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Cover Crops for the Home Garden

By Jared Gulliford, Earth First Farm

Recently, I have found myself experimenting with various cover crops and decomposition techniques in my ½ acre market garden.

Cover crops, also called green manure crops, protect the soil over the harsh winter, as well as add much needed nitrogen and/or organic matter.

A main obstacle to cover crops for the home gardener is proper decomposition. The abundance of organic matter can often hinder more than help if not broken down correctly, withholding nitrogen from crops and greatly affecting yield.

Without a flail mower, I had previously thought that cover crops did not have a place in an intensive garden. Last winter, I grew separate plots of a rye, crimson clover, and winter peas.

With spring rapidly approaching and a greenhouse full of seedlings, I grew nervous looking out on the field of lush growth, the rye plot (slated for my summer tomatoes and peppers) was nearly 6 feet tall.

However, in just two weeks I had fully decomposed the rye and had all my peppers and tomatoes planted on schedule.

Rapid Decomposing of Rye Cover Crop

Crossing my fingers, I mowed the cover crops with a weedeater and covered them with a 6 mil silage tarp. Peeling back the tarps two weeks later, revealed clean beds ready to be worked and amended!

The rye acted like mulch between the rows and the tarp knocked back the rye root system enough to be broad forked and tilled. Ideally, with proper equipment (more powerful tiller and a flail mower) the beds would have been tilled and then tarped, letting the weed seeds germinate for a stale seed bed at the end of two weeks.

Alas, as I am only in my second season and began with a very limited budget, I do not yet have the luxury of such equipment, but hope to upgrade in the future. However, with basic equipment: a small tiller, weedeater, and silage tarps, even the home gardener can afford the joys and benefits of cover crops.

Hoophouse Greenhouse

Jared shares on his Earth First Farm Facebook Page how he built a hoop house for $500 using old materials.

“Hoophouse number two (32 ft) seems to be snow worthy. I divided a used 14 x 96 ft hoophouse into two structures. Using rusty hoops and used plastic, it cost $500 dollars.”

Hoophouse greenhouse, ~32’x14′ – Image by Jared Guilford of Earth First Farm
Hoophouse greenhouse -Image by Jared Guilford of Earth First Farm

Hoophouse greenhouse kits are a popular seller amongst the GardensAll audience. If you don’t have access to used materials as Jared did, you might try a hoop house kit. This one is almost the size of Jared’s.

To tune into an interview with Jared on how he’s transformed lawn into a market garden, you can catch that article and video interview here.

Here’s a list of Amazon’s Best Seller Greenhouse Kits.

Happy Planting!


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