Cover crops help us begin to replace the tons (literally!) of organic matter taken from the fields during the growing season. Tons (again, literally!) of compost will also need to be spread before the next growing season if we are to even approach replenishing the soil. As you may be able to tell from this old photo of me spreading compost with CY at Vanguarden CSA, I like this winter work!
Oats were undersowed in the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards at Brookwood around the first of September. They are coming up nicely. The oats will continue grow amidst these ‘cash crops’ until the first hard frost which will kill them. In the spring, the oats will be tilled in and the first crops of 2010 planted in their place. Undersowing is a useful cover crop technique on a small farm like Brookwood. It allows us to protect and replenish the soil at the same time we’re using it to grow late fall crops. In hindsight, I wish the oats had been applied a bit earlier, when the crops were a foot in height rather than two. It would also have been lovely to use the Cub for the final cultivation/mixing soil and seeds.
I’d hoped to undersow our winter squash planting with hairy vetch, but we missed the planting window because we didn’t have the seed on hand. (Note to self, order cover crops in the spring!) It’s best to undersow vetch just as the squash vines are reaching across the tire tracks, into neighboring beds. (It’s handy to sow it just before a rain, too.) Vetch is a legume; it pulls nitrogen from the air and brings it into the soil where it’s available for next season’s crops. I think we’ll be able to make good use of the vetch next week, mixing it with oats and applying to the beds where the melons grew this season.