cover crop for a home gardener

Asked February 27, 2013, 4:12 PM EST

What would be an easy cover crop for me? I don't till my garden any longer but would like to get the added benefit from a cover crop. I would prefer something I could possibly cover up with straw over the winter rather than something I would have to turn under. Thank you. Carol

Grundy County Iowa

1 Response

Hello Carol
You mentioned that you do not till your garden any more, although it might be a little tricky at the time of seeding cover crops. After seeding you might want to gently work the soil to get seeds in good contact with soil. Two of the most versatile cover crops that can be grown in Iowa are cereal rye and hairy vetch. Both of them germinate and establish in the fall, remain dormant in the winter but will grow vigorously in the spring. They would have to be terminated either by herbicide or tilling them under the soil in the spring. Given your situation this might not work since you do not want to till the soil. A suitable option for you would be to grow cover crops that would winter kill. These include oats, yellow mustard, oilseed radish, or buckwheat. These crops could be seeded in the fall and left to winterkill. The cover crop debris will prevent soil erosion and will rapidly disntegrate as temperatures increase in the spring. Oilseed radish sometimes would not winterkill if there is adequate snow cover on young plants. Keep a close eye on these crops and do not let them to seed, otherwise they could become weeds. A useful publication for you to learn more about cover crops would be 'Managing Cover Crops Profitably'. This publication is free to download and is published by USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.