By; Tim McDermott, Extension Educator, Ohio State University (Sourced: VegNet Newsletter)
Cover Crops are a valuable tool in the toolbox of the backyard grower, community gardener and urban farmer. I planted a mix of cover crop species last fall in my community garden plot to keep the soil alive over the winter, prevent erosion and increase soil organic matter.
Winter rye, forage radish, hairy vetch and crimson clover blend
This species mix, especially the winter rye component, can be challenging to manage in the spring depending on when the soil is worked. The winter rye will die from mowing or crimping when it is going to seed and nearing maturity, but when tilled young, some of the grass will continue to grow.
The city tilled the garden in late March, some of the cover crops persisted and will continue to grow without further tillage or herbicide application.
The majority of my plot will be used for summer vegetables. I do not want to leave the ground bare until that point as the cover crops will continue to grow in spaces and weeds will fill in the rest. I would also lose organic matter and fertility from spring rains.
I rototilled over half of the plot to create a seed bed about 10 days after initial tillage. This will kill most of the remaining over-wintered cover crops and created a seed bed for planting. There is a loss of organic matter from tillage, but I did not have the option to drill in the seed.
I followed up with a planting of Buckwheat. Buckwheat is a versatile cover crop that tolerates poor soils, rapidly germinates, weed suppresses, attracts pollinators and when mowed, will rapidly break down prior to the next planted crop.
I will let the Buckwheat grow until mid-May. Then I will mow the space which will kill both the cover crop and any annual weed that germinates within the Buckwheat planting. It will also weaken any perennial weed that is growing. I will let the residue decompose for a few days and then till and apply plasti-culture mulch in the pathways prior to summer vegetable planting.