Most farmers know that planting cover crops is something that is fundamental and is ‘just done.’ However, most gardeners never plant a cover crop. So let’s talk about why, how, and the results you will see when you plant a cover crop. Why? Well…farmers plant them not only to rebuild the soil but for soil erosion. Some of them plant, maybe wheat, as a secondary crop. But their cover crop is not your cover crop. The gardener or small farmer needs to plant a legume each fall as a cover crop. Legumes fix nitrogen into the soil. So you get a big boost of ‘N’ from root nodules on the legumes. Red Clover is a perfect example of the legume you should plant. Now…in January or February you mow the clover low then disk the green matter in the soil. This gives you a huge boost in N called green manure. You see…you disk or plow it in; then you let the matter rot in the ground until you till the soil at planting. Now listen, when you produce green manure wonderful things take place in your soil! First it produces an increase in organic matter and then a very good thing takes place in your garden or small farm….you get a large increase in soil organisms; microorganisms that will call your garden home, and build your topsoil. What are these organisms and what do they do? There are many beneficial soil organisms like Saccharomyces (yeast), Lactobacillus (acid bacteria), Photosynthetic bacteria like Rhodopseudomona. I know this is a mouth full…but listen…when a soil is healthy, you will find a healthy level of soil organisms, as well as beneficial nematodes and fungi.
When we produce more ‘Green Manure’ the garden/small farm will hold more moisture in dry times and require less fertilizer. So…where do I start and how? First take a soil sample and have your County Agent or feed/seed store help you. Look at your PH! A very low PH….you will have to add lime/dolomite. Also look at the organic level. Now, the two biggest enemies to soil organisms, in my opinion, is over-fertilization with Ammonium Nitrate and, not reviving the soil with a fall Legume. Make no mistake, I’m not demonizing Ammonium Nitrate…I use it myself. But don’t over fertilize, and alternate your source of N like Calcium Nitrate. So, let’s say you start off with 10-10-10, and your N is Ammonium Nitrate…what you do is use Calcium Nitrate in the second application. Calcium Nitrate is our finest form of N and actually helps plants like Tomato’s ward off rot.
The wise Gardner will incorporate clean manure that has not had 2-4-D applied in the pasture. Using horse or cow manure is historically correct and a practice that even Washington and Jefferson practiced. It is a practice our forefathers swore by! Just test it - plant one tomato plant with manure, and another without it. The proof is right before your eyes!
I spent 30 years in the Agriculture Chemical and Fertilizer business in sales, management and as a Certified Crop Advisor to the American Farmer. I also served five years for a wildlife seed company as their National Sales Manager. As you see, I am not an organic farmer. I am a responsible farmer! I believe that raising your own food source with Non GMO varieties will be the key to future health for your family and in your garden. But the foundation….the key to raising your own food….is to take care of your soil and be a good steward of God’s good earth.
So what is Garden Gold?? It’s Legumes! And the results? A very healthy and productive soil that will provide your family and friends delicious food!