Category Archives: Kentucky Garden Soil

Cover Crops for the Kentucky Garden

Crimson Clover & Cereal Rye Cover Crop
Photo Source: Rachel Rudolph, UK Extension Vegetable Specialist

Our gardens are finally slowing down for the season. One thing you may ask yourself is should I consider sowing a cover crop for my Kentucky garden? Your mind may wonder next what type of cover crop should I sow? How is the best way to sow a cover crop? To find out more information about cover crops, I contacted our UK Extension Vegetable Specialist Dr. Rachel Rudolph to see what recommendation she had on cultivating cover crops. After talking with her, I discovered selecting a cover crop comes down to what you are hoping to accomplish for your garden plot.

Interview Guest: Dr. Rachel Rudolph,
University of Kentucky Extension Vegetable Specialist

Why would gardeners want to sow cover crops for their gardens? What are the advantages or benefits? Cover crops have the potential to lend several benefits for the Kentucky garden. Most of the benefits proven through research are increased soil organic matter, weed suppression, soil structure improvement, pest and pathogen suppression, soil micro-organism promotion, improved nutrient cycling and management, increased water infiltration, reduced soil erosion, and even attract and provide habitat for native pollinators to the garden.

Which cover crops perform best for Kentucky gardens? Generally not one cover crop will capture all the benefits listed above. The question goes back to the home gardener to decide “why do I want a cover crop?” and “what am I hoping to accomplish in my garden?”. Once you answer that question, it gets much easier to implement a cover crop for the garden. For example, let’s say that you desire a cover crop for weed suppression. The next question you may ask is what time of year do I want to deal with weed suppression? You may answer this question as the winter and summer months are needed more for weed suppression. Make sure to know what growing location you are located in as well as the soil type. Also, consider what type of crops are being grown in your garden. What will happen after these crops come out of the garden? What does your timeline look like? Once you answer some of those basic questions, you will better understand what cover crop is needed or wanted for your garden.

If you are looking for a cover crop that might check multiple boxes for benefits with the home gardener, cereal rye might be a good option! With cereal rye, it will increase organic matter content in the soil, reduce weeds, improve soil structure, promote soil micro-organisms, decrease soil erosion, increase water infiltration, and help improve nutrient cycling.

Cereal Rye mixed with Crimson Clover
@ The UK Horticulture Research Farm

How should we prepare before sowing cover crops in the garden? Before getting started, home gardeners should do their homework to know how much biomass will be produced from their specific cover crop being grown. For instance, cereal rye can get several feet tall at maturity, so ask yourself, are you equipped to handle it. Make sure that you are prepared and ready for when that times comes. Also, understand when the cover crop needs to be terminated.

When it comes to seeding these cover crops, most of them can be sown by broadcast seeding it. To know how much to apply over the area, measure the acreage of the garden and know what the recommended seeding rate for the cover crop. Next, prepare to broadcast the cover crop seed over the area. It may be helpful to mix it other additions such as potting soil or sand, so you feel it better and achieve better coverage when broadcasting the seed over the ground.

Next, prepare the soil before sowing the cover crop. Soil should be loose, crumbly, and soft on the top like planting for a vegetable garden. Gardeners should be able to rake the soil softly over the entire area. Avoid rocky or compacted soils.

If someone would like to learn more about cover crops, here are some other good resources to consider adding to your library.

Managing Cover Crops Profitably Resource Book

Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide

To listen to the full interview with Dr. Rachel Rudolph on Cover Crops for the Kentucky Garden, check out Episode 10 of the Sunshine Gardening Podcast!

I hope that you enjoyed our discussion on things to consider when selecting and growing a cover crop for the Kentucky garden! To view the show notes for Episode 10 on Cover Crops for the Kentucky Garden, visit me on the blog at Warren County Agriculture. Go to www.warrencountyagriculture.com

If you would like more information about cover crops for Kentucky gardens, make sure to contact your local Extension Office in your area.

Thanks for listening to the Sunshine Gardening Podcast!

