On my trip to Missouri, I
visited Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a provider of heirloom vegetable and flower
seeds. After detours because of flooded
highways and after several miles of travel down dirt roads, we arrived at the village
in Mansfield, Missouri. It’s set up to
resemble an Ozark village, and the company holds bluegrass festivals and other
events on the property. I was mainly
interested in the gardens, which were beautiful even though the rains during
the summer made some of them inaccessible to visitors.
In the seed store, I bought
some books and seeds, of course. I have
planted some of the fall vegetable seeds already, and I’ll plant some of the
cover crop seeds within the next few weeks.
Seeds for Austrian Winter Peas and Buckwheat. I'll plant the peas soon and save the Buckwheat for spring
I have begun to take my
garden back from the weeds that have invaded this summer. I put down mulch and sheets of cardboard to
hold the cleared soil free of weeds, and I plan to sow cover crops in the bare
areas. Every year I have crops
interspersed with bare areas I try to cover with mulch, and these areas usually
become patches of weeds. This year, I’m
going to try to put all the crops together in one space and to leave a quadrant
of the garden entirely free of cultivated crops and sow it with a cover crop. This will, I hope, concentrate my weeding
efforts and make the process easier. It
may also make putting the chickens in the garden to eat easier because I’ll be
able to keep the tasty lettuce away from the plants I want them to eat.
Iron and Clay cowpeas have gone a bit crazy in the garden
A cover crop is any crop planted
in an otherwise bare section of the garden to enrich the soil or to prevent
weeds. If the gardener tills in the
cover crop, soil microbes and worms decompose the crop and enrich the
soil. If the cover crop remains on top
of the soil and dies, worms and microbes will come up to consume the crop. Turning a flock of chickens into the cover
crop nourishes the chickens as they eat the crop, helps till in the cover crop,
and enriches the soil. I grow millet in
the garden as a cover crop and for chicken feed, and five of my chickens are
currently vacationing in the garden and eating the millet as it ripens.
Using cardboard to hold back the weeds. Millet in upper right corner
Last winter, I planted
mustard greens in the hard area outside the garden; mustard grows thickly
enough to choke out most weeds. I
planted Asiatic clover in the orchard, and it provides food for bees, fixes
nitrogen in the soil, and is certainly more attractive than the crabgrass that
would grow there without the competition from the clover. This clover is perennial so don’t plant it
unless you are sure you want it.
I have grown wheat and oats
in the garden, and I’ll plant some this fall.
I allowed the grains to make seed last spring and fed it to the chickens
I cut the grain stalks to the ground, used the straw as mulch, and planted my
sweet potatoes among the stubble. The
grain will not grow back during the summer’s heat.
I tilled some of my rye grass
into the soil, and some I mowed. The
summer’s heat kills rye grass, and if you mow it before it makes seed, it won’t
return. Even if it makes seed, I haven’t had trouble with it becoming a
weed. Rye is one of the easiest cover
crops because the inexpensive seed is available in many stores and it
germinates quickly. Heat also kills crimson clover, an annual clover. One cover crop I do not use is vetch. Many gardening books recommend using it as a
cover crop, and the writers of those books must not have the problems we do
with vetch invading the garden as a weed.
I purchased some Austrian winter peas at Baker Creek they are similar
to English peas in habit and won’t become a weed.
Clover in the apple orchard as a cover crop
If you plow the garden every
spring, using cover crops is easy because you can plow them in and allow them
to decompose for a few weeks before you plant.
I do not usually till the soil, so I must plan carefully to avoid having
a thick patch of something difficult to remove growing in the place I want to
plant my spring vegetables. However,
with some planning, I can mow the cover crop, smother it with mulch, or plant
my summer plants along with the cover crop and wait for summer’s heat to kill