Digging Deep with Cynthia Brian
By Cynthia Brian
“What I enjoy is not the fruits alone, but I also enjoy the soil itself, its nature, and its power.” Cicero
To grow healthy plants, fruits, and vegetables, we have to have hearty soil. Before we put our gardens to bed for the long winter nap, we want to blanket the beds with nutrient rich cover crops. Replenishing nitrogen, preventing erosion, building soil, increasing water absorption, cover crops are the workhorses of the late autumn and winter landscape.
It is critical to implement the correct combination of cover crops for the right job. Because all plants need nitrogen and all microorganisms depend on it, nitrogen is the most challenging material to maintain in the soil. The best nitrogen fixers are in the Legume family, as they interact with beneficial bacteria in the dirt to enhance the roots. Let’s take a look at crops to plant this autumn that will help with preventing weed seeds from germinating while providing a habitat for beneficial insects as well as compost for the garden.
Hairy Vetch: An annual legume that resembles peas with a pretty purple flower, toxic to humans and chickens, vetch is a favorite food of goats and cows and one of the best sources of nitrogen for plants. It sprawls and twines around other specimens. Instead of pulling it out, till it under in spring to use as mulch.
White Dutch Clover: Sown in either spring and fall, the white flowering perennial White-flowering Dutch clover spreads by underground runners. It takes two weeks for the clover to break down in the soil.
Crimson Clover: A pretty red flower sprouts in the spring when this hardy annual is planted in the fall. Crimson clover can survive winter freezing to minus ten degrees Fahrenheit. It prefers a neutral PH soil that drains well and does better when sown thickly. The entire plant can be turned under April, its succulent leaves and stems will decompose in only ten days leaving the soil nitrogen rich.
Fava Beans: For abundant green manure, plant hardy annual Fava beans. They will grow to four or five feet tall and can be planted as late as November. These hardy plants grow slowly. The tops can be cut down to the base for the compost pile. Till the roots into the soil for best results and richer planting medium.
Mustard: This is one of the most popular cover crops for home gardens, vineyards, and fields. White mustard suppresses soil borne diseases, nematodes, and common root rot. It provides some weed control, especially from rye grass. It adds lots of organic matter when tilled under and the flowers and leaves are edible. Brassica crops are not to be planted following a mustard cover.
Barley: If you have a hillside and are seeking erosion control, barley is a great solution. It’s a fast growing grass with fibrous roots. It will die if the weather gets down to 17 degrees.
Fall Planting Ideas
Visit your nursery to find trees and shrubs boasting sensational sunset colors to compliment your fall landscape. Take advantage of the balmy days, chillier evenings, and the warm soil to plant seeds offering up greens, vegetables, and flowers through the beginning of winter. Here’s what you’ll want to sow now:
Bare Root Peonies
Cover the planted patch with straw. Some seeds will germinate quickly followed by dormancy. In our mild climate greens and root vegetables can be harvested throughout the winter. Keep in mind that you can mix the many “foliage” edibles like lettuce, cabbage, Swiss Chard amongst your fall ornamentals. Look for those that add color, interesting leaf shapes, varying sizes, and form. For a bigger design impact, plant in swaths,. Thin when the plants are a few inches high, and add the sprouts to your dinner plate.
Engage your children in garden based learning to spark their curiosity and grow their confidence with practical skills they will use forever. In a large container at least eighteen inches deep, let your kids plant a slice from their favorite red, golden, or brown potato with two or three eyes up in a manure rich soil. Leaves will sprout, the plant will flower, and about ten weeks later the potatoes are ready to be harvested. In most areas, tubers are planted in spring, but I plant them all year ‘round with continued success as long as I protect them from frost or super cold weather. Your children will love eating their own baked potato or making fries.
Choose bulbs that will be deer and rodent resistant to plant towards the end of the month or any time in November for continuous spring color without the nibbling. Besides daffodils, consider alliums, snowdrops, bluebells, checkered lilies, and fritillaria.
Without good soil, we’ll never achieve a healthy, beautiful landscape. Just as we lather creams on our bodies to moisturize our skin to keep it young, our soil needs nutrients to feed the seeds. Cover crops are the anti-aging replenishing regimen that keep our gardens growing and glowing year after year. As Franklin D. Roosevelt commented: *The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” Take care of natures most important organ-its earth and it will reward you a hundred fold.
Fall forward with fabulous foliage!
Happy Gardening to You!
The Goddess Gardener
I am available as a speaker, designer, and consultant.
Causes Cynthia Brian Supports
Be the Star You Are! 501 c3 charity empowering women, families, and youth through improved literacy, positive media, and life skills.