Last week was the Hunter’s Moon, traditionally a time to take stock and prepare for the winter months to come, and I have been feeling it this year. Maybe it’s because the rainy season arrived with such force, or maybe it’s because after 18 months of Covid, my relatively social summer wore me out. Whatever it is, I’ve been feeling like a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter, readying myself for what tends to be a remarkably short and mild winter season here in Northern California (at least, as compared with Minnesota, where I spent a good chunk of my life). I’ve been making the house cozy, stocking up on tea and oatmeal, and planning out holiday crafts to work on with my daughter. She has announced that she plans to make a two-story gingerbread house this year, so I’ll need to think through the logistics of that…
This weekend I’ll take out the last plants from the garden – mostly peppers, eggplant, and pumpkins – and I’ll plant the cover crop to overwinter in the beds. If you garden and haven’t used cover crops before, they’re a great way to improve the quality, structure and nutrients in your soil. I planted a cover crop a couple years ago and turned it under about a month before I planted. By the time I put my plants in, the soil was incredibly rich and crawling with earthworms. It may be getting late in some parts of the country – It’s recommended to plant about a month before the first hard frost – but for warmer climates there’s still time, and the benefits are totally worth it. Here’s a short list of the benefits from overwintering with a cover crop:
-prevents soil erosion
-adds nitrogen and other nutrients to your soil
-improves moisture retention
-prevents or reduces need for other fertilizer during planting season
-provides a habitat for beneficial microorganisms that improve soil fertility
-looks really pretty and lush
So very worth it!
The crop I chose has a mix of 10 different seeds, including winter peas, crimson clover, mustard, fenugreek, hairy vetch, rye, radish and collards. Apparently, the biodiversity of a mix is a good way to get a variety of creatures and nutrients, but you may want to choose a mix appropriate for your climate. Winter rye, Dutch white clover and hairy vetch are suited withstand colder temperatures. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to cut it about 4 weeks before you plan to plant and let it dry out for a few days before gently turning it under. By the time you put the plants in, you should have some happy and healthy soil!
I’d love to know what you’re doing to prepare for the winter, and if you decide to try a cover crop on your garden, let me know how it goes! I’ll share a photo once our crop starts to grow.
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