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High Mowing Organic Seeds
High Mowing Organic Seeds High Mowing Organic Seeds

Trials Update: Preparing Beds for Winter - Heather Jerrett - High Mowing Organic Seeds' Trials Manager

Watermelon Taste TestSeptember in Vermont! In the High Mowing Organic Seeds trial gardens, its a time when all of our warm season summer crops like melons, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplants and peppers are coming to an end and the late season crops like pumpkins, winter squash, gourds, leeks and onions are just around the corner. This year in Wolcott, it seemed like an endless summer, with day after day of hot, sunny weather. We were able to evaluate crops like melons, tomatoes and peppers with gusto, when usually we are lucky to see which ones will actually produce in our northern climate. The melon taste test spoiled our taste buds with sugary goodness, making us turn up our noses at anything less than perfect.

As we move into the autumn season we are turning in finished crops and preparing our fields for winter rest. There are many ways to prepare your garden or farm for the winter and for the following season, and many factors that affect what you need to do. In our trial gardens, once we are finished with a crop we disc it into the soil with our tractor and plant a cover crop. When the soil is warm, plant material can still break down easily and plant debris will not over-winter in the soil. If it is later in the season and the weather is cool, the plants may not be able to break down in the soil. In this case we pull the plants and incorporate them into the compost pile. We do not want plant debris to remain in the fields over the winter because if there is any disease on the plant material it may over-winter and inoculate the garden the following year. With this in mind, it is also good practice to turn your compost pile in order to make sure all plant material is breaking down. This is especially important concerning potatoes and late blight. The disease can only persist on living plant material. Dormant potato tubers, if left in the ground, become an excellent host and inoculum the next season.

Cover Crops We Use and Why
In our trial gardens, we use a number of cover crops for various reasons:
  • Organic Cover Crop - Oats and PeasWhen we remove summer crops we plant a mix of peas and oats. We use this mix in between wide rows as well. The oats act as a trellis for the peas. When oats begin to flower we mow down or incorporate them into the soil.
  • To cover bare ground left by crops that come out in the middle of the season, we use buckwheat. We choose buckwheat for this slot because there is not enough time for peas and oats to be as productive as we would like before the end of the season. Buckwheat also serves as a great smother crop for weeds and pulls minerals out of the soil for future uptake by plants.
  • Later in the season August and September we use winter rye. Winter rye is an excellent crop for over-wintering. Because it is a perennial and will begin to grow again in the spring, it is important to allow enough time for the crop to re-grow in spring and then incorporate before planting. For this reason, we do not use winter rye where any very early season crops are to be planted the following year (like onions, leeks and spring greens).

Choosing The Right Cover Crop
Choosing the right cover crop for the time of year and for your specific crop rotation is important. There are essentially three types of cover crop available:  grains, green manures and legumes. Each of these types essentially provide cover for your soil but can also be used for specific purposes.
  • Grains are crops that produce large seeds that are also commonly used for food. Some common examples of grains are oats, winter rye, and buckwheat. As a cover crop, they are used as a green manure and are not left to go to seed. Their main purpose is to cover the ground, provide structural support for other cover crops and add organic material to the soil in the form of cellulose that can then be broken down.
  • Green manures are crops that are grown specifically to replenish organic matter in the soil. Nutrients are released into the topsoil as they decompose. Most grow quickly and break down easily to allow nutrients to be captured for crop production. Many green manures work well as mixes with grains and legumes. Some common examples of green manures are Annual Ryegrass, mustard, radish, and millet.
  • Legumes are plants that provide nitrogen through Rhizobia bacteria that have a symbiotic relationship with the plants, feeding on the roots while supply nitrogen to the plant. Common examples of leguminous cover crops are vetch, alfalfa, field peas, and clovers.

For more information about cover cropping or winterizing your garden check out these helpful links:

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76 Quarry Road :: Wolcott, VT 05680 :: toll free: 866-735-4454 :: fax: 802-472-3201
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