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Using Cover Crops

By now, you’ve harvested all your fall vegetable and are starting to prep your garden for the winter. Another year gone and you’re waiting for spring to roll around again. Well, what if you could plant something in the fall that will help your garden’s nutrients. Ever thought of planting a cover crop in the fall?

Cover crops are great because they not only return nutrients to the soil, they can also help choke out weeds, break up soil compaction, prevent soil erosion and provide your garden with some great organic matter! Sounds like a win win to me!

Most farmers around the U.S. use cover crops, but why not the home gardener?

Here is a list of cover crops that might help out your garden:

Hairy Vetch: An annual, valuable soil-improvement crop and a vigorous legume that produces huge amounts of nitrogen-rich biomass for turning under. Vetch can be plant in spring through late summer, or if planted in late summer to early September it will over-winter and grow vigorously the following spring. Hairy Vetch is very hardy and will also sprout in spring if it is planted before the ground freezes in November. This crop demands fairly fertile soil and adequate rainfall as it is shallow rooted. Livestock caution: Seeds are poisonous.

Canola (Rape): A member of the Brassica family. Rapeseed is extremely winter hardy and drought-tolerant and thrives on all soils with little preparations. Plant in early spring or fall. This crop produces lots of humus as a plow-down and has a great biomass production which provides great nutrients for the soil. Recently, studies have shown Canola can help with pest management and can be toxic to soil borne pathogens, like nematodes, fungi and some weeds.

Crimson Clover: Plant in spring, summer or fall. This quick growing clover is the most versatile variety for weed suppressing green manure. It is an excellent source of nitrogen, a good soil builder, can help with preventing soil erosion and a good forage crop. With the clovers bright red color, the flower creates a great habitat for many types of bees. You can also use the blossoms for tea. Crimsons Clover needs well-draining soil and thrives best in cool, moist climates.

White Dutch clover:  A low growing perennial which forms a nice mat; perfect for pathways between beds. White Clover chokes out weeds and halts soil erosion. It also withstands shade and regular mowing. As a green manure/cover crop, it fixes nitrogen and since it’s a perennial, can be plowed in at any time. Plant in early spring.

Yellow Dutch clover: Biennial. Provides a tremendous amount of green manure and bee pasture. A vigorous grower with long tap roots to help break up compact soil. Yellow Dutch Clover can produce up to 125 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Sow in the spring or summer.

Austrian Winter Pea: Builds and increases organic matter and nitrogen content of soil. Plant in mid-August to early September to allow plants to germinate and harden off, or plant in early November or before the ground freezes. The seed will germinate in the spring and provide and early season plowdown. Plant alone or mix with Winter Rye at approximate 50% Rye to 50% Peas. Under good conditions it will provide 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre when plowed in at half flower.

Winter Rye: A very hardy perennial. Winter Rye is valued for its ability to break up hardpan soils with a profusion of roots and root hairs. It suppresses weeds and is adaptable to a wide range of soil and climate conditions. Can be planted from early spring until the ground freezes as a winter cover crop. Plant in the fall with Winter Peas for nitrogen, organic matter and weed suppression.

Alfalfa: Perennial. It establishes easily and grows very quickly. In gardens or row crop rotation, Alfalfa produces plenty of top growth and a complimentary amount of root growth to incorporate as green manure. It can produce up to 200 pounds per acre of nitrogen and three tons per acre of dry matter. If sown in early May and provided with adequate water, Alfalfa can be cut twice for a nitrogen rich mulch or protein rich hay and later plowed in as green manure. Perfect for rejuvenating worn out soils. Plants early spring; April-May.

Buckwheat: Annual. While it is especially valuable for its release of phosphorus, Buckwheat also contributes a significant amount of organic matter and break up to the soil, is very competitive with weeds and bees love it! Seed when ground is well warmed and after last spring frost; it has no frost tolerance. When June planted, in 35 days it is waist high, in bloom and ready to plow under. Good to follow with fall crops of Rye and Austrian Winter Pea. Just rake in some seed after harvesting Buckwheat it will keep out the weeds and keep your garden looking great. Beneficial Green Lacewing adults will feast on the nectar then deposit their “aphid lion” eggs on nearby garden crops.

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Storing your Summer Harvest for Winter

All summer we get to enjoy our bounty from the garden; fresh lettuce, spinach, peas, and beans. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy some of your harvest through the winter? Here is a list of 13 vegetables that you can enjoy well into the winter.

Potatoes: Once foliage has died back leave in ground for 2-3 weeks this hardens your potato skins. Dig up your potatoes. DO NOT WASH. Store potatoes in the dark 36-40 degrees with 75-95% relative humidity. Consider storing your potatoes in burlap sacks, baskets, or wood crates. Don’t store potatoes with ethylene-releasing crops such as apples, and onions.

