Fall Cover Crops for Soil Health

It is not too late to plant a fall cover crop.  Keeping the ground covered and alive over winter is one of the top soil health priorities for the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer.  The recent spell of warm weather last week has kept soil temperatures fairly high for this time of year.  Soil temperatures in central Ohio were around 63 degrees as of 10/14/18.

Click here for Central Ohio Soil Temperatures

There are several species of cover crops that can still be planted in central Ohio.  What you want to plant depends on what outcome you are looking for.  Cover crops are tools in your soil health toolbox,  you use what is needed for the task and what will accomplish your goals.

 

A seedbed was created via tillage. This tillage can cause a loss of organic matter and disruption of the soil in the root zone but was done to create a seed bed to improve germination of cover crops seed. This is common for a backyard grower, community gardener or urban farmer. In agronomic systems, a no-till drill could be used to minimize soil disturbance.

 

Some cover crops will achieve a modest amount of growth and then will die when winter temperatures go below freezing.  These still provide many soil health benefits, but do not provide as much organic matter in terms of biomass.

 

This cover crop mix contains Austrian winter peas and oats. It is not cold tolerant and will winter kill with deep freezes. It is a good choice for a grower who cannot manage a cover crop with implements or when an early season seedbed is desired for planting. These species could still be planted, but they might not achieve the level of biomass production to justify their expense at this late time in the season.

 

Some cover crops are cold tolerant and will persist through winter’s cold, starting regrowth once temperatures and sunlight increase in early spring.  These have their own management challenges.

 

Species that do well in the cold and will likely over winter include winter rye, crimson clover, hairy vetch, and most brassicas.

 

It is important for the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer to prioritize soil health.  Soil Health = Plant Health = People Health.

 

This mix has excellent biodiversity and will grow over the winter with excellent cold tolerance. It will have management challenges in the spring due to fast regrowth when warmer temperatures return.

 

Planting a cover crop now will increase your soil health, add organic matter, prevent erosion of nutrients and give your 2019 garden a jump start that will pay off with increased fresh, local produce.

Free Horse Manure for Pick Up

Free Horse Manure Available for Pick Up
The Columbus Police Department has a supply of horse manure available free of charge for urban farmers and community gardens.  The manure must be picked up at the Columbus Police Mounted Unit at 2609 McKinley Ave. near Valleyview on the near west side of Columbus.  The manure is available seven days a week from 8 am to 4 pm without an appointment or notice.
Upon entering the facility, turn right and drive back to where the 30 yard container is located.  A staff member is on duty at the facility and can help open the container door if necessary.  Be sure to close the container door when you are through loading.  You will need to bring shovels, and containers (or a truck) to load and haul the manure yourself.

The debris is fresh manure with hay and straw from the stalls after mucking added to the top. Lower levels may be more composted. The door is heavy and tricky to use, get assistance from staff to open and close the door if needed.

Questions: Contact Mike at hogan.1@osu.edu

Fall Vegetable Planting Update October 2018

For the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer, there is still time to put seeds and plants in the ground.   There are many choices available in vegetables and cover crops to take advantage of the cooler fall harvest weather and utilize the abundant rainfall and still optimal soil temperature, especially if the grower has the ability to utilize season extension.

Vegetables:

Those who followed the Fall Vegetable Planting timeline are harvesting basil, lettuce, radishes, green beans and summer squash now.  Monitor for frost closely and be ready to use season extension to protect tender crops.

There are still some choices to direct seed,  these will need season extension to allow harvest into November and later:

  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Asian Greens
  • Carrots
  • Radishes

This arugula was started from seed under grow lights. It will be transplanted outdoors in a week. This was done to allow more time for flea beetles, a major pest of arugula, to finish its life cycle.

 

I still have several lettuce plugs from an earlier project that will be transplanted outside under row cover in a week.

There are several pests to continue to monitor for this time of year.  Slugs will be numerous if organic matter levels are moderate to high.  Deer are a serious threat due to decreasing amounts of fresh forage.  They will consume nearly all fall planted vegetables without protection. The  Cabbage White butterfly can persist in the environment deep into fall and their larvae can eat large amounts of foliage.

Spinach that will be grown overwinter in low tunnels under row cover should be planted withing the next couple weeks from direct seed.  Check out this Growing Franklin post for a documentation of that process. 

