Spring is a good time to renew the soil for a money saving fall vegetable garden. Fall vegetables are healthy and flavorful and help to reduce household food bills by extending the growing season. If space is available in the spring, a good choice is to plant an inexpensive and easy “cover crop” which can build the soil with nutrients needed by the future autumn vegetables planted in late summer.
Cover crops provide natural green manure to the garden soil, add soil nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Cover crops, or sometimes called green manure crops, are easy to sow, usually just broadcast on the tilled or spaded soil.
Traditionally, cover crops are planted on larger farms and normally in the fall of the year. However, home gardeners, with the proper planning can use a cover crop or green manure system for a money saving fall planted vegetable garden.
There are some additional benefits to thoughtful planning and plantings. A cover crop can help a gardener to more easily manage weed problems. Most cover crops are rapid growers; buckwheat and oats are two good examples, they grow faster than most weeds can reach maturity (harvest stage) in just about eight weeks and then can be turned back into the soil.
Buckwheat or oats, for example, can reach maturity in about eight weeks Sown in May, the enriched soil will be ready in August, just in time to plant a fall vegetable garden without using expensive fertilizers and saving compost for other needs.
Additionally, if desired, the buckwheat hulls can be harvest and used for flour; oats are also edible and the leaves are highly nutritious added in salads. Either buckwheat or oats can also be used in backyard bird feeders or fed to livestock.
Cover crops, like buckwheat and oats, attract many beneficial insects, particularly bees. Pollinators are important insects to have in any vegetable garden and can help to increase the backyard harvest in the spring-summer garden.
Besides buckwheat and oats, there are a wide range of other beneficial cover crops which can be planted in the backyard vegetable garden in the spring. Some other cover crops which can be used by the springtime home gardener for fall crops are: alfalfa, clover, vetch, rye, and wheat. Although traditionally planted as a winter cover crops, these valuable green manure crops can also be used in the spring for a late summer planting.
Some fall vegetables which can be successfully planted in late summer and harvested before winter’s icy grip are red beets, turnips, lettuce and greens like spinach, kale and the chards, and peas. Broccoli, some cabbages and cauliflower transplants can also be planted in late summer for the fall garden.
Even in some northern areas, gardeners can gamble on a late crop of tomato or beans with a late July or early August planting in soil enriched with a green manure crop. Many bean varieties can mature in the 50 to 60 day range.
Tomatoes can get a head start if the plants are cloned from the spring/summer garden plants. The trick is to watch for the average fall frost dates for a particular area and count backwards, usually about ten weeks, to determine the planting date for the clones.
Use the suckers from a tomato plant, cut them off and place in a jar of water for several days. Roots will soon appear and the clone can be planted in the enriched soil. Be sure to water generously until the plant’s root system takes hold. In northern areas, it helps to use a fast maturing variety of tomato and be prepared with covers if an early outbreak of cold weather is forecast.
A springtime, green manure or cover crop tilled back into the soil in mid to late summer, will extended the home harvest. It requires some thoughtful planning, an eye towards historic weather data for your location, and good gardening practices. The soil is the foundation and the cover crop a focal point for the eventual late season fall harvest.