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What Is Green Manure?

By Engrid WinslowBlooms of Alsike Clover.

So, you’ve heard of cover crops, right?  Green Manure is a cover crop that is tilled into the soil while it is still green and alive.  There are many different types of plants that are used as cover crops but are most commonly peas, clovers, vetch, rye, oats, buckwheat, barley and mustard. Always trim them back before tilling in and before they go to seed. This green plant matter provides a burst of microbial life to the soil which is important in enriching your vegetable or flower beds in the spring. Different types of cover crops provide different benefits to the soil ranging from:

 

  • Preventing soil erosion
  • Stabilizing soil temperatures
  • Reducing water loss
  • Reducing weeds
  • Fixing soil nitrogen (peas and vetch)
  • Providing habitat and food for pollinators (clover, vetch and buckwheat)
  • Accumulating phosphorus in the soil
  • Reducing nutrient loss during the winter

 

When choosing a cover crop you should be aware that some form deep roots (i.e. rye) and can be more difficult to till into the soil.  Peas, barley and oats are much easier to work into your beds and never, ever let vetches go to seed or you will have a rampant weed on your hands.

 

A great time to plant cover crops also occurs in the fall after the first hard freeze and you have pulled out all those dead tomato and cucumber plants. Check out our Green Manure which contains a great mixture of peas, two types of vetch, rye and oats. You’ll be giving your soil something to do over the winter. Gardeners have become more aware in recent years that there are microbes living in the soil all year round. They have a symbiotic relationship with plant roots and need them to stay alive.

Package of Green Manure Seed Mix.

 

1000 bags of leaves and what to do with them

by Sandy Swegel

Fall leaves are Nature’s parting gift from the growing season to the gardener.  Tree roots run deep and wide and have collected minerals and nutrients from deep in the soil.  These are nutrients that then spent the summer high in the sky at treetop collecting sun rays and are now being placed abundantly at your feet.

If you’ve been gardening any length of time you know how valuable leaves are.  They decompose beautifully in the compost bin when mixed in with the green matter.  You can run them over with the mower to break them down and use them as mulch in all your garden beds.  You can keep piles of them in a shady moist corner of the garden decomposing down into leaf mold which is a superior soil amendment.

The most important thing gardeners in my neighborhood do within Fall leaves is collect them.  Our neighbor Barbara is the Queen of Fall Leaves and had taught us about how valuable leaves are to the gardener.  She lives on a busy street and puts a big cardboard sign in front of her house every year that says “Bagged Leaves Wanted.” Pretty soon bags and bags of leaves start piling up, brought from strangers all over town who are happy to have a place to recycle their leaves.  Barbara gets the first 1000 bags and about fifteen of us split the next 1000 bags of leaves.

So what do you do with 1000 bags of leaves?

Mulch the garden beds. Some of the leaves have already been chopped by blower vacs. These leaves easily go on perennial beds.

Mulch the garden paths.  Big dried leaves that are slow to break down like oak leaves or pine needles go on the paths to keep the weeds down.

Put a layer over the vegetable garden. If you don’t till in the spring, a thick layer of leaves will block light and suppress weeds and keep in moisture. But wait, you say, the wind will blow the leaves away.  That’s when you put the bagged leaves on top of the garden. It’s a place to store extra leaves and the weight of the bags keeps the loose leaves from blowing away. Moisture collects under the bags and earthworms come to feast there.

Till the molding leaves into the soil in Spring with the cover crop.

Insulate the cold frame or greenhouse with bags of leaves stacked around.

Line the troughs you dig for your potatoes next year with rotting leaves.

Make easy Leaf Mold.  Stack the bags that look like they don’t have holes somewhere (as insulation or just as storage) and put the hose in to fill the bag about ¼ way with water.  This makes speedy leaf mold.

Use as free litter for chickens and bunnies. If you have farm animals, dried leaves are perfect free litter for the bottom of the coop or cage. And the manure is already pre-mixed with carbon for composting.

