As any gardener knows, nothing much happens without good soil.  Even those of you with the greenest of thumbs will not be able to achieve greatness in the garden without rich, earthy, crumbly soil.
Improving our less than perfect Okanagan soils can be a time-consuming and labour-inducing process, but in the end it’s definitely worth the effort.
An excellent technique for boosting our garden soil, particularly in the vegetable garden, is to grow a cover crop.  Cover crops can be sown in late summer, after the crops have been harvested, into the empty soil.  In spring the resulting growth can be turned into the soil, resulting in a host of improvements for that soil.
Cover crops add humus to improve the soil structure, and raise its organic content.  They help soil to absorb more moisture and keep nutrients from leaching away over the winter by locking them into their green tissue until they decompose in spring.
Deep-rooted crops like fall rye bring minerals from below most vegetables’ root zone closer to the soil surface where plants can utilize them.
There are two main types of crops available.  Fall rye is a widely adaptable grain which grows rapidly and produces a thick mat of foliage with an incredible root system that goes deep into the soil. It’s an excellent choice for generating a large amount of humus material.
The second type is a mix of different legumes.  These are a benefit because of their ability to fix nitrogen to their roots, adding that important element to soils in a form that doesn’t leach out quickly as some chemical sources do.  Legumes also promote beneficial biological activity in soils.
To get maximum benefits from both types alternate them in your garden each year.  Cover crops should be planted as soon as possible so they can produce the maximum amount of growth before the first heavy frost in fall.
Once the vegetable crops have been removed from the garden rake over the soil and sprinkle the seed according to the rate on the package.  Water to ensure good germination.  You can also sprinkle a fast-acting fertilizer like 34-0-0 onto the ground as soon as the crop starts to grow.  This will help produce even more growth this fall.
You can turn over the crop any time next spring, but it’s a good idea to wait seven to ten days for legume crops and fourteen days for grain crops before planting vegetable seeds.  As the green material decomposes it gives off ethylene gas, which tends to inhibit seed germination.
If you are earnestly seeking a good physical workout, then by all means turn over the crop with a shovel or pitch fork.  You’ll have earned your sleep by evening, because it’s hard work.
I like to keep the hard physical labour in the garden to a minimum, so I recommend cutting it first with a scythe if it’s tall enough, or running your mower over the crop until the pieces are finely chopped.  Then use a rototiller, preferably one with rear-mounted tillers, to dig the crop under.
One Response to Good Soil Is Needed
  1. Hello Scott,
    We have a very steep clay bank that we would like to cover with something that requires little maintenance. What would you suggest?

    Thanks so much!


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