The Widest Range Of Cover Crops - Suitable For Raised Garden Beds
Cover crops offer hope for improving the health of the soil and the health of the entire garden ecosystem! Overhead crops are particularly useful. Loft beds lose soil structure and become compact over time. Over time, they also lose nutrients without the need for any supplements such as additives, organic matter such as composting or using fertilizers, etc. But we have a better option, and that's covering crops! There are many types of cover crops used in overhead beds, from legumes with nitrogen-fixing nodules to flowering cover crops such as alfalfa, which attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to your raised garden bed.
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The benefits of growing mulch crops include, but are not limited to, the following: providing a live mulch type, increasing soil health, acting as a weed inhibitor, improving soil structure, and improving soil decomposition and aeration. Many different plants can be used as cover crops, but the best cover crops will be fast-growing plants. Look for crops that grow quickly in the first few weeks, such as crimson clovers or legumes, and are easily terminated. This will allow you to quickly improve the garden soil and then continue growing vegetables and/or flowers on a raised bed.
This may seem like extra work, but since these crops grow so fast, and in general, you won't use them as food (although some are also edible!). ), they don't require a lot of extra care. Covering crop seeds does not require painstaking spacing. Especially if you haven't planted the plant to full maturity, then just spread a layer of seeds evenly on the soil, rake it gently, or sprinkle some soil on it, and you're done planting mulch crops on an elevated bed! Keep well watered and moist until they germinate, then water at least once a week or more frequently during drying. Some winter cover crops require little to no water. They will get all the water they need from the winter snowfall.
There are many different types of cover crops to choose from, but don't be afraid! You don't need to choose just one. Several seed companies sell cover crop seed blends that contain a mixture of 8-9 species of plants, which we will discuss here so that you can get various benefits.
Why grow cover crops?
As mentioned above, there are many reasons to grow cover crops on elevated beds. In addition to overall soil improvement, the water retention of the overhead bed is also improved, the organic content of the soil is improved by increasing the biomass above and below ground, compaction is reduced, and earthworms and other beneficial insects are attracted and given habitat to stay in your garden. Most interestingly, some cover crops are expert inhibitors of weeds because they are allelopathic. Allelopathic plants can prevent weed seeds from germinating by releasing biochemicals (also known as allelopathic chemicals).
Growing a cover crop is a form of crop rotation that allows the cover crop to replace what you've been planting and rotating before going back to growing those vegetables. Not only that, but you can also reduce the risk of erosion or nutrient loss in bare soil, which can happen when you haven't planted something to cover it up. Growing fast-growing crops is a lifesaver in many ways!
Types of overhead cover crops
Below we will discuss the most common types of cover crops and why they are good for your loft bed. There are cold season cover crops, prefer to be planted in early spring, early autumn cover crops, winter cover crops, and even perennial cover crops. The best cover crops will add a lot of organic matter to your raised bed soil, reducing soil erosion and soil compaction. Most cover crops provide dense mulch, which helps with weed control. There are also edible crops that can be used in this way. They can be harvested in the immature stage or grown to maturity.
There are four main types of cover crops to choose from: grasses, legumes, brassica and broad-leaved plants. In general, unless otherwise stated, you will be planting these cover crops 4 weeks before the first frost date in autumn. They will remain in the soil in the winter to protect it from the elements. When you grow cover crops, they can be used year-round between growing vegetables or with them to help crowd out and prevent weeds.
Buckwheat is the fastest-growing cover crop because it grows so fast that it can grow almost at any point in the growing season. It is also an example of a cover crop that induces the aforementioned allelopathic effects, making it an excellent choice for your loft bed if weed suppression is your goal. It is edible, you can grow it a little green, or let it ripen, and you can harvest the seeds used to make flour. However, it is important to note that usually cover crops do not grow to maturity because then they will eventually get nutrients from the soil to mature, rather than adding nutrients to the soil. Buckwheat is usually grown in late summer or as a cover crop in the fall. It is very sensitive to frost and dies after frost. You can leave frozen-killed buckwheat in place to benefit from it as a living covering.
Alfalfa is a perennial cover crop of the Pea family and is known to fix nitrogen into the soil. It is best to plant it after the crop has depleted nitrogen from the soil, such as corn. It is often grown as feed for farm animals because it contains a lot of protein. It will also produce stunning purple/blue flowers, which will also provide much-needed food for pollinators. This mulch crop is very easy to cut and drop and is used in the same way as straw mulch. Cut the leaves back to the soil level and simply drop the green vegetables onto the soil. Let them dry out and break down in winter. Then spring comes, grow your next crop as usual.
Where to start! There are many, many varieties of clover, not just the common 4-leaf variety! Most of them can be used as cover crops for loft beds. Some popular types include white clover, red clover, and crimson clover. Clover is associated with other legumes, such as peas, legumes, and peanuts. Like other plants in the legume family, they hold nitrogen into the soil through nodules that grow along the roots. Clover establishes itself in early spring and has a diffusion growth habit, which makes it an excellent weed inhibitor. It will also bloom for bees and beneficial insects – especially the crimson clover, as it is often one of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring crops.
If you want to add a lot of biomass and organic matter to your soil, then rye is the place for you. The most common grain, rye, such as winter rye, is used as a cover crop. Winter cover crops like winter rye have fibrous roots that, when allowed to decompose in situ, add a lot of biomass under the soil. It doesn't necessarily die on its own in the winter, as it can be very frost-resistant. Therefore, you may need to kill it in order to turn it into a hearty covering. Winter rye can be terminated by mowing the lawn, using methods of chopping and dropping, or even suffocating it with a tarp.
