Shawnee News Star 10-24-18 Linda Workman Smith, Multi-County Master Gardener Association There are cover letters, slip covers, cover charges, manhole covers, patio covers, bed covers. But one of the best covers and best investment covers is DIRT COVER"better known as cover crops. If you hurry there is still time to get some winter cover crops […]

Shawnee News Star 10-24-18

Linda Workman Smith, Multi-County Master Gardener Association

There are cover letters, slip covers, cover charges, manhole covers, patio covers, bed covers. But one of the best covers and best investment covers is DIRT COVER"better known as cover crops.

If you hurry there is still time to get some winter cover crops planted; and as usual here on my Two Acre Paradise/Three Dog Circus, I am running behind. I have three pounds of Austrian winter peas to plant as cover crop and several cabbage plants to plant in our hoop-house. Also, will be planting a few other cool season crops in there.

Cool season cover crops protect the soil throughout the winter, preventing erosion from wind and rain.   I am going to try Austrian winter pea for a winter cover crop this year–will be the first time I have planted. Like all legumes, Austrian winter pea fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere, converting it to a form that is available to plants.

When planting cover crops, prepare the soil as you would if you were planting vegetables. Be sure to broadcast the seed evenly and cover with a thin layer of soil. Keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge. Harvest/mow/chop cover crops before they flower and produce seeds, and till under at least 10 days to two weeks before planting garden crops. Or you can leave cut cover crops on the soil surface to serve as mulch. Over time, the cut material will decay, adding nutrients back to the soil. You can also let the stubble of the winter crop remain in the ground for a few weeks then plant warm season crops into it. I'm going to try it the later way in spring.

The general rule of thumb is to sow cover crop seed one month before the average date of first frost in your area. Yet, some cover crops need warmer weather than others to germinate, so check the seed package for a specific recommendation. The most cold hardy cover crops, which include rye, Dutch white clover and hairy vetch, germinate well in cool weather so they may be planted up until the first frost.

Irrigation may be necessary to get the seedlings established if the weather is warm and dry, but in most climates the soil remains sufficiently moist from rainfall once the weather cools off in fall. The cover crop will grow until temperatures are consistently below freezing and then become dormant for the winter. Growth will resume in early spring. Several weeks before you're ready to plant in spring, cut the cover crop to the ground with a mower.

This is my last article for 2018; my friend Rebecca Carlberg will wrap up the master gardener articles next week.

So until spring of 2019 I bid you adieu, and as always happy gardening.