Covercropping

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post I was going to share a photo of our buckwheat cover crops. But despite taking lots of photos of the gardens this summer, evidently I didn’t take a single picture of the buckwheat. That’s too bad.  It’s a beautiful plant, topped with white flowers and always abuzz with honeybees and other pollinators.

Cover crops just don’t get the respect they deserve.

They’re very important on farms like ours for maintaining fertility and organic content.  We use no synthetic nitrate fertilizers so we depend upon nature to help us keep the soil healthy. Bare soil is never a good thing on an organic farm.  We aim to have roots in the soil as long and as often as we can, unlike our chemical farming neighbors who’ll turn the soil over with plows in anticipation of spraying it with herbicides in the spring. They aim to keep the soil dead except when their cash crop is growing (and then they want only that to be growing).  It’s a totally different paradigm.

Buckwheat is a summer cover crop.  It prefers hot weather, germinates easily and emerges quickly.  It does a good job of weed suppression and when we till it under it adds organic matter to the soil.  Bees love the blooms.

Because it is not a legume, buckwheat doesn’t fix nitrogen in the soil, however.  We sow clover in the fall (usually mixed with winter peas and rye grass) to give us a winter/spring cover and to add nitrogen.

IMG_0282

This was our watermelon garden this year.  Next year it will be planted in fall brassicas.  In the meantime we’ll grow clover, till that in this spring and then plant buckwheat in the early summer.  All will go back into the soil to enrich it and keep it healthy.  Ideally this garden would have a tall stand on it now, but the deer mowed it down.  A close up look, however, shows that the clover is still there.

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Maybe next year I’ll remember to get some pictures of the buckwheat.

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13 comments on “Covercropping

  1. Bob Braxton says:

    was in her mouth
    a tear was in her eye
    Susanna don’t you cry
    O Sussanna, don’t you cry
    for me

  2. Kitchen-Counter-Culture says:

    Ah! All the pollinators– do you collect buckwheat honey? It is extremely delicious and wonderful!

    • Bill says:

      We just call our honey “wildflower honey” because we aren’t sophisticated enough as beekeepers to isolate a single flower like that. But the bees do feast on the buckwheat blooms and we do enjoy their honey.

  3. shoreacres says:

    There’s a lot of winter rye sown down here. I’d never thought of the purpose, except for the “pretty” it brings to the land. Interesting about the buckwheat, too. I’ve never really thought about it except in terms of pancakes. Well, and Spanky and Our Gang. ;)

    • Shoreacres, Spanky and Our Gang? Your age is showing. Great show wasn’t it. Totally politically incorrect for today’s culture. :0)

      • shoreacres says:

        That’s right – I remember phones without even a dial, televisions and radios with tubes and sitting around in the morning eating oatmeal and watching the test pattern.

        It was a great show, and, as a black girl in my college dorm said, it taught her that people of different races could play together. Strange – I learned the same lesson, although I had to wait a few years to meet some black people.

        Sometimes, it occurs to me that the “politically correct” could stand to lighten up a bit and get over their sense of self-importance. There. I said it. ;)

    • Bill says:

      We plant winter rye as a cover crop too, if it’s too late in the year to plant anything else. I sowed a lot of it this year.

  4. Bill, you are growing on a much larger scale than me. My garden spot is .62 acres of which about half is trees and steep bank. Some of this will be raised beds and some will be open growing for vining plants. I never really thought about cover crops but I’ve been reading in many organic gardener blogs about it. My Dad, who passed away just a couple years ago, always rotated crops when he farmed. One of the crops was small grain but clover was planted along with the small grain. When the grain as harvested, the clover was allowed to grow and was plowed under the next spring. The rotation was Corn, Alfalfa, small grain, and back to corn. I found a note book after my Mom died that indicated he had gone to some kind of farming school in his younger days. I never found any evidence of the books for the class but it would have interesting to see what they taught about farming back then.

    Have a great cover crop day.

  5. El Guapo says:

    Are the non-harvestable crops the equivalent of leaving the land fallow?

    • Bill says:

      If by leaving the land fallow you mean not harvesting off it, that is what we do with covercropping. The cover crops are tilled back into the soil. If you mean just letting it grow up in weeds, then covercropping is better.

  6. beeholdn says:

    Buckwheat is delicious as a hot morning cereal, with yogurt (or sour cream). Cook like rice, but stir grain into water only after the water begins to boil, or it goes mushy.

    • Bill says:

      I’ve never had it except in galettes. We didn’t harvest any of it, we only tilled it in. Maybe this year we’ll try to keep some of the grain for ourselves (and the chickens).

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