Feed the Goats. The most fun thing to do with the leaves (aside from jumping in piles of them) is to feed the goats.  Apparently, dry leaves are yummy like potato chips to goats and they come running to eat the crunchiest ones when I’m hauling the latest bag of leaves to the backyard.

Happy goats running with floppy ears flying is a highlight of my day.

Photo credit:  http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/mavis-garden-blog-how-to-find-free-compost/

Cover Crops

by Sandy Swegel

Here in watery sodden Colorado, our flood waters have mostly receded and people are busy with the arduous task of rebuilding after a disaster.  Seen from above I imagine we would look much like an anthill with thousands of workers scurrying about.  Homeowners dragging ruined carpet and drywall into massive dumpsters. State workers repairing 40-foot gaps in state mountain highways. Disaster recovery crews from Texas to Utah cleaning up this big mess.  1500 volunteers summoned by social media #boulderfloodrelief organized to go in teams to neighborhoods to provide physical labor to anyone who needed it. Food banks gathering enormous amounts of food and distributing it quickly to those in need.

Gardeners and farmers have quite a recovery job.  We have to repair any damage as quickly as possible.  More importantly, we have to keep on the schedule of regular garden tasks.  The regular task in Zones 5 and 6, if you haven’t done it yet, is to get winter cover crops in on bare soil.

Cover Crops are quick-growing plants that protect and can provide many nutrients to the soil.  Some of the most common cover crops are grasses/grains such as Winter Rye.  The other favorites are legumes such as clover, vetch and peas that fix nitrogen in the soil.

Why plant cover crops? 1. They hold the soil in place.  Flood waters make this more real…There are few things sadder to a gardener than the spots where flash floods came through and took away the topsoil, leaving only hard crusty subsoil.  Even without floods, hot winter sun dries out the top inches of soil and then winds blow it right away.  A good cover crop is easier than trying to hold some kind of mulch down. 2. They enrich the soil.  Producing food uses lots of nutrients from the soil. If you let the cover crops grow all winter and then till them in Spring, you now have “green manure.”  All that organic matter from leaves and roots goes right into the soil. This is much easier than cleaning out a barn and hauling manures.  3. They provide additional bee food.  Clovers will often flower before you till them, giving bees and beneficial insects good early season food. 4. Cover crops are just beautiful. Winter rye stays green long after lawns have turned brown and stays green till really hard frosts kill the rye.  It’s beautiful in the cold brown landscape of December to see a mini field of winter rye out in the vegetable beds. 5. They suppress weeds.  By Spring, a fall-planted cover crop has shaded and covered the soil and those zillions of weeds that show up every year never germinate!  Less weeding work…my favorite reason to put in a cover crop.

Cover crops are effective whether you till or not.  In cold winter areas cover crops die on their own and are a good mulch in place even when dead.  Plant your cover crops under fruit trees and you can just mow them.  If you till then cover crops make a huge difference in your soil.

I used to have to give people lots of suggestions about where to find cover crop seeds or how to mix their own.  In the past, I would have to get 10-pound bags from the feed store and find a lot of friends to share it with.  Fortunately for my small garden area, BBB Seed Head Honcho Mike added a green manure cover crop mixture to our catalog last year.  I didn’t even have to ask for it!

For more technical info on cover crops: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/244.html

Fall Planting Information:  https://bbbseed.com/fall-planting.htm

5 FREE Soil Amendments that you can Easily Find!

by Sandy Swegel

One of the problems with gardening is that you just can’t rush Mother Nature.  If you don’t get those tomato seeds planted early enough, there’s just no way to trick the plants into growing overnight. Compost is the same…you can’t just mix everything up today and use the compost tomorrow.  But there are things you can scavenge that you can add directly to your garden that help your garden a lot more than those sterile-looking bags of manure or compost they sell at the store. And they’re free!

