Winter Rye

Those of us who contribute to this blog have been learning quite a bit about working with Colorado soils this year! We no longer feel confident (well we probably never did) picking up bags of “top soil” or manure or compost and adding them to our garden soils. (If you missed it, see Leslie’s terrific post on this topic: New Advice on Soil Amendments.)

Most gardeners feel pretty good about adding compost they’ve made themselves to their vegetable garden soils. In our area, though, we rarely encounter gardeners who have tried out another homemade soil amendment, cover crops or green manure. A cover crop is a plant that is usually seeded in early fall (mid-September is best in our area but you can plant through mid-October) and then watered so it sprouts and grows before the first hard freeze. If it gets tall, it is mown to keep it from going to seed. It goes dormant (or even dies) after a hard freeze, and it then provides mulch over the bed during winter and the roots provide aerated soil next spring when it is time to plant. (If it did not die and greens up in spring, it may have to be treated with herbicide or removed so it does not compete with your vegetables in the growing season.) Green manure is simply a cover crop that is hardy enough to survive the winter and is tilled into the soil in the spring. (Note that both cover crops and green manures can be planted in the spring if you have enough space in your garden to give up an area for the growing season to allow the cover crop or green manure to grow over the spring and summer.) (more…)