Gardeners keep digging into gardening and remember to add a little sunshine!

References:

Winter Cover Crops for Kentucky Gardens and Fields, ID-113- http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/id/id113/id113.pdf

April Gardening Tips

Kentucky gardens are bursting with spring color this month! Flowering trees and shrubs are blooming beautifully in the home landscape, while various types of flowering bulbs are scattered throughout garden beds. April is chock full of gardening activities to perform! Outdoor temperatures are cool enough that it makes it an ideal time to work outside. Today on episode 5 of the Sunshine Gardening Podcast, I am sharing 4 quick tips of things to do right now in the garden for the month of April. Stay with me as I explain some of these much needed garden activities to help you get a jump start on the spring gardening season!

Soil Preparation

To rototill or not to rototill? That is the question. Excessive rototilling, year after year, can damage soil structure and reduce the benefits of organic matter. Beneficial soil health builders such as earthworms and soil microbes are also damaged by it.

If adding lime and fertilizers according to soil test recommendations, home gardeners will want to rototill the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches to prepare their garden for planting. Break up any clumps that may form during this process to help aerate the soil.   

If garden soil has good tilth from previous compost or manure applications and lime or fertilizer is not needed, gardeners can skip rototilling. Instead, use a garden shovel to loosen the soil before planting. Later, use an iron garden rake for smoothing and leveling out garden soils in order to make a good seed bed for plants.

Remember to avoid working the soil when wet. The best test to see if the soil is too wet is to take a handful of soil and form it into a ball. If the soil crumbles readily after being pushed with your finger, the soil can be worked. On the other hand, if the soil does not break apart and stays in the ball form, the ground is too wet to be worked. Working wet ground leads to clods which make it difficult to loosen after being dried. Plus, clods greatly reduce the good seed to soil contact required for seeding germination of vegetable crops.

Cool Season Vegetables

Continue to plant cool season vegetables in the home vegetable garden. These plants like the cooler air temperatures of Kentucky and include plants such as spinach, lettuce, collards, turnip greens, onions, beets, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, early potatoes, radish, and Swiss chard. Some plants do better when directly sown into the ground and thinned out after germination.

Swiss chard growing in a raised bed garden.

To have a continuous supply of vegetables, plant a succession of those crops every 2 weeks. For more information about home vegetable gardening in Kentucky, see the publication number ID-128 titled Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky. It has everything that you will want to know about growing home vegetables in Kentucky. To view the link to the guide, please see the show notes.  

Plant a Spring Salad Bowl Garden

Try a new spin on growing salad greens this year—in a salad bowl! Choose a shallow container that contains several holes for drainage. Since this is a salad bowl garden, the container does not necessarily have to be round, but it does make for an interesting container. Window boxes and rectangular containers are also acceptable.

Next, select a good potting soil mix for growing lettuce greens in the container. Avoid potting mixes that contain lots of bark since this causes the pot to dry out quickly. A good potting soil mix will contain different soil less media components such as peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Some potting mixes will have soil release fertilizers added in, but it is usually better to incorporate these fertilizers separately. 

The fun part is deciding what plants to grow in your salad garden. Seeds can be started in your container, but it is easier to purchase transplants from a reputable garden center in your area. Several varieties of lettuce are available including arugula, romaine, spinach, and Swiss chard. Planting culinary herbs like cilantro, dill, and parsley will offer additional flavor as well.

Lastly, space transplants about three to four inches apart in your container. Make sure to locate your container in an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight and check every day for watering needs. A good rule of thumb is to perform the “finger test” where you feel around the soil with your fingers. If the soil feels dry, add water until it begins to run out the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. 

Keep plants moist and well fertilized during the growing season. Harvest a month after planting by picking individual leaves from plants. If you enjoy growing lettuce for salads, make succession plantings two to three weeks apart to provide an adequate harvest.

