As far as being a farmer goes, it’s an easy week. I harvested the last of the carrots and that’s about it. A lone row of turnips fattens amidst a green sea of cover crop – winter rye sprinkled through with hairy vetch and crimson and red clover. The latter my détente offering to the ever increasing rabbit population, built solely I am convinced on last year’s soybean crop. Perhaps we’ll share a meal of red clover flowers this spring and talk it all out, but that is a discussion for another day.
Today is about preparing our land for the growing season to come. Our garden is tilled from a lawn of nasty fescue and perennial grasses and so we are always engaged in a territory battle. The good news? Our favored plants are winning! We seed any area not in use for active veggies with a cover crop. We use primarily winter rye, a quick grower that is cold hardy to -30° F. In addition to taking up real estate so the weeds can’t, winter rye adds nitrogen and organic matter to the soil, helps to break up and lighten our lovely clay base, and controls erosion. But I love this beautiful plant most for its amazing green color, almost that surreal translucent green of spring’s first shoots. It is a balm for my heart in the depths of winter.
We have also used buckwheat to great effect. It’s an even faster grower and seems particularly adept at competing with perennial grasses. I like it too for its beautiful white flowers that attract our bees and because after an initial purchase, it’s been free. I let it seed out, protecting the soil underneath with a slower growing cover crop of clover. Then the kids and I go out and fill up our seed buckets by hand. I love the sound of the seeds dumping into the buckets – music.
For an excellent, comprehensive article on cover crops and how to plant them, visit the National Gardening Association.