Cover crops? In frames, you say? Yes. Cover crops have been used for eons, to keep the soil friable for the next planting, to prevent soil erosion, to add organic material back into the soil, to act as a natural mulch, and as weed suppression – for no-till farmers, an essential part of maintaining and caring for the soil. Some no-till large scale farmers even plant their corn directly through the debris of the cover crops as they are cut down at the roots. For us, on a smaller scale, we are of course no-till – that would involve backbreaking turning of the the soil in each frame by the shovelful, and that prospect is not terribly exciting. We also have a huge weed problem here, because it is rarely cold enough for long enough to put the weed seeds out of commission. Plus, I’d prefer not to have to truck in loads of dirt and poop.
So, as we head into fall, I’m putting in cover crops in the frames, and they’ll get a foothold before the lower temps slow their growth. I’ve done two so far in the past few days, clearing the weeds, breaking up the soil, spreading the seed, scuffling up the soil a little to partially cover the seed so the birds don’t eat all of it, then relaying the irrigation lines in the frame. At the end, it’s nice and neat and looks like the photo.
In a few days, some of the mix will start germinating, and by the end of a week, all the the various seeds in the mix should be popping up. The only trick will be to make sure that none of it gets to the seed stage, as we don’t want it to reseed itself: just stay there long enough to grow into something that can be sheared off and left as mulch through which to put the transplants when they are ready to go (and hopefully to keep the weeds down). The mulch will eventually decompose, and be taken back into the soil to help get nutrients back into the mix.