The plots at the Campus Community Garden have been growing strong over the past few years. Since the plots are not too, too large (3x4m in size) and there is often turnover with students in many of the plots, it can be challenging to sacrifice space for non-food crops (e.g. if you are only gardening in a plot for two semesters) and maintain consistent, longer-term plans for optimal soil health amidst changing hands.
One of the ways we hope to continue soil building in the future is by trying to plant more cover crops between food growth and over the winter as a part of our crop rotation. Cover cropping is a great way to feed your soil, by planting crops whose purpose is to give back to the it and offer it a rest from intensive food production. Cover crops also help retain nutrients in the soil (versus an empty bed, where rain may wash them away), suppresses weed growth, and invites beneficial insects into the garden.
There are many different types of cover crops that can be grown at different parts of the year, grow at different speeds, and offer various benefits and nutrients to your garden. Common cover crops include fava beans, fall rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover, white clover, and buckwheat.
Flowering buckwheat cover crop in the Giving Gardens (June 18, 2015)
At the CCG, we have four main Giving Gardens plots, where volunteers get together weekly to learn gardening skills together. Food grown in these plots go home with volunteers and are donated to the UVSS Food Bank. We have been growing food in these plots quite intensely, so this past Fall, we sowed fall rye (in October) and fava beans (in November) as cover crops in two of our four Giving Gardens. This spring, we chopped back the rye (in March) and harvested the favas (early June), leaving the roots to decompose in the soil.
Starting to cut the buckwheat back after flowering for almost two weeks (June 22, 2015)
In May, we planted buckwheat in a third Giving Garden plot and chopped it back this past week. In order to do this, we cut back all of the flowering plants, leaving the roots in the soil, and chopped the plants into smaller pieces. Afterwards, we added some compost on top of the plants we cut back, but left much of the plant matter on the surface of the soil to decompose. In a couple weeks, after the plants decompose more, we will plant into this bed and hope our following crops will grow happily!
Hair cut time ! (June 22, 2015)
Why buckwheat? Buckwheat is an awesome summer cover crop because it germinates quickly and grows really fast – we planted it in May and cut it back a month and a half later! Buckwheat’s fine roots help loosen topsoil (helpful for our hard soil at the CCG) and effectively draw up phosphorous into the plant, which becomes readily available for the next crop after you cut it back and as it decomposes back into the soil.We didn’t need to do too much care for it while it grew and it also did an excellent job of suppressing weeds!
If you are interested in trying out a summer cover crop and are also hoping to grow food in the same season, buckwheat would be a quick and easy crop to try. We ordered our buckwheat seeds online from West Coast Seeds. On Southern Vancouver Island, I’ve seen a green manure mix sold by Metchosin Farm at markets, and I’m sure other local seed companies offer cover crop seeds too, which you might be able to find at the Moss St. Market or other local markets.
What are your favourite cover crops to grow in your garden? Have you tried growing buckwheat or other summer cover crops before? Let us know by commenting below.
Robison, D. “Buckwheat a good summer cover crop for home gardening.” Oregon State University. http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/buckwheat-makes-good-summer-cover-crop-gardens