Cover Crops: What They Are and Why You Need Them

by on October 23, 2012


At the beginning of the month I made a quick mention of cover crops in the post Soil Transition: 3 Tips to Rejuvenate Soil at the End of the Season. Because the information is important and incredibly beneficial to anyone who plants in-ground gardens, we wanted to elaborate a bit on the subject.

Cover crops are also known as green manure. They are, as the name suggests, crops that cover the land when it is not in use for growing regular crops, usually in the off season. Cover crops are valuable because they help to rebuild and replenish the nutrients in your soil without the addition of chemical fertilizers or other soil amendments.

Why do we need cover crops?  The best answer I’ve seen over the years came from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (yes, there really is such a thing). On their website they answer the question this way:

Cover crops are an effective tool to reduce soil erosion and increase nutrient recycling on farmlands, thereby also decreasing the soil and nutrient loads entering lakes and waterways.  Cover crops can have numerous other benefits including improvement of soil quality, pest management, fertility management, water availability, landscape diversification, and wildlife habitat.

source: Midwest Cover Crops Council website

As you can see from the list in the image above, there are quite a few recognizable names among the many possibilities for cover crops. If you are anything like me, you can see an added benefit to growing some of these as cover crops. I routinely harvest some of the cover crops (especially kale and spinach) and enjoy the tasty greens while the plants are working hard to protect my precious soil from erosion and nutrient depletion.

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