Pesticide free herbs and vegetables: Cover Crops #healthyliving

This is the third post I’ve done on this topic. Each of these posts looked at a different aspect of the complex topic of  integrated pest management. The first was about companion planting and looked at planting different plants next to each other to take advantage of their symbiotic qualities. The second,  Predators are your friends, looked at using keeping the harmful pest population down to acceptable levels by using their natural enemies against them.

Insects though, are just one of the pests facing gardeners who want pesticide free herbs and vegetables. One of the biggest battles that I face is weeds. For many this means using broad spectrum herbicides. Something to be avoided in this case.

Enter our hero, the cover crop. Some call cover crops green manure. This unflattering term is used because cover crops are generally mowed down and plowed  under providing organic matter to the soil. This is usually done prior to flowering. Rather than immediately plowing them under cover crops can be knocked down or mowed down to create a thick dead-plant mulch into which new plants can be tucked.

Using cover crops in this way is more effective than synthetic mulches at suppressing weeds without herbicides. In addition they enrich the soil, and reduce evaporation of precious water. Unlike herbicides cover crops boost the microbial life in the soil that are helpful to growing better plants. Over all a much better solution to weeds.

Selecting the correct cover crop can actually have unexpected results. This is because certain cover crops can actually benefit the main crop. One study found “that tomato plants in rye and rye-vetch mulches produced just as much fruit as those in black plastic,” says Sandra Wayman, seasonal research technician at the Rodale Institute. Tomatoes grown in a mowed rye-vetch mixture produced the most fruit of all the fields, and the beans grown in cut rye gave the largest harvest, out yielding the black-plastic fields.

The best time to start this method though is in fall as the year’s vegetable crops finish and are removed.

The following year,  mow or roll down the plants before the crop seeds, otherwise you’ll reseed the cover crop.

Then remove cover-crop only in the specific spot where you plant.

At the end of the season plow it all under and start over

Working with the natural order of things you will be able to grow stronger plants with fewer weeds, thereby, harvesting more, while spending less.


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