Are you looking for a simple way to renew your soil this winter? Plant a cover crop!
A cover crop will add nitrogen and organic matter to your soil while preventing erosion and weeds. Over the winter, instead of the rains washing away all of the hard work you've put into the soil, the cover crop roots will keep those nutrients and soil in your garden, and also help retain water. When Spring comes around, your garden will be ready for another bountiful growing season. Some common cover crops include fava beans, vetch, oats, buckwheat, and ryegrass.
Cover cropping is super easy! Many garden supply stores sell a mix of cover crop seeds. All you do is broadcast (scatter/spread) the seed evenly over your garden bed, cover it with straw or a thin layer of soil (to keep birds out and moisture in), and let the rain work its magic. When the cover crop produces flowers just chop it up and turn it in to your soil. If you can’t chop up the cover crop before it goes to seed, make sure the seed gets incorporated into your soil as the seeds will now store most of the nitrogen.
How does this work? Some cover crops are plants which add nitrogen to the soil by a process called nitrogen fixation. These plants have a symbiotic relationship with special bacteria that live in their root nodules and fix nitrogen from the air. These nitrogen fixing plants include fava beans, vetch, and clove among others.
If you do plant a fall garden, don’t fret! You can still cover crop after your fall harvest. Buckwheat is an excellent cover crop which is not frost tolerant, so it works great as a mid-season option.