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Judy Isacoff
Late summer polyculture garden of native wildflowers and vegetables. Aug. 21, 2019.

NATURE’S TURN: Cover crops for the home gardener

By Monday, Aug 26, 2019 Farm and Table

August 26 – September 8, 2019

Mount Washington — Bare earth is an embarrassment among farmers and gardeners attuned to the body of organisms that live in soil. Naked ground, soil devoid of growing plants, is a declining resource. Organic gardening practices are evolving with increasing awareness of soil biology. Now better known as regenerative and sustainable agriculture, we practitioners are learning to keep the ground in our care covered with living plants in all seasons. The plants sustain a subterranean community of beneficial bacteria, fungi, insects and earthworms that work together to build healthy, nutrient-rich soil.

During these last days of August, I am squeezing in plantings of frost tolerant French Breakfast radish, 25 days to maturity; Tokyo Market turnip, 35 days; and from Turtle Tree Seed, flavorful Rouge Metis Mustard, Garden Cress, Corn Salad, Salad Mix and Asian Greens. Turtle Tree also sells cover crop seed. I am sowing dill and cilantro to flavor pickles and counting on plants that are already forming seed for green and dried dill seed and coriander for my culinary adventures.

Tokyo Market turnip, Aug. 23, 2019. Photo: Judy Isacoff

During summer months I broadcast crimson clover seed between crop rows. This beautiful plant not only fixes nitrogen in the soil – i.e., we grow our own fertilizer – it keeps weeds down and is a good cut flower. As a fall and winter cover crop, sow crimson clover six to eight weeks before the first frost date – as soon as possible. It may overwinter but if not, its roots and matted tops will hold the soil until planting time. In our climate, winter rye is the mainstay cover crop for seeding from September into early October.

Crimson clover young blossoms, seed heads and Johnny Jump-Ups, June 22, 2019. Photo: Judy Isacoff

My momentum regarding cover crops was enhanced by participating in the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference two weeks ago: The theme was “Nutrition Matters! Soil Health Builds Human Health.” I heard microbiologist Jack Nelson urge, “Be good to your soil (and its microbes); don’t treat it like dirt.” See Opportunities, below, for listing of fall and winter conferences throughout the northeast.

These T-shirts are sure to be the talk of the neighborhood, just like you using cover crops is! Image courtesy Practical Farmers of Iowa


Frost dates – https://garden.org/apps/frost-dates/Great%20Barrington,%20Massachusetts/

Christine Jones, soil scientist https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Dr.+Christine+Jones%2C+soil+scientist&t=seamonkey&ia=web
More Cover Crops
Crimson clover and radish mix video Dave Robison and Cisco Seed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ1t1v78jaU
http://plantcovercrops.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Dont-Farm-Naked.jpg https://practicalfarmers.org/programs/cover-crops/
Johnny’s Selected Seed – https://www.johnnyseeds.com/farm-seed/
Organic Grower’s Supply – https://www.fedcoseeds.com/ogs/search?search=cover+crop+seed
Turtle Tree Seed – local https://www.turtletreeseed.org/product-category/vegetables/lettuce/

Opportunities to participate

Nov. 15-17 Soil and Nutrition Conference, Southbridge, MA
NOFA Winter Conferences, all regional chapters MA, CT, NJ, NY, RI, VT, NH

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