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Plant crops now to feed crops later

By Bob Westerfield
University of Georgia

If tending your summer garden has you exhausted and ready for a break, consider planting a cover crop before storing your garden tools for the winter. A cover crop can give your garden a neat appearance and help protect the soil from erosion.

Cover crops also add rich organic nutrients when they are tilled in the spring. I prefer a combination cover crop of a small grain such as wheat, rye or oats mixed with a legume such as clover or Australian winter peas. Small grains nurse and protect the slower germinating clover or peas.

Clover is a very small seed so it will only take a pound or less mixed with wheat to cover the average garden. Clover needs to be inoculated if it is not already done when you buy it.

Inoculation covers the seed in black powdered bacteria that helps to digest the seed coat and increase germination. I find the best way to inoculate the seed is to pour the seed and a bag of inoculant in a small bucket and add a little soft drink to the mix.

Mix the seed thoroughly by hand with the black powder and soft drink. Don’t use too much liquid, only enough to help the bacteria stick to the seed.

I then mix in a few pounds of small grain, like wheat, and spread this with a hand spreader on my tilled garden. I usually add a few pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet of garden to get things going.

Over time, the clover will produce its own nitrogen and assist the wheat. As a side note, don’t use rye grass as a cover crop. It is very persistent and tends to hang around too long in the spring. It also prevents other plants from growing well.

(Bob Westerfield is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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