With winter coming, these plants have gardens covered
Members of the Backyard Bounty Urban Homesteaders group toured gardens Sunday for cover crop ideas.
ROCHESTER — Cold weather is settling in, but that doesn’t mean outside gardening work is done.
Gardeners agree leaving bare soil isn’t a best practice for soil health next year.
The solution? Cover crops.
When Matthew Vetting harvested his garlic in July, he planted Daikon radishes. Even after a couple frosts, the radish plants were still in bloom Sunday.
“If it was warmer, you’d see the bees all over them,” Vetting told a group touring his garden at his Southeast Rochester home Sunday.
The tour and demonstration was scheduled and sponsored by the Backyard Bounty Urban Homesteading Meetup group . Members of the group toured Vetting’s outdoor property and garden. Vetting had his home built with resilient and sustainable technologies to make it an energy net-zero home. Robust gardens add another layer of self sufficiency, he said.
Heidi Kass, who coordinates the group, brought buckwheat seeds she harvested from a late summer cover crop she planted. Kass said she planted the crop in the summer and it went to seed, which she plans to use and share for next year.
Kass said people who don’t want the extra work of harvesting a crop can plant crops like buckwheat later in the growing season such as August and September. The first frost will likely kill off the plants before they go to seed.
“If it’s just blooming, the frost will take care of it,” Kass said.
The buckwheat will still offer the benefits of preventing weeds, keeping the soil oxygenated and teeming with life from the roots the plants produce. It also adds nutrients to the soil once they die off.
Another popular late-season cover crop is cilantro. Vetting planted a garden bed with cilantro after harvesting onions and garlic in January and August. He said having cilantro available late in the year when peppers and tomatoes are ripe is good timing for salsa makers.
Vetting won’t harvest the Daikon radishes he planted. They’ve already done what he needed them to do — feed his bees, pull nutrients from deep in the soil to the surface and keep a garden bed covered.
Instead, he will cover the plants in the spring, add compost and plant potatoes.
Although cover crops are a best practice in gardening, they still haven’t taken root more widely. One reason is because they can take extra work to keep from going to seed and returning next spring.
“You don’t want it to come back and haunt you next year,” Kass said.
On a large scale that effort might not always be economical. Even on a smaller scale, it can still be extra work.
“It’s like all our energy goes into the spring planting and when it comes to mid year, we just don’t have the motivation,” Kass said.
This late in the year, Kass suggests covering bare soil with mulch.
“It will keep your soil cool, it will keep down weeds,” she said.