An excellent way to fertilizer your garden is by growing a green manure. Nothing improves the soil faster. Green manures are crops grown for the purpose of tilling in at an immature stage of growth, before going to seed. At this stage these crops are still succulent – low in carbon and high in nitrogen. This means they will decompose quickly. Green manures are vegetative matter that have many of the benefits of animal manures.
GREEN MANURES WILL IMPROVE YOUR SOIL QUALITY IN MANY WAYS:
- boost the organic matter level,
- add nutrients to the soil,
- keep nutrients from leaching down beyond the reach of crop roots,
- provide food for microbial soil life,
- help the soil structure,
- improve the moisture retention capacity,
- keep the soil aerated,
- smother weeds,
- provide a living mulch that protects the soil from erosion.
THERE ARE VARIOUS WAYS TO USE GREEN MANURES.
Winter Cover Crops
These are planted in empty beds from late August until cold weather begins. Once the crop is established it lies dormant during the winter, but comes back to life with the earliest warm days in spring – a vibrant green sight when everything else is brown and gray. The growth in foliage and roots adds organic matter to the soil when tilled under the spring. Cover crops include Winter Rye, Hairy Vetch or varieties of clover. Vetch and clover are legumes which actually add nitrogen to the soil.
Winter Rye produces lots of organic matter and lots of roots. It is also drought-tolerant and very winter-hardy.
Hairy Vetch grows well in poor soil and under heat or drought conditions. It is also very winter-hardy.
Two or more crops often can be grown together to their mutual benefit, such as Winter Rye and Hairy Vetch. A single rye plant grown in good soil can produce an average of three miles of roots. Such root and root-hair growth will loosen soil particles that are bound together.
Spring and Summer Crops
These green manures are crops which are used to improve the soil during the growing season. Peas, beans and buckwheat are a good choices. The first two are primarily grown for food, but being legumes, they have the added benefit of nitrogen rich nodules. Once the harvest is over the green plants can be tilled in.
Buckwheat can be sown from early spring to late summer in any part of the garden. In only six weeks it reaches the blossom stage, then it’s ready to turn under. Within a week the soil is ready for the next crop. Buckwheat not only adds organic matter to the soil (up to 40 ton per acre) but is excellent at crowding out weeds because of its rapid growth.
Living Mulches are planted with a perennial crop. Grasses, clover or both are interplanted between rows of berries or fruit trees protecting the soil from erosion and other weathering effects. They also add organic matter to the soil.
Dutch White Clover is excellent because it is low growing and needs little mowing. It also has nitrogen rich root nodules.
In general, green manures are planted like small patches of lawn. Broadcast the seeds on bare soil, rake them in, then tamp the soil lightly with the back of the rake to make sure the seeds are in contact with the moist earth.