It seemed like such a good idea at the end of last season to grow cover crops on the beds as they came empty, with little thought to my spring self. So what if they add so much value to the soil, to replace lost nutrients, add much needed organic matter and even, it is said, do special jobs like lupin adding extra nitrogen or mustard being a clean up crop. It is all very well to improve the soil – but I have to dig them in. And it is hard work.
Ideally the digging in should have been done a few weeks ago, before they started to flower, while the stems were still young and tender. But for reasons previously discussed, I’m running behind schedule and so my cover crops are flowering. Which puts me under even more pressure to get it done.
I managed one bed yesterday and I’m proud of what I have achieved but it has completely exhausted me. I slept last night for a straight 10 hours. I must have needed it, or like I suspect, I’m going soft. The bed I did tackled had lupin in it and previously had my melons in. This season it will be host to the ever hungry sweetcorn who will be delighted to find their soil has had an extra boost once their roots get down nice and deep.
But this whole cover crop thing as taught me a few lessons this winter. Firstly, I didn’t know the lupin cover crop I’ve grown for years has beautiful blue flowers. I have always diligently chopped them back long before they even show the slightest signs of breaking into bloom. We have some naturalised lupin growing around the garden with yellow flowers that smell heavenly when in flower, so I’m considering scattering some of the cover crop seeds as a yellow and blue combo up the side of the hill beside the garden would look amazing.
The other interesting thing has come from the mustard crops. It would seem not all of my beds are equal. The garden beds were filled on a first come first served basis – as I needed it for a crop the bed was filled. The first row is pretty much pure swamp soil. But as the garden developed the pile of soil was moved a couple of times because it was in the wrong place. And with each move, some sand became mixed in. It couldn’t be helped and then for the last beds, most of the soil had been used so we were scratching around to find patches of it. It didn’t seem to matter too much – so long as the beds were filled.
It would seem it did matter after all and the mustard cover crop was a good indicator. One bed was lush, thick and tall while another was short, thin and barely grew taller than the edge of the bed. Another crop was about halfway between them both in terms of verdant growth.
This is a good lesson into the quality of the soil. Just by digging them back in to the soil, I’m improving it, but for the poorest bed, it will need extra love, so I’ll lavish it with compost, well rotten manure and other bits and bobs, and as the crops in it grow I will make sure I feed them regularly to ensure they get what they need that may be missing from the soil. I’ll grow cover crops again next season and really try to build up that soil.
So, cover crops are good for so much more than first thought and I’ll continue to grow them, even if digging them in almost kills me!
Come again soon – there are so many spring things that need doing I don’t know where to start.
Sarah the Gardener : o)