We usually think of cover crops as tools that farmers use to build soil between seasons of cash crops. According to Using Cover Crops in the Home Garden using cover crops can be beneficial to any gardener. These plants can build the soil, control soil erosion, and limit the spread of certain diseases and insects.
Cover Crop Benefits
For community gardeners, whether you grow in raised bed plots or in the ground, there are substantial benefits here. First, many community gardeners decide not to plant cool-season vegetables. Their plots become a mess of warm-season crop debris, which can harbor insect pests disease. Or, the plots are left bare almost guaranteeing that weedy plants will take over. Using cover crops during the cool-season months solves those issues.
Cover crops can add a nice look to a community garden plot. Many of these plants also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Cover crops can provide a cheap source of nutrition for your garden plants. After maturity the crops are mowed down (use a weed whacker if you garden in a raised bed), left to dry out and are turned into the soil. They decompose in the soil increasing the organic matter. Much less expensive than purchasing bags of organic matter!
Incorporating Cover Crops in Your Garden
So now that you are sold on the benefits of using cover crops during the cool-season, what do you plant? A combination of a cereal grain and a legume is a good choice. An example is wheat, oat, or rye with clover or winter peas. The cereal grain grows quickly while the slower germinating legume takes hold.
Finding small amounts of seeds for a garden plot may be a challenge. Check local feed and seed stores that may sell cover crops by the scoop. Check your seed catalogs. You may want to go in with others in your community garden for seed purchases.
For more details on the use of cover crops see Using Cover Crops in the Home Garden. Or, contact your local UGA Extension office.
Becky is a Georgia Certified Beekeeper and works with community and school gardeners to increase beneficial insect habitat.In 2017, she created the Georgia Pollinator Census project.Ask her about it!