Cover crops or “green manure” are a valuable part of building & maintaining good soil health, especially in a home garden.
We use cover crops in our fields but also in the vegetable gardens and raised beds and the benefits have been tremendous.
Cover crops help us to garden natures way. A small bed of buckwheat in bloom will attract many beneficial insects, especially bees – they LOVE it!
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) has become by far our most preferred cover crop. It adds loads of nutrients and organic matter back to the soil while also smothering out a lot of the weeds. When times right, it can also be cut back a few weeks after it flowers and will re-seed itself providing a second growth. Most of all, it provides beautiful white flowers attracting and providing habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects, the bees absolutely love buckwheat!
It grows really quickly and can reach up to 3FT tall in three weeks so it’s really versatile and can be used throughout the season. Once we’ve harvested a bed we can sow some buckwheat and start building up that soil for the next season or we can sow the buckwheat in the spring for fall planting of garlic.
We never let a bed sit empty exposed to the elements. Instead we put the buckwheat to work for us. It’s a win-win situation.
Don’t forget that you can also eat the buckwheat as micro greens … never hurts to sow extra and pick some for salads!
Highlights of buckwheat
- Smothers weeds
- Attracts pollinators such as bees
- Attracts beneficial insects
- Effective at extracting phosphorus from the soil
- Dies off after first frost (annual)
- Micro greens
We try not to work our soil too much so we simply broadcast the buckwheat over the surface by hand. This has worked really well for us and I don’t feel that you have to till and disc the soil to plant it – but for the recommended planting you can read this.
Getting two growths
Getting a second growth of buckwheat is pretty easy. Lightly till it in several weeks into it’s flowering period. This will reseed a second crop. Depending on how long your growing season is you can get up to three crops this way. (We barely manage 2).
Buckwheat takes up phosphorus that is otherwise unavailable to crops and releases these nutrients to future crops as the plant material breaks down in the soil. The roots of the plants activate slow releasing, organic fertilizers like rock phosphate. Buckwheat’s dense & fibrous roots cluster in the top ten inches of soil, providing a large root surface area for nutrient uptake. (source)
Buckwheat performs well on over farmed soils and soils with high levels of decaying organic matter. It was often the first crop planted on cleared land during the settlement of woodland. I’ve read that buckwheat does not do well in compacted, drought, or wet soils. That said our soil is heavy clay and can be either very soggy or very dry and it’s performed very well.
It is an annual and is not frost tolerant (we love this).
Learn how three farmers in Stanly County, NC, started using multispecies cover crops and how they were able to realize economic returns on their investment in the first year (feature length).
This post was originally published on steemit.com.