Vetch, Buckwheat, and Turnips, OH MY! (Or: What our cover crop mix is doing for our soil)

The cover crop has been seeded!

So why are we planting a cover crop?

1. To out-compete the weeds:

Fun fact: One purslane plant will produce 52,000 seeds! And the seeds of a mallow plant will remain viable for 20 years!

As one of the members pointed out, "If we don't cover it, nature will." And as we've already seen at the community garden, the seedlings popping up it won't necessarily be plants you would like to grow. We've got a ton of Siberian elm seedlings along with bindweed, mallow, and purslane, to name a few. One characteristic of weeds is that they are prolific seed producers and their seeds last a loooong time. Their seeds build up in the soil (creating a 'seed bank') and because they can remain viable for such an extended period every time the soil is disturbed the weeds start popping up. Hopefully by densely seeding the area with plants that we can more easily manage and can help the soil (see #3), we can outcompete the weeds.

2. Erosion Control

I don't know if you noticed, but the monsoon season started (and hooray for that!). But a pile of loose dirt with a steep side will quickly start to wash away during any heavy rain we get. The roots of the cover crop will help hold the soil in place and the leaves will help cover the soil.

3. Improving Soil Tilth and Nutrients

It's been said before, and I will say it again: The best thing you can do for your plants is to build a healthy soil. The soil at the community garden is a very clayey soil, compacted in some spots,  and currently very nutrient poor. But it doesn't have to stay that way

Soil Tilth - The suitability of a soil to support plant and root growth.

Ideally we would like a soil that has adequate pore space to allow for air and water movement while able to hold adequate water and nutrients. In order to accomplish this we are adding lots of organic matter including manure, compost, and GREEN MANURE. Cover Crops are often called "green manure" because they can be cut down and amended into the soil adding organic matter and nutrients.

Here is a list of the plants in our cover crop and how they will help the soil:

Buckwheat - Will create a lot of canopy cover, helping to suppress weeds. It will also help make phosphorous available and attract beneficials.

Annual Ryegrass - Has a dense fiberous root system that will help create pore space and stop erosion. It has a large biomass which will add a lot of organic matter to the soil and suppress weeds.

Forage Radish - Large root will help break up compacted soil and when it decays in the winter will add organic matter. It also has alleopathic properties.

Mustard Yellow - Contain biotoxic compounds that will help with the suppression of soil-borne pests and diseases through biofumigation as the plant breaks down

Proso Millet - Will add biomass and suppress weeds.

Red Mammoth Clover - Will attract beneficial, Fix nitrogen, help with erosion, and add organic material.

Forage Turnip - Large root will help break up compacted soil and when it decays in the winter will add organic matter.

Hairy Vetch - Will fix nitrogen to put into the soil.

Field Peas - Add biomass and fix Nitrogen.

Sorghum Sudan - Chokes out weeds with competition and alleopathy, adds a lot of biomass, and help break up the soil.

We got this mix, "Cover Crop Cocktail", from Southwest Seed, a local company in Dolores that offers great cover crop, grass, and wild flower seed that grow well in this area (Also, they are very friendly and incredibly knowledgeable!). You can order seed straight from them or through Durango Nursery & Supply here in Durango.

We also planted some bean vines to grow up the fence (and hopefully create some privacy for the neighbors)

Here are some of the members getting their hands dirty making seed balls so we could just place the seeds around the fence perimeter on top of the soil.

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