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