I am having fun experimenting with gardening this year. So far the pay offs look good though this has been a very a-typical year for temperate zone gardening.
I started seriously planting cover crops beginning in April, sowing some ground with an early mix of field peas, hairy vetch and hull-less oats. The chickens and pigs will eat the harvest and we will plant something again for fall and let the residue winter-kill. Next year I will plant directly in the stubble with improved soil fertility.
I also sowed vetch and clover in early spring prior to planting several other broad strips of garden. It got going quite nicely by the time I could safely plant tender annual seedlings: brassicas, and then tomatoes, eggplant and green pepper, in oases I cleared for each seedling, The cover crops around these plants, seem to be providing fertility to the warm season plants though brassicas aren’t known to benefit from the mycorrhizal associations from which other plants thrive. However, the purpose of my garden is twofold: to grow produce for us to eat, and also to sequester carbon and increase the microbial population for next season. So even if the green manure/cover crop doesn’t make bigger cabbages, it will keep the ground covered and the carbon-hungry micro-organisms alive. It seems my main work will be to keep the cover crop from shading the food crop. The cover crop doesn’t compete for nutrients; rather, it makes them more available to my vegetables by increasing the numbers of nutrient-yielding microbes. It also keeps the soil cool and retains ground moisture or, alternatively, acts as a reservoir when there is too much rain. So far weeding is easy: I only pull what is threatening to smother the vegetable plants in these areas (as well as nasties like ragweed and thistle) weeding the plant instead of the plot.
These are all practices that regenerative farmers around the world are scaling up to increase yields while sequestering carbon, detoxing from their ag-chem addictions, minimally disturbing the soil, keeping it covered with as diversified a garment as possible, and, in some cases, adding animals that will manure and prune (graze) the crop, animals from bees to cattle. Of course, the “animals” of choice for every situation are the microbes/mycorrhizal fungi in their trillions, who long ago learned to collaborate with plants for mutual nourishment.
The world will need to sequester carbon through regenerative practices on all available land if we hope to reduce the atmospheric greenhouse gases in time to avoid the worst catastrophe from climate change.
We were recently in the outlandish (to us) city of Chicago, helping our daughter move to a new place. I was on full alert to the way people were tending their small garden spaces. Some were trying to have conventional midwestern American mini-lawns bordered with flowers, but many houses had what I would guess were effective carbon sequestering garden strips with various perennial plants placed closely together and foliage that is active for 7 or 8 months of the year.
Late July 2019
The garden is doing well for the most part, and I am doing much less weeding overall and having very little guilt about what weeds are present. The annuals planted amongst the clover and vetch are thriving and look lovely nestled in their soft beds. I scattered buckwheat through the brassicas after they were a good size and now they are surrounded by clusters of buckwheat leaves and tiny white flower clusters.
We had a LOT of cool weather and rain through most of June followed by sudden heat. The onions planted in mulch didn’t do well despite the side dressing of ash and aged manure they always get. Nor did the pasture get its spring bounce, and we are thinking it has to do with all the moisture, perhaps too much for aerobic micro-organisms to thrive. Our ground has a layer of clay less than a foot deep and excessive rain doesn’t percolate far. The strips with cover crop did well with the rain: the clover and vetch absorbed the rain and kept the ground moist when the heat came in force. I got the earliest cauliflower ever and the cabbages keep coming. ( We eat 3 or 4 a week in season).
The cover crop interplanting trials have been more successful than our normal practice of heavy mulching. I think it will work well with melons and squash next year which I planted in mulch this year. They as well as the onions may have suffered from too much moisture. i’m going to cover crop the whole garden in the fall and do the same early next spring as well.