Cover crop for small home vegetable garden?

Asked September 8, 2017, 12:34 PM EDT

I have a ~13' x 21' vegetable garden with soil on the hard clay side; northern Balto County. After three or four successful years of planting/harvesting, my efforts were interrupted for a few seasons by life stuff and an ensuing unexpected and explosive canada thistle infestation while the garden lay fallow. It took me several years to address the thistle problem (organically!; I'm happy to share that experience with you), and I didn't plant at all while dealing with it. So, after several years, I was ready to plant again this season; and had an underperforming harvest. Thinking about a cover crop for soil improvement (loosening and nutrients) and weed suppression (READ: canada thistle!!). It's a small area. Trying to figure out the logistics of having to mow (doable with a push mower?) and/or till (less doable) inside. I'd greatly appreciate your thoughts, guidance and suggestions. Thanks!

Baltimore County Maryland fruits and vegetables cover crops vegetable gardening

1 Response

For a cover crop to loosen your soil and provide nutrients, we recommend using a combination of rye and crimson clover. Seed for these crops can be planted now, up until about October 1. The rye has a strong root system that can help loosen the soil. Crimson clover adds nitrogen. Mow or use a string trimmer to cut down these plants next spring before they develop seed heads -- around late April. You might need to mow/cut twice. Then cover the area with two inches of straw or put a weed barrier over it to kill the root systems before you plant your vegetables.

Here are two links to additional information about using cover crops:

You might also be interested in our video about growing and managing crimson clover.