Hello green thumbs,
It is the quieter part of the growing calendar and I am getting through my winter jobs list, which is very satisfying. Taking advantage of the slower growing, including “weeds” is essential.
The past few weeks I have been servicing machinery and tools and addressing some unwanted marsupials with a crash course in fencing. I love the fact that in 2016 we have so much information available, provided you posses a smartphone and/or computer and internet. I watched a couple of youtube clips on fencing, particularly knot tying, and got the job done…in a good amount of time. All these jobs are possible while the majority of the garden is “resting”.
Cover it up
Winter is generally a good time to “rest” the garden so to speak, also known as cover cropping or green manures. I have mentioned this before, but I would go into a little more detail.
Green manure (cover crops) is a planting of a particular mix of plants grown only to be returned to the soil. Ideally it is cut, mown or chopped before it flowers. Basically, its food for the soil. It plays a vital role in soil fertility and has been practiced since ancient times in China, Greece and Rome.
Okay if your new to gardening, or have a very small garden, less than 5m2, you can easily manage soil fertility with compost and mulch. However, green manure can provide both of these, while keeping your garden full and reducing weed growth during the ‘indoor’ season. It is an essential part of small – large scale food production, so it cant hurt doing it in your backyard.
Green manure at 4 weeks
5 reasons to grow green manure
- Adds plant foods Clovers, peas and other legumes absorb nitrogen from the air and fix it into nodules in the roots. It becomes available to plants after the green manure is cut down or dug in. Green manure and “weeds” with long tap roots ‘mine’ nutrients from deep down bringing them to the surface for shallow rooted plants.
- Protect soil Green manures protect soil by keeping it covered from the elements, preventing compaction and erosion and maintains good soil structure and moisture.
- Maintain ecological balance Frogs, beetles and other beneficial bodies will appreciate the cool, damp cover and keep order in the insect population.
- Adds organic matter Good organic matter levels are key for structure, moisture retention and feeds worms and the microscope residents of the garden.
- Makes economic sense Green manure mixes and seeds are cheap to purchase, and will increase the quality of your soil, which in return, will produce quality and generous harvests.
Which seed to use?
There are many types of plants you can use for your green manure mix, but keep it simple to start with. Most nurseries, rural produce stores and online stores have pre packed mixes to grab and go. Make sure you have the right mix for the season, winter or summer and you are ready to plant!
In my garden I have been planting a mix of Lupins, oats, woolley vetch, dun peas, tick beans (fava beans) and subterranean clover. I have chosen this mix for the desired characteristics of the plants to address different issues, like compaction, diversity, organic matter and nitrogen fixing.
Its a very simple process, as the plants do all the work for us. Just prepare a seed bed, sprinkle seeds generously and cover! Yup, thats it.
Germination will take 10-20 days, watch them grow then simply cut the crop down before flowering. After 6-10 weeks, or as soon as you see buds forming, its out with the shears, mower or whipper snipper, and cut them down to the ground to leave as a mulch. You can lightly dig the cut crop in, but its not imperative. If you do leave it on the top, you will have a free mulch to plant into for spring!
I have kept this very simple, however, if you are looking for more detail, any good gardening books, stores and websites will have more information for your digestion. Green manuring is a time proven way to improve your garden and like all gardening, is best kept simple. Give it a go and enjoy the results…happy gardening!!