To maintain soil fertility, organic gardeners rely on crop rotation and cover cropping. On our farm we aim to grow two cover crops for every crop we harvest. The cover crops are plowed back into the soil as “green manure,” a natural source of organic matter and biomass.
But that system doesn’t work so well when the cover crops end up leaving the garden in deer bellies instead.
This fall we’ve used a double fence method that has been successful in keeping the deer out of the gardens producing food crops. But the gardens planted in cover crops aren’t fenced, and the deer have kept them mowed to the ground. While we’re getting the benefit of the plant roots, which hold the soil in place and encourage earthworms and other beneficial subterranean organisms, we’re not getting the above-ground growth that we need for green manure.
Here’s a picture that illustrates the situation. The strip between the two fences is what the entire garden to the left should look like. There is a rich growth of a mixture of beneficial plants. But outside the fence there’s just a hint of green. That’s because deer have eaten the plants right down to the ground.
We’re accustomed to losing our cover crops, so I’m not losing any sleep over it. On the bright side, I’m very pleased that our food crops have survived this fall. Next year I intend to use a modified version of the double-fence around all of our gardens.
Postscript: WordPress tells me that is my 2,500th blog post. I’ve been posting nearly every day (with only a couple of breaks) for 9 1/2 years. Thanks to all who read. It’s nice to know I’m not just talking to myself.