1. Leaf Mold

Better even than regular compost for improving soil texture, leaf mold is what you end up with after a pile of leaves has rotted down to a dark earthy mix with only a few leaves still recognizable. This can take one or two years depending on how wet your climate is.  You can find leaf mold that’s been breaking down for months or years anywhere leaves collect:  where the wind blows them behind the garage or along the shady side of the fence.  Your neighbor’s yard is a good place to find it, or along stream beds or in shady woods.  Dig in to get the dark damp leaf mold next to the soil and leave the dry leaves for another year. Spread the leaf mold over your garden, at the bottom of planting holes, or along the trenches for your potatoes.  This is pure gold for your garden.

2. Coffee grounds

Coffee shops are often willing to give you their used coffee grounds for free. Starbucks packages them up for you in empty large coffee bags.  No need to do anything special with the grounds…just sprinkle them across your soil or at the base of plants.  The plants like the boost from caffeine almost as much as you do.

3. Weed Tea  

When I’m weeding, I keep two buckets with me…one for the green leaves (and roots) of weeds like dandelions, thistle, dock, lambsquarters and one for the seed heads or other garden debris I’m cleaning.  All those long tap roots that are so hard to dig out have been pulling up minerals and micronutrients from deep in the soil.  Once my bucket of green leaves is mostly full, I fill the rest with water and leave the bucket out to “steep.” After four days or longer, (ideally until it starts to smell bad), I use this nutrient rich water to water the garden. The leaves get thrown out or into the compost. Plants that get this water turn a nice dark green.

4. Grass Clippings

If you (or your neighbor) have a lawn (and you don’t use weed killer), the grass clippings are the perfect mulch for your garden.  Layer the clippings thinly on the surface of the soil near your plants. Keep adding it every week and it will keep breaking down at the soil line into compost.

5. Newspaper

Most newspapers are printed now with soy ink and safe to use in the garden.  Lay three or four sheets of newspaper over the soil in your walkways or between rows and cover with mulch.  The newspaper helps block weeds from coming up, and reduces evaporation.  Worms LOVE the taste of newspaper and will help break it down into rich soil.

Cover Your Soil!

by Sandy Swegel

Winter winds will come and steal your soil away if you’re not careful.  If you value your earthworms and the compost that naturally forms on top of your soil under plants, figure out a way to cover your soil this winter.  Here, in Colorado, we can have 100 mile-an-hour winds in January, so we take this seriously.  We also have to take seriously the fact that anything we use to cover the soil needs to be securely attached to the ground.

Here are some of the ways I’ve covered garden soil:

Cover Crops.
These require the most planning and the most work in Spring of tilling the crops in….but
they also provide the most benefit to the soil by adding organic matter and nutrients. NOW is the time to get your winter rye or clover planted so it has time to grow before the soil gets too cold.

Leaves.
Leaves are my favorites because they become leaf mold and can be dug into the soil in Spring.  In Fall, I spread as many leaves as I can all over perennial beds and over the open vegetable bed.  In the perennial beds, the other plants tend to help keep the wind from whisking all the leaves away.  Out in the open vegetable bed, I spread 6 – 12 inches (if you have that many) of leaves on top of the soil  Then I put dozens of heavy plastic bags filled with leaves the neighbors have tidily vacuumed and mulched up on top to hold the loose leaves down.  If the bags aren’t heavy, I put rocks on top of them.  Not a pretty winter garden….but the earthworms thrive in the moisture and warmth under the plastic bags. In Spring, I can spread the leaves in the bag as a mulch on the garden.

Cardboard.
Newspaper by itself blows away too easily, but cardboard, if secured by rocks and bricks, does a good job of holding in soil and moisture.  Make sure the soil is watered before you put the cardboard down.  A layer of leaves and or newspaper under the cardboard will give the worms and microbes something to eat.

Plant a wildflower meadow.
Do you have an area of your yard that you don’t really need for vegetables or perennials? Keep the soil healthy and the garden beautiful by seeding a wildflower meadow.  Fall is an excellent time to plant a mix of wildflowers or even a mix with grasses and wildflowers that will be beautiful for years.

However you decide to protect your garden….you’ve worked hard to enrich the soil and keep the worms and microbes happy.  Help them to stay home and not blow off in the wind or desiccate in the winter sun.

Photo Credits:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/dustbowl/
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/winter-cover-crops