Oats are another member of the grass family and, like rye, can be grown both in winter and spring. This is a great option for home gardeners who live in temperate climates with short growing seasons. Oats can be sown in the fall, planted in the winter, or sown in the spring and grown until late summer.
Hairy wild peas, such as rye and oats, can survive the winter in most areas and are best used as mulch. This is an excellent option for improving sandy soils. It will help increase moisture retention and prevent further soil erosion. This winter cover crop is also a legume that holds nitrogen in the soil. The furry violet also produces beautiful little purple flowers. Vetch also has a spreading growing habit that makes it a good ground cover. It can be considered invasive because of how fast it travels along the ground, but it's easy to control and usually doesn't affect healthy native plants.
Sorghum or sultan's grass is an excellent winter mulch that protects your soil from harsh elements or weeds. It has a broad root system that adds a lot of organic matter to the soil. Sorghum is sown in mid-autumn and either cut down after a few weeks of growth or let the winter frost cause its death.
There are many varieties of millet, but the most common is that pearl millet is used as a cover crop, which is usually not sown alone, but as part of the cover crop seed mixture. Xiaomi has many special benefits, including being very resistant to heat and dry conditions. It can also tolerate sandy soils. Like most members of the grass family, Xiaomi can easily self-sow seeds for the next year and restart its life cycle. When utilizing this plant as a cover crop, be sure to cut it down before it is sown unless you want it to spread.
Also known as the field pea, or more often the black-eyed pea. They have a very long taproot and if your goal is to prevent soil erosion, this makes them a great choice. They are heat and drought tolerant, which also makes them a good choice for home gardeners in warmer climates. Cowpeas add nitrogen to the soil and can also be eaten if you choose to grow them until they are ripe.
Unlike cowpeas, regular peas cannot tolerate heat/drought and are definitely considered cover crops for the cool season. Another member of the legume family, the pea also has nitrogen fixing properties. Peas are frost tolerant and can grow in temperate climates until later in the season. They can be left in place as mulchs or harvested as edible pea sprouts.
During the colder season, lentils are a good cover crop choice because they are very hardy, although they cannot survive temperatures below freezing. Lentil seeds will germinate at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. They are an annual winter legume that provides excellent ground cover. The cover crop plants of the lentil family can also survive in low humidity environments.
Mustard is an excellent choice for home vegetable gardens that may be battling pests and diseases in their raised bed soil. Mustard contains high levels of glucosulin thio, which is known to inhibit soil-borne fungi and even nematodes. Also, mustard is edible and quite delicious! They also have extremely long primary roots that can extend up to 3 feet below the soil, which will greatly improve soil structure. Be forewarned, when wasabi goes to sow seeds, it will easily sow the area itself, and you may find that "mustard weeds" appear later, but this will only give you more salad ingredients to take advantage of!
Although barley is not as hardy as rye in winter, it can grow in winters in mild climates such as Zone 8 and above. Like many other grasses mentioned above, barley also has a deep, fibrous root system, which adds a wealth of organic matter to the soil. It can easily be cut off and left in place as a covering.
Winter wheat, second only to oats and rye, is the most common choice for cover crops. It is easy to germinate, grows very fast, and is easy to plant in the autumn and then wait for the winter frost to kill it to you. For these reasons, this is a great option for those who are just beginning to learn to grow cover crops.
There are two main types of radish that are used as cover crops: oilseeds and turnips. Oilseed radish will grow faster than radish because the roots will not grow so thick. Oilseed radish is technically edible but is not usually used for culinary purposes. Since the oilseed roots don't grow that thick, this allows the plant to focus on the leaves, which will provide you with plenty of green manure to feed the soil microbes. The roots can also stay in place, decomposing in the soil faster than the coarse roots of turnips.
However, radish turnips are a good choice if you also want to get an edible harvest from the cover crops you grow. If your goal is to inflate the compacted soil, these rhizome vegetables are also a good choice.
Triticale is a mixture between wheat and grain rye, and as such, it has many of the same characteristics as the plants mentioned above. Planting these cover crops on an elevated bed will stop weeds from growing, and they can also be well added to the compost heap if you choose to abandon them as mulch.
These summer crops, also known as chickpeas, are generally planted in early spring and harvested in late summer. Growing chickpeas in the spring is often used for crop rotation between wheat and barley to help break the pest and disease cycle shared by both plants.
Scarlet running beans
These are a perennial cover crop that is grown annually in mild climates such as Zone 7 and above. Scarlet runner beans are also edible, but must be cooked first. They add nitrogen to your soil and provide beautiful red flowers for pollinators in your garden. Fava beans also have many of the same specific benefits!
frequently asked questions
Q: What is the fastest growing cover crop?
A: Buckwheat is the fastest growing cover crop and can grow 2-3 feet in 4 weeks.
Q: What are good cover crops for vegetable gardens?
A: Rye grass, furry wild peas and clover are all good choices for vegetable garden cover crops. All of these crops grow rapidly and have larger root systems that increase biomass below and above the soil.
Q: When should mulch crops be planted?
A: The general rule of thumb is in the fall, a month before your first frost date, but they can be planted at any time of the year to protect bare soil.
Q: What is no-till cover crops?
A: This usually refers to the felling and dropping method of mulching planting, which requires that crops be cut down on the ground. The roots remain in the soil to decompose, and the leaves on the ground are dropped into place to die and form a mulch for the raised bed.