 

Cover Crops:

It is important to keep something growing all year long and avoid bare ground.  This is especially critical over winter to avoid loss of fertility and organic matter from erosion.  There are still several choices available including grasses such as rye or oats, legumes such as crimson clover or vetch and brassicas such as forage radishes.  The choice of what to plant depends on what the goal is, what crop will follow and the grower’s ability to manage the crop in the spring.

This past weekend I prepared the area that had previously grown cucurbits into a seedbed.

 

I had used woven plastic landscape fabric as mulch and weed suppression for my winter squash and pumpkins.  This was my first foray into using this method and I was impressed by how effective it was.  The only drawback was that after removal the ground had reverted to its base state as a heavy clay soil.  I think it is imperative that I cover crop following plasticulture to improve soil health going forward.

Note the bindweed seedling that persisted under black heavy weight landscape fabric. The fabric was placed in early June and temperatures were in the 90’s multiple times this season.

There is still time to plant cover crops.  I planted a mix of winter rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover and forage radish.   This mix will require intensive management in spring, but will persist over winter and provide multiple soil health benefits.

 

To find out about cover crops, fall vegetable planting as well as many other topics there will be a class on Fall Garden Projects to Benefit the Spring Garden at Grandview Heights Public Library on Tuesday October 16th, at 7pm. 

 

Fall Garden Projects

 

It is common to not really want to think about additional work at the end of a gardening season, especially one that had as many heat and water challenges as this season did, but fall is the best time to do many things in the garden that if you wait for spring, you lose your best chance.

The best things to do in Fall to prepare for Spring include:

  1. Remove the old/dead/unwanted plants
  2. Soil Test an amend the soil
  3. Make a compost pile
  4. Start or expand a new garden
  5. Clean your tools
  6. Plant a cover crop
  7. Keep good records and assess what worked

Lets go over them one at a time.

  1.  Removing the old/dead/unwanted plants is common sense, but I commonly see leftover plants come spring time and that can set you back when you want to plant.  Remove all plants that will not be overwintered,  pitch any that have disease or seeds or might be a problem in a compost pile(like thistle, dandelion, or bindweed)  Most diseases are fungal and produce spores.  These spores will become next years disease if left alone.  Do yourself and your plants a favor by removing them.

    Most of the problems affecting tomatoes are fungal diseases. The spores can live in the infected plant material. This needs discarded and not composted. Crop rotate from this spot for three years.

    Clean up is not only for disease management, but also for weed management. The tomatoes that have fallen on the ground, if ripe, will become next year’s weeds.

    The fence and plasticulture will be left in place to solarize for a week or so for disease management then cleaned and stored for next year’s use.

  2. The next thing to do after you have cleared the garden is to think about what soil amendments you can add will help for next year.   Their are several things that can be added:
    • Lyme
    • Compost
    • Leaves
    • Wood Ashes
    • Fertilizer
    • Manure
      • The best way to determine what you need is by doing a soil test.  We have soil test kits for sale in the office.
      • CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW TO SAMPLE YOUR SOIL
      • soil testA soil test shows what you need to add to grow what you need.  It is helpful to get accurate amounts by letting them know exactly what you are planting.  Some fertilizers are helpful to add at planting, some like Lyme need to be added in advance.
      • Soil Testing Factsheet from Ohio State Extension
      • Once your soil test results come back let me know and we will sit down and discuss them.
      • I am a huge fan of adding leaves and wood ashes in the fall.  Adding leaves and wood ashes basically adds the sum total of nutrition from an entire tree over its life of digging deep for minerals.  Leaves have 2X the minerals per pound vs. manure.
  3. Start a compost pile
    • Composting is easy and fun.  It happens two ways.  Hot and Cold.  Hot composting gets hot enough to kill weeds, seeds and diseases while cold composting takes longer, does not get hot, but requires much less work.
      • It is important for the pile to be just wet enough and have enough carbons(brown things) and nitrogens(green things) to make the magic ratio of about 25 to 1.  Click Here for a list of compost item ratios –>compost-materials
      • As you can see by my pile I am a cold composter
      • s18
      • Manure is a great addition to a garden or a compost pile.  The overwintering time in the soil or in a hot compost pile will speed the breakdown of any potential pathogens in the manure and it makes a great nitrogen addition to offset the carbons like leaves.   Here is a table of the C:N ratio’s of common manures –>manure-table
  4. Fall is the best time to start a new garden.  That will allow you to get started planting in spring when everything is at its busiest garden wise.  Pick your spot, lay down some newspaper over your new spot or the addition to your current garden and cover with organic matter deep enough to smother anything growing on the surface.  After a winter’s worth of time, you will be able to directly plant into your new garden.  Consider adding some lyme, sulfur,  or fertilizer based on a soil test of your new spot to make sure spring starts off on the right foot.
  5. Clean your tools.  This is self-explanatory although I will be the first to admit I am horrible at this.   My hand tools are rusty and look like garbage.   They should be cleaned of dirt and lightly covered in oil to prevent rust.
    • This chore includes running the gas out of mowers and tillers.   Those cost money and even I remember to do that on occasion.
  6. Plant a Cover Crop   Regular readers of this website will know I love cover crops and use them in multiple applications.  A cover crop can do many things for you like suppress weeds, add biomatter, dig through hardpan and increase fertility.  You can pick your crop based on what you need.
    • Winter rye, oats, Austrian winter peas, crimson clover, hairy vetch and brassicas are common choices for winter cover crops to use this time of year.  They all have their management challenges, although winter rye can be the hardest to manage in spring.
    • Click HERE for How to Manage Winter Rye in Spring

