Grow Your Own Fertilizer: Cover Crops the Easy Way

Cover cropping is the farmer's "secret" for fertilizing and aerating soil naturally, but the practice of growing beneficial crops closely together can easily be done in a home garden.

To put it simply, cover cropping is the practice of growing a crop closely together for the purposes of covering and protecting the soil, improving soil tilth and texture, and smothering weeds.

The upside to Austrian winter peas—one of my favorite fall cover crops—is that they can tolerate temperatures as low as 0°F for brief periods. So depending on what your weather’s doing this year, it’s probably not too late to plant them!

Here’s how to plant a cover crop scatter garden:



Coat your pea seeds in soil inoculant.



Once your seeds are nicely coated with inoculant, scatter several handfuls over your garden bed. Try to give the seeds enough space (around an inch or so) so they don’t germinate in crowded clumps.



When you’ve got a layer of seeds spread fairly evenly across the surface, use a rake or hand cultivator to work them down into the soil to a depth of about 1/2 to 1 inch.


Water. (And optionally, mulch.)

Water the seeds in thoroughly. If you live in a dry climate that doesn’t get much rain in fall, add a light layer of straw mulch (no more than 1 inch) to help hold in moisture.



Continue harvesting lightly from your pea plants until they begin to flower, at which point the cover crop is at its apex of benefit.

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