Sicrits To Orbat Soil

Mixing for Maximum Benefit

Grasses provide fast cover ant legumes provide nitrogen, so mixing them gives you both benefits. Dr. Matt Leibman, of the University of Maine, has designed an easy-to-grow mix that provides both quick cover and nitrogen fixation. Containing 60 percent field peas. 20 percent oats, and 15 percent hairy vetch, its used at a rate of 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet (% pound for 100 square feet). Sow in early spring and turn over in summer or fall, or sow in late summer and turn under the following spring.

For a winter cover crop., a mix of hairy vetch and winter rye is hard to beat. Both are very hardy and can be sown until mid-fell even in cold northern areas.

If you're mixing two or more types of plants, reduce the ceding rate accordingly (but stay 3 little on the generous side). far two plants, use just over half the recommended amount of each.


loosening compacted soils. Some green manures hove strong deep roots that can push through all but the worst compacted soils. As a result they re good for breaking up hardpan and improv ng drainage. For best results, use c broadro'k to break through hardpan in several spots before planting. Alfalfa, white or yellow sweet clover, and birdsfoot trefoil are the best choices.

Concentrating nutrients. A few plants not only bring up nutrients from the subsoil, they also concentrate therr.. Growing them gives you measurable (though not f uge) increases in the topsoil's available nutrient levels. They're called accumulators. Buckwheat increases calcium phosphorus levels. Legumes, especially red c over are good phosphorus accumulators. Vetches can increase levels of both sulfur and calcium.


— porous soil i- hardpan broccoli white clover growing as a living mulch


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  • V,n9 mul<hes. if you don't want to take beds out of circulation for a season to grow green manures, try Rowing them at the same time as your other crops. can be sown underneath exlsUng crops, or along tal1 croP$, from mid- to late summer. (Don't p\on\ g^earlier or they'll go to seed.) Leave in place until allowing spring to provide good winter cover.
  • is i?ufch ciover °niy 9r°ws °foot (3°cm) iai1, s° (Cor6 1 'e^ume growing with larger vegetables.

_ n «s so tall that soybeans can be grown as a com-

r"°n.) You can p\or\\ clover between rows of young o( il 0f around the bases of corn and members

||5 8 farnilY' once they reach 6 to 8 inches and*0 Cm'ta"' !t also works we" around fruii ,rees ^COver paths between garden beds.

Wdf ||,n,er fye and hairY vetch neecl to ^ Plantecl bY

Weajk' 'n °rder tQ develop enough growth before co\d feroc 6|^ern arounc' 'ate croPs suc^ as broccoli mulches.

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white clover growing as a living mulch

Combination Cover and Mulch

U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers in Beltsville, Maryland, have produced amazing results growing tomatoes with no nitrogen fertilizer, using just hairy vetch as a combination cover crop and mulch. Yields are 100 percent higher than in fertilized, bare soil! Plus, there are few, if any, weeds. Researchers are trying this with other crops.

To get these benefits, plant hairy vetch in fall about a month before the first hard frost (usually one to three weeks before the first fall frost). Use 1 ounce of seed for each 10 square feet of bed. The first year, you'll need to use an inoculant that's specific for vetches. The vetch should reach about 4 inches (10 cm) tall before it stops for the winter. In spring, it'll start growing again, reaching 3 to 4 feet (90 cm to 1.2 m) and beginning to bloom by the time it's warm enough to set out tomato plants.

The day before setting out your tomato plants, cut the vetch back to 1 or 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm). You'll need hedge shears, a hand sickle, or a string trimmer. Lay the cut vetch on the ground to make a soft, dense mulch 4 or 5 inches (10 to 13 cm) thick. Push aside the mulch to dig planting holes. The vetch must stay moist in order to decompose and release nitrogen. That means if it's dry enough to water your tomatoes, make sure to water the mulch as well (set soaker hoses on top of, not underneath, the mulch).

By the end of the season, most of the mulch will have disappeared.

Cut, remove, and compost the tomato plants. Don't till the soil — one theory for the success of this system is that the lack of tilling results in improved soil structure and more numerous earthworms and other organisms. Just scratch the surface with a rake before planting the next-batch of vetch.

Grow exceptional tomatoes and grow your own mulch at the same time by using hairy vetch as a cover crop. As a bonus you won't have to weed as often and won't need as much fertilizer. You'll have to plan ahead if you combine this technique with crop rotation, though; in fall, sow hairy vetch in the area where you'll grow tomatoes the following year secrets to grkat soil

Ready, Set, Soi

If your soil takes a long thru out in spring or you want to extra-early crops, try oats winter cover crop. Since oars I killed back in winter, all y< to do is rake or push them; spring and you're ready to This allows you to get peas the ground even before the soil ready to till.

Sow oats in late summer early fall, at least a month hard frost, so they'll grow ei to provide good cover. Make a lev seedbed for the oats so you'll a nice seedbed for your sprii crop. In spring, rake the p< decomposed oats off the bed Pi< as soon as the soil is warm efl< for the crop you're growing.


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