Cover crops prevent erosion and nourish the soil for the upcoming season. Cover crops are even great in raised beds. Seriously! No matter what size raised beds you have, you should still plant a cover crop in the winter. Without cover crops or some other sort of mulch, the topsoil will progressively erode and lose most of its nutrients.
When choosing a cover crop, you should take into account the size of your garden beds. The smaller the raised garden bed, the smaller the cover crop should be. The opposite for larger beds. I recommend using clover for small and rye and oats for large.
What Are Cover Crops?
A cover crop is a plant generally used to reduce erosion, enhance soil health, increase water availability, smother weeds, aid in managing, and boost biodiversity. They’re typically grown in winter.
A growing body of research shows that cultivating cover crops boosts resiliency in the face of unpredictable and intense rainfall and drought circumstances. When it rains, when it doesn’t rain, and when it pours, cover crops are helpful!
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The Best Cover Crops For Raised Beds
The best cover crop for raised garden beds is crimson clover because it grows fairly quickly, controls weeds, and fixes nitrogen into the soil. This cover crop is rather tiny, so you may utilize it with great success in even the smallest raised garden beds. I recommend using red clover, which can be sown in the spring or fall and turned in the spring or fall.
Because of their shallow roots and relatively big biomass, fava beans are excellent at fixing nitrogen and for raised garden beds. Additionally, fava beans do well in cooler climates and will still grow well in poorly drained soil. Fava beans must be sown either in the early spring or the late summer, and they must be rotated in the summer or the fall.
Although rye is among the most popular cover crops used by farmers, you don’t need a large plot of land to profit from rye as a cover crop. Rye is a great cover crop for raised garden beds because it grows quickly, and if you sow it properly, it will be quite effective at controlling weeds. In the fall, rye must be sowed, and in the spring, it must be turned.
Although it is not as winter-hardy as some other cover crops, such as winter rye, oats are a great cover crop for raised beds. You can let it naturally die back even if it is not as winter-hardy as some other cover crops. Oats’ ability to penetrate the ground to a depth of about 30 to 40 inches makes them an excellent choice as a cover crop for raised vegetable beds. Oats can be planted in the spring or the fall and can be turned in the spring or summer.
Hairy vetch is a nitrogen-fixing legume, which means that it uses helpful bacteria to help it collect nitrogen from the air. The extra nitrogen will be accessible for the following crop once this cover crop has been cut or tilled. It grows quickly and is a great cover crop for raised garden beds. It is necessary to sow and turn Hairy Vetch in the fall and spring, respectively. Just remember that the spring is when most of the growth will occur.
Garden peas are an excellent cover crop for smaller gardens, such as those with raised beds, and have been used for this purpose for a long time. They develop rather quickly and are effective cover crops for fixing nitrogen. Garden peas must be sown in the fall and turned over in the spring.
Buckwheat should be grown if weeds are an issue in your raised garden beds. Most weeds are typically outcompeted by buckwheat, which can suppress them in a matter of weeks. If you reside in a relatively mild area, carefully cut the buckwheat before it produces seeds, or else you might have a big buckwheat problem. Buckwheat can be sown in the spring or fall and must be turned in the spring or fall.
When you remove a cowpea plant, the surplus nitrogen will be accessible for the following crop because cowpeas are nitrogen-fixing plants, which means they take nitrogen from the air with the help of bacteria. Although you can use it as mulch once cut down, many people till the cut cowpeas into the soil. Cowpeas must be sown in the summer and either turned over or harvested in the early spring.
Barley is a great cover crop for the fall, especially if your soil has too much salt from artificial fertilizers. It grows rather quickly and, once turned, acts as a mulch, stifling weeds and nourishing the soil simultaneously. Although barley can be planted in the spring or the fall, fall planting is unquestionably the best choice if the local winter is mild enough.
Alfalfa is a type of legume that decomposes the soil; it’s a great cover crop if your soil is largely clay. Remember that alfalfa won’t grow in compacted clay soil, so make sure to till the ground or use an organic mulch. The fact that alfalfa may be planted from spring through late summer is its strongest feature as a cover crop. Alfalfa turns either in the spring or the fall.
Due to the substantial quantity of organic material it contributes to the soil once it is tilled or otherwise incorporated into the soil, winter wheat is a fantastic cover crop for raised garden beds. Winter wheat is effective in outcompeting weeds and suppressing them as well. Fall wheat is planted, then in the spring, it is rotated or tilled.
As you can see, the choices for cover crops for raised garden beds are numerous. I advise selecting a cover crop that grows quickly and fixes nitrogen, such as crimson clover.