed growth and soil erosion and attracts a host of helpful pollinators and insects. Finally, as clover eventually dies and is returned to the soil, it becomes a valuable source of nutrients for your garden bed, earning it a reputation as a “green manure.”
Much like buckwheat, lacy phacelia is a super pollinator that is sure to set your Powell River vegetable garden abuzz with its superior nectar production. A fast-growing annual wildflower and excellent nitrogen scavenger, this plant produces beautiful, almost fern-like foliage with gorgeous blue flowers that keep weeds from popping up wherever it’s planted. It also prevents soil erosion and builds solid soil structure for future vegetable planting.
This cool-season cereal grain is often used as a cover crop to help scavenge nutrients from the soil, prevent soil erosion, and reclaim overworked and eroded garden soil. Barley is also very successful as a weed suppressor and uses less water than other cover crops in a vegetable garden.
If you’re after a free fertilizer for your B.C garden, fava beans are the way to go. These yummy legumes fix nitrogen by putting more of it in the soil than they take out, and their abundant flowers attract helpful pollinators to your vegetable garden, too! Plant fava beans in the fall to enrich your veggie patch for next spring’s planting season.
Also known as winter rye or cereal rye, is beneficial for vegetable ground cover for several reasons. One of the main benefits is that it helps control erosion. Its extensive root system holds the soil in place, reducing the impact of wind and water erosion. Another advantage of using fall rye as ground cover is its ability to suppress weeds. It germinates quickly and forms a dense mat of foliage that can outcompete weeds for sunlight, nutrients, and space.
We hope we’ve piqued your interest in using cover crops for your Powell River vegetable garden, and we encourage you to do more research on the many benefits these cover crops have to offer. If you’d like to learn more about how to incorporate this ancient gardening practice into your own garden, pop by Mother Nature in Powell River, BC, and chat with us today!