This week I hand you over to Kath Irvine from Edible Backyard to share some goodness for the garden.
Wonderful Green Crops
A lot of what we do in the veggie patch is either time consuming, physically demanding or both, so I’m pleased to bring you something that’s neither! Sowing a green crop is such a simple job, but oh the benefits! If there is one thing you make time to do this autumn, make it this. A green crop will nurture and build your soil over winter, making it ready to grow abundant crops come spring.
Just check out all the work a green crop does:
- stimulates soil microbiology
- suppresses weeds
- gathers up nutrients from the soil, making them available for the next crop
- adds a heap of organic matter when it’s cut down
- captures and retains nutrients by preventing leaching and runoff
- increases water infiltration and reduces ponding
- improves drainage
- lupins and grains open up heavy clay soils and stabilise light sandy ones
I always have a green crop on the go. Small space gardeners need to be creative, but there’s always a bit of room somewhere! Sow some beneath tall crops like corn or tomatoes giving the food crop a month’s head start; on the south side of ground-cover crops like pumpkins or sprinkled among companion flowers.
Good things take time, and the holy grail that is healthy soil is no exception. There are no overnight miracles – the benefits build over time. With that in mind try to incorporate green crops as often as you can by sowing them immediately after you empty a bed out. This means having a stash of seed in your cupboard, ready to sprinkle as soon as anything gets harvested.
Sow your seed and either work it in with your fingers or chop it in lightly with a nail rake. Press down on top soil for good seed/ soil contact. Sprinkle mulch on and cover with birdnet if need be.
As your crop starts to flower (or in the case of grains develops its grain head) cut it down using loppers or secateurs, or slash it down using a sickle or weed eater. Leave the roots behind to continue on the good work of stabilising and aerating, providing humus and attracting biology. I keep it simple and instead of digging the crop in, use it as mulch for the following crop.
Cold weather green crops you can sow now are:
A great way to replenish spent soil and improve soil structure. Use the nitrogen they fix wisely by growing before or after heavy feeding crops (eg pumpkins, corn, tomatoes). Don’t grow before or after peas or beans.
- Lupins: Sow in autumn or spring. To fix nitrogen and accumulate phosphorus.
- Peas: Sow autumn to spring. Watch they don’t get wet feet or they may rot.
- Broad beans: Sow in autumn or spring. Very nutritious for your soil. They handle frost and some wet feet.
- Vetch: Sow in autumn. Great for providing lots of nitrogen and organic matter. Vetch is very vigorous so beats out the weeds, and is very hardy.
Grow these when you need to cleanse your soil after disease. Don’t grow before or after brassica crops.
- Mustard or Kale: Sow year round. They grow very quickly and not very tall so are a useful crop for filling gaps. Add to your salads, mustard is deliciously spicy! Use as a decoy crop for shield beetles when your tomatoes and beans are in full production. Cut down as it starts to flower, although I always leave a little bit standing to feed the beneficial insects.
- Barley: Sow in autumn. Will cope with some dry. Has an extensive root system.
- Oats: Sow in autumn or spring. Useful for its tolerance of poor soils and cold temperatures. Fast grower with a beneficial deep root system. Excellent for weed suppression, quick growth and stabilising soil. Good nematode cleanser.
- Wheat: Sow in autumn or spring. Its big root system is a great soil improver. Good to use before the chook tractor or in the chook runs.
Feel free to mix it up – legumes and grains work really well together.
And check out more Autumn garden tips at Kath’s Edible Backyard.