Green manures and cover crops

Another great way to get organic matter into your garden is to grow your own. Green manures are plants that you grow specifically to cut down and mix into the soil to add organic matter and nutrients.

Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, green manure usually refers to crops that are planted during the regular growing season specifically to add organic matter and nutrients, and cover crop refers to plants grown during the dormant season — winter in most regions; summer in hot, dry climates — to help prevent erosion, loosen compacted soil, and control weeds, besides adding organic matter.

In addition to providing these benefits, green manures and cover crops do the following:

  • Maintain high levels of soil microorganisms: When the plants are incorporated into the soil, they feed the essential microbes that make nutrients available to plants. The plant residues also provide surfaces on which the microbes can live.
  • Attract beneficial insects: Some green manures and cover crops, such as clover and buckwheat, have flowers that beneficial insects love. These insects help with pollination and pest control in your garden.

The best type of plant for your green manure or cover crop depends on what you're trying to accomplish, your climate, and the planting time. Plants that are often grown as green manures or cover crops include legumes, such as clover, vetch, cowpea, and fava bean; grasses, such as winter rye, wheat, oat, and barley; and buckwheat.

\\V ^ Farm supply stores usually offer a good selection, and the proprietors can suggest the best ones for gardens in your region. Mail-order catalogs offer the ■ foil widest selection, but even small garden centers may sell the most common ones. Consult the package or catalog description for the amount of seed you need to sow per square foot.

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Herbs 101

Learn what you can do with herbs! How to Plant, Grow, and Cook with Natural Herbs. Have you always wanted an herb garden but didn't know how to get started? Do you want to know more about growing your own herbs in the privacy of your home and using them in a variety of cooking?

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