Good storage potatoes are: Yellow Finn, All Blue, Red LaSoda, Desiree, German Butterball, and Russian Banana.

Storability: 6-8 months

Carrots:  If you don’t have trouble with rodents you can store your carrots in the ground with some mulch over top of them and harvest when you need them. To store your carrots inside dig up your carrots before the ground has frozen. Cut off the tops close to the carrots. The foliage depletes the carrot of moisture and nutrients if kept intact which will shorten your carrots shelf life. Layer carrots in a box with sand making sure not to use beach sand as the salt can dry out your roots.

Good storage carrots: Bolero, Chantenay, Danvers, and Lunar White.

Storability: 4-6 months

Beets: Just like any other root crop, you can store these in the ground over winter with mulch over top. To store inside, harvest beets after a few days of dry weather. Dig up, and cut off greens. Brush off the loose soil. Layer in moist sand, or peat moss, making sure your beets don’t touch one another. Store in plastic container or wooden box making sure sand keeps moist. Make sure the sand stays moist.

Good storage beets: Early Wonder Tall Top, Detroit Dark Red, and White Albino.

Storability: 3-5 months

Cabbage: It is best to harvest cabbage after the first frost. Pull plant from ground and trim the outer leaves on the head. When storing cabbage from your garden remember not to wash cabbage until you are ready to use it for cooking. Red cabbages tend to store better than green cabbages. Wrap cabbage heads in newspaper and place on shelves.

Good storage cabbage: Red Express and Golden Acre.

Storability: 3-4 months

Parsnips: Storing parsnips is like storing carrots. Store in the garden with a layer of mulch or store indoors, remembering to cut off tops and layer in a box with damp sand or peat moss. Make sure parsnips are not touching one another.

Good storage parsnips: Harris Model and Turga

Storability: 2 months

Rutabagas: Layer in a box with sand or peat moss. Keep moist. Store in dark cold and moist conditions. 32-40 degrees with 80-95% relative humidity.

Good storage rutabaga: American Purple Top

Storability: 2-3 months

Leeks: Keep leeks in garden until hard frost make sure you mulch prior to. After hard frost dig them up. Use a tall bucket and store leeks in the upright position in moist sand or peat moss. Remember to keep soil damp throughout the winter. Leeks like dark cold environment with 95% humidity.

Storability: 3-4 months

Celery: Harvest celery when stalks are about 8 inches tall. Storing celery is similar to storing leeks. Put in a tall bucket with moist sand in the upright position. Keeping sand moist throughout the winter.

Good storage variety: Tall Utah

Storability: 1-2 months

Turnips: Store turnips the same as storing parsnips and carrots.

Good storage turnip: Golden Globe and Purple Top White Globe

Storability: 3-4 months

Garlic: In order to get your garlic to store properly you must cure your garlic. For storage, hang your bulbs in netted sacks with good air circulation on all sides. Perfect storage conditions are 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit at 50% relative humidity. Storage below 40 degrees actually makes garlic sprout faster.

Good storage garlic: Italian Late, Nootka Rose, and Silver Rose.

Storability: 8-10 months

Onions: After harvesting your onions set them out on a screen or hang them in a covered shed out of sunlight. Keep well ventilated and let dry for 10-14 days. Your onions will be nice and cured when the skins are papery and the roots are dry and crusty. Cut onion tops off. For storage, hang your onions in netted sacks with good air circulation on all sides. Store with your garlic for best storability.

Good storage onions: Yellow Rock, White Ebenezer, and Copra.

Storability: 5-9 months

Pumpkins: Harvest pumpkins before hard frost. Light frost is okay. Leave 2-4 inches of stem intact. Without stems pumpkins are more prone to spoiling. Cure pumpkins at 80-85 degrees F for about two weeks. Best stored in room temperature conditions with plenty of air flow.  For optimum storability wipe pumpkins down with olive oil this keeps the moisture.

Good storage pumpkins: Howden, Sugar Pie, Jack-O-Lantern, and Cinderella.

Storability: Up to 6 months.

Squash: Store and cure squash the same as you would pumpkins.

Good storage squash: Sweetmeat, Delicata, Bitteroot Buttercup, Gold Nugget, Baby Blue Hubbard, and New England Blue Hubbard.

Storability: Up to 6 months.

Remember you don’t have to have a root cellar or basement to store your vegetables. You can modify spaces such as a garage or a shed. You can also learn to can and freeze your vegetables to enjoy them through the winter!