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Friday, October 4, 2013

Using Cover Crops in Your Vegetable Garden: Crimson Clover - Try It!

Using Cover Crops in Your Vegetable Garden: 
Crimson Clover - Try It!

What is It and Why Did I Choose It?

After doing some extensive research on cover crops, I decided to order some 'Crimson Clover - Trifolium Incarnatum.' I chose crimson clover for several reasons. It is a winter cover crop in my area, Maryland Zone 7 and the timing was right.  It is best planted in September or October and it can be easily tilled into the ground come April. That is how you would most likely use it in a home garden. If let to grow to full size, it will develop beautiful crimson flowers on plants that get several feet high. It is a legume which means it will fix its own nitrogen and bring it to your soil. The lush green growth will help build the structure of your soil, once tilled into the ground. 

My goals in using this cover crop is to increase organic matter in my garden beds and to increase a more friendly form of  nitrogen in my garden beds.  Adding nitrogen in this manner will reduce the need to use fertilizers. Using cover crops, will save you money. A pound of seeds is much cheaper than purchasing organic or even synthetic fertilizers. 

I invite you to look up crimson clover on the web and even purchase some seeds. Try it out as I do this year and let us all know how it turns out. If you have used it before, please comment on your experience.

Organic matter is created essentially in two ways. Crimson clover  is a legume and it develops a nice fibrous root system. The roots fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere. The roots loosen heavy soils and when killed, will become organic matter to feed the microbes in your soil. 

Cover crops are NOT fertilizers, they are amendments. They add to your soil structure and that is their primary purposes. The bonus is the micro and macro-nutrients that are left behind. The green growth is easily tilled and killed come April. The greenery of the plant also becomes a great source or organic matter to be enjoyed by your soil and plants. I selected crimson clover because it will produce a lot of greenery or biomass. Just lots of good green plant matter to turn into your soil. It makes worms, microbes and vegetable plants happy.

I mentioned that the plant is legume and it fixes its own nitrogen and that the turned decaying plant will bring nitrogen into garden bedsl. Crimson clover brings a significant amount of nitrogen into the soil. If you search the cover crop you will find that many studies show it reduced the total number of pounds of nitrogen fertilizer needed in farming fields by over 50%. A great cost savings. Its nitrogen contribution to 1 acre ranges from 70 - 150 pounds comparatively. 

What are the Benefits of Using Crimson Clover as a Winter Cover Crop?
  • It will add organic matter to your soil and improve the structure and life of your soil
  • It will fix or add nitrogen to your soil organically and reduce the need for fertilizers
  • It will control weeds and prevent rain erosion
  • It will attract beneficial insects to your garden (leave a patch growing so it blossoms)

How to Use Crimson Clover in Your Home Vegetable Garden?
  • It is a winter crop and best planted when the nights are below 60 degrees
  • A good planting time in Zone 7 is September or October
  • It should have 4-6 weeks of growth time before your first hard frost arrives
  • The seed should be inoculated (coated) with legume inoculate. Many seeds come pre-inoculated
  • Broadcast the seeds into your beds and rake them in to about 1/4 -1/2 inch deep and water
  • Turn the plant into the earth in April, about 2 weeks before planting your crops

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