      earth5

      Winter rye will start rapid growth with spring rains and increased warmth. Having a plan to manage this crop is critical.

A great place to read about cover crops is from SARE, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education.  They have a Learning Center Online with great information and free publications.

Try to spend some time this fall working on making your garden better for next year. What worked for you this year and what did not?  Take pictures with your phone to document the garden so you can use that for crop rotations.  I try to add a new plant species each year and get rid of one that was not successful.

Tangerine tomatoes (an heirloom) were a stellar performer for me this year and will go into permanent rotation. Besides being delicious, they were productive, disease resistant, crack resistant, and were the last variety producing for me deep into September.

In spring time when you want to get planting you will be happy to have a new garden with great soil, some compost to add, and clean tools.   That way you can start planting right away.

 

SUPER FUN BONUS SECTION: Want to make an easy cheap compost pile you can move anywhere?

dr-mcd-easy-compost-pile

 

Fall Projects to Prepare the Spring Garden Class at Grandview Heights Public Library on Tuesday October 16th @ 7:00 pm.

There will be a class on projects that can be done in the fall that will make your spring garden easier to start and more productive during the season.  Topics will include soil health, composting, garden expansion, cover crops, soil testing and more.  Bring your friends and your questions to this free event presented in partnership with The Grandview Heights Public Library.

 

Click HERE for flyer to download and print –> GV Library Fall to Spring Garden

Hugelkultur and Lasagna Layering Class at The Friend’s Garden on 9/22/18

There will be a free class as well as a garden walk at The Friend’s Garden on Saturday September 22nd at 9;00 am.  Come learn some new techniques to build soil health and incorporating organic matter into your garden.

 

Click HERE for flyer to download and print –> Hugelkultur and Lasagna Layering Flyer for 9/22/18

 

Central Ohio 2018 Fall Weather Predictions and El Nino Update

The most recent edition of OSU Agronomy’s C.O.R.N. newsletter published by my Extension colleagues gave the September and October weather predictions that will impact harvest of agronomic crops.  The backyard grower, community gardener, and urban farmer can use this data to make plans for season extended plantings by applying frost dates and predicted temperatures and rainfall amounts into the planting schedule.

September/October Temperature and Precipitation Forecasts

(credit Jim Noel, C.O.R.N Newsletter, 2018-28)

  • September
    • Temperatures will be a little warmer than normal, with normal predicted rainfall
  • October
    • Temperatures and rainfall are both predicted a little above normal
    • Frost and freeze dates are predicted to be in the normal range

 

What does this mean for plantings? 

  • Make sure to keep row cover or other season extension fabric on hand and monitor overnight temperatures carefully as we reach the October 10th – 20th time period to allow maturity and harvest of summer plantings of green beans or zucchini.
  • General above average temperatures should allow for harvest into fall of late summer plantings if protected as needed.
  • Watch for frost or freeze events to plan harvest of sweet potatoes prior to overnight cold temperatures which may damage tubers and decrease storage life.
  • Timing of over wintered spinach plantings should target early to mid-October for completion.

 

El Nino Update (8/9/18)

El Nino winters in central Ohio average warmer than normal temperatures with less than normal snowfall.  Current the National Weather Service has an El Nino Watch in place.

  • Fall – 60% chance of El Nino formation in September – November
  • Winter – 70% chance of El Nino formation in winter.

 

Source: National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center