Watch for Cabbage Maggot in the Garden

Be on the lookout for cabbage maggots, if you have newly transplanted cabbage in the garden. Cabbage maggots have white, legless bodies with a pointed head and a blunt rear. The pupae stage of this insect likes to overwinter in the soil where they enjoy feeding on small roots or tunnel into larger stems of plants. When the soil warms in the spring, adults emerge and then mate which leads to further egg laying of this insect.

Cabbage Maggots
Source: Dr. Ric Bessin, University of Kentucky Extension Entomologist

To control maggots, delay planting time if you know a long period of cool and wet spring weather is predicted. Cabbage planted during this time is placed at a greater risk for damage. Scout and closely evaluate around cabbage plants daily during favorable conditions.  Young plants seem to be more easily damaged than established plants. Make improvements to make sure that the garden soil drains well. Raise the soil 4 to 6 inches like a bed and place plants directly into the raised garden area. Some gardeners may want to spend a little extra money by building a frame using wood boards or landscape timbers to support the soil around plants so they will not wash away after a heavy rain.

Practice Companion Planting Strategies for the Home Vegetable Garden

Utilizing companion planting strategies in the vegetable garden can give several advantages for the home gardener. In this practice, plant two or more plant species next to one another to gain benefits such as growth, pest control, or improved flavor. It has even shown to maximize vegetable yields.

Planting herbs around vegetables invite beneficial organisms to the garden. Herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley attract beneficial insects to feed and find shelter to support various stages of their predatory and parasitic insects. Lady beetles, lacewings, praying mantids, and spiders are among those organisms that are attracted to aromatic culinary herbs. Not only are companion plantings good at attracting beneficial organisms, but they also draw in pollinators. Bees really enjoy the blooms of basil, buckwheat, and clover.

If you are planting crops in the cabbage family, try planting other crops around it such as aromatic herbs, celery, beets, onions, spinach and Swiss chard. If you are planting lettuce, using crops like carrots and radishes. Remember that the key to success with companion planting is experimentation and observation in the garden. Write down those successes and failures in a garden journal to help remember that information to use for the next growing season.

Another plant that immediately comes to mind when talking about companion planting concept is marigolds. Several gardeners religiously plant this warm season annual flower every year for added diversity and to protect their vegetables from harmful insects. Research has shown that the roots of specific marigolds produce biochemicals that are poisonous to minute worm-like organisms that damage plants and reduce yields. This benefit is noticed after growing marigolds as a cover crop and turning them into the soil.   

I hope that you found this information helpful today. If you would like additional information on other April gardening tasks to perform this month in the Kentucky garden, make sure to see the show notes. I have developed and compiled a checklist of garden activities to perform in and around the Kentucky garden for the month of April. Hopefully this guide will help you see the different jobs that are needed to be done now and get you a step ahead for future gardening tasks!

April Gardening Checklist

To view the show notes, visit me on the blog at Warren County Agriculture, https://warrencountyagriculture.com/. Feel free to leave any questions that you might have or make any additional comments on the blog.

Since April is National Gardening month, I would love to see what you are growing this year in your garden! To help showcase what you are growing this year in the garden, post a picture on Facebook and add the hashtag #sunshinegardening and #growinginWarrenCounty if you are a Warren County, KY resident. I would love to see how you are growing your garden this year! It doesn’t matter if it is vegetables, herbs, flowers, landscape trees or fruit trees. I want to see your garden plants!  

Again, I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Sunshine Gardening Podcast! Make sure to tune in with me for more gardening information each week right here on the Sunshine Gardening Podcast! Each week, I plan to share seasonal gardening tips and tricks to help gardeners reach their gardening goals and to help the sun shine a little brighter over their Kentucky garden. To stay up to date on all the latest episodes, hit the subscribe button wherever you get your podcasts.

Make sure to leave me a review on iTunes, so I can know what future gardening information to share with you each week. To help sweeten the deal, the first 10 subscribers to leave me a review on iTunes will receive a gardening prize. 

Keep digging into gardening and remember to add a little sunshine!

Resources:

Home Vegetable Gardening in Kentucky, ID-128- http://www2.ca.uky.edu/agcomm/pubs/id/id128/id128.pdf