Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fall cover cropping

I cover cropped half our front yard last Wednesday (1500 square feet) with 1.5 lbs of wheat, 3/8 lb of crimson clover, 3/8 lb of white dutch clover, and 4.5 lbs of fava beans. To determine how much to use, I found different recommendations of how much seed to sow from different catalogs, then applied 1/4 the lowest recommendation of crimson clover, 1/4 of white dutch clover, and the lowest recommendation for wheat and fava beans. I figured that a somewhat higher density of seed would be appropriate than just dividing everything by 4, since the part I sowed is covered in wood chips laid down about 7 months ago and doesn't give the best conditions for establishment, plus the different species will utilize somewhat different niches in the soil and above ground. I used wheat because we have a lot of it already for food but we're weaning ourselves from it, favas because they're a classic cover crop and we hope to eat them in spring, white dutch clover because it's a perennial which will stick around as a ground cover (and even expand its coverage) anywhere we don't replace it with other stuff, and crimson clover because Theressa thinks it's pretty, plus it's cheaper than the white dutch and can fill in space until it dies off next year, by which time the white clover will be ready to fill out.

I followed pretty much the same practice I used when I cover cropped in early summer, presprouting everything in advance. When sowing, I began by trying to carefully apply seeds from the wheat bucket to an area of the yard, then carefully pick seeds from the clover bucket (with both kinds of clover mixed together), then from the fava bean bucket. But I got tired of that very quickly and decided it was a lot easier and a whole lot more fun to just grab handfuls of seeds and fling them across the yard in a vaguely targeted yet largely random manner. I think the yard got fine coverage.

Once the seeds were all flung, I covered half the yard in another 1" of wood chips. I left half the seeds exposed to the air because we were in a cloudy, rainy stretch. However, by Friday the sun had come out enough that I decided it best to cover most of the exposed seeds with 1" of chips. I still left a few areas uncovered to see how the different patches do.

As of today, in the patches not covered in chips, there are some signs of the first green leaves unfolding if you look closely enough at the chips, and lots of seeds sending out their radicles (the first white shoot a germinating seed sends out) trying to find a path through the chips downward to anchor its root. I haven't seen anything breaking through the 1" chip layer yet.

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