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.

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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.