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Benefits of Organic Winter Cover Crops (also known as Green Manure)

Green manures are used mainly for improving garden soil during the months when one’s garden is not in use. To reap the benefits of green manures, incorporate the green foliage into the soil (while green or soon after dying) to provide biomass to the soil’s upper levels.

  •  Increasing organic matter content- By incorporating the cover crop stems and foliage into the soil, essential particles are added to the soil, which together with the mycelia and the compounds produced by microorganisms form soil aggregates. These aggregates make the soil easy to work, with high water infiltration rate and increased level of organic humus.
  • Preventing soil erosion - Cover crops provide very good coverage in a very short period of time during the months when the garden is not in use. They reduce water runoff during heavy rain and protect the soil from crusting.
  • Weed suppression - Fast-growing cover crops take up space and light, thus reducing the opportunity for weeds to establish themselves.
  • Improved soil tilth - The extensive root systems of cover crops are very effective for loosening and aerating the soil, thereby improving water, root and air penetration and increasing the soil’s moisture holding capacity.
  • Increasing worm and microbial activity - After young and lush plants are introduced in the soil as green manure, the soil microbes multiply rapidly to attack the fresh biomass.
  • Organic nitrogen production - Cover crop mixes containing legumes produce nitrogen, which is an important benefit from using your garden during the winter.  The amount of nitrogen produced depends on the crops used, soil Ph and the available soil moisture.
  • Providing aesthetic value and color in the vegetable garden during the winter - In most cases, cover crops are mixes that contain various legumes, which produce attractive flowers in harsh conditions. In turn, this provides good cover and color during the winter in places normally bare and covered in mud. If used in summer months, cover crops provide habitat, nectar and pollen to beneficial insects.

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Everyone knows lawn clippings, dead leaves and vegetable scraps can be tossed on to the compost pile to ultimately become rich organic matter for enhancing garden soil. But did you know there is a long list of other materials that will enhance a compost pile? Try tossing the following organic recyclables onto the compost heap:
    • dryer lint (especially from cotton towels, sheets and clothing)
    • dog or cat fur (great for owners of golden retrievers!)
    • cereal and cracker boxes (take out the wax paper liner, rip cardboard into strips and moisten before adding to compost pile)
    • shredded newspaper
    • ground corn stalks
    • wood chips
    • sawdust
    • rinsed seaweed
    • guinea pig or hamster manure (plus natural-material bedding)
    Never compost dog or cat waste, bones, oil, grease, fat, invasive weeds, wheat with seeds or wood ashes.