Cover Crops

Some would call a dandelion a weed and others cultivate it for consumption. I’ve seen seed sites where you can buy different types to grow in your garden. It is said to be the most nutritious plant in your yard whether you want it there or not. The only thing I know for sure is it is a bear to get out once the roots have established themselves. So pluck quick or regret it if its not wanted. Confused what the difference is between a plant and a weed? A weed is simply a plant growing where it isn’t wanted.


Mother Nature doesn’t have any weeds. Think about that. She places every single plant in the spot in which it will flourish and aid the soil. She puts in tough tap rooted plants to break up hard pan soils and as they decompose they open up paths for nutrients and water to flow so that weaker root systems can later grow. Hair root plants are placed to keep loose soils from eroding like pine trees in the mountains. She places vetch to provide a heavy mulch which helps water conservation. She is the master gardener and we could learn a great deal from her. It’s what cover crops are all about. Placing plants in a location with a weakness to aid in establishing a greater balance just like Mother Nature does.

I’ve decided that I need to scale down our livestock production greatly and concentrate on our diminishing soils in our garden. I can’t do it with animal manure alone. I just don’t have the time and age is impeding my endurance and strength. But Harvey Ussery in his book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock has given me an idea. I can use cover crops to help feed my chickens while using them to till in a cover crop into the soil.  That would lower my input in the garden and chicken area combined. I’m even thinking of how I could use the goats.

I have sandy soil which I’m learning leaches quickly of nutrients and erodes easily from moisture and wind. It needs protected 12 months of the year. Cover crops are the answer. Our season is super short so part of the garden may suffer where the long season plants are grown but more is better than none. We do have the benefit of the north garden being blanketed with deep snow during winter so there is some protection from wind but a whole lot of snow melt to wash away the nutrients. The south garden is holds little snow and we’ve placed the perennials there as the deep snow breaks down the branches on bushes we have in the north garden and so we’ve learned. Hmm….what should I do and where? I’d guess the first thing to do is simply start and feel my way through.

I’m thinking for sure Buckwheat which can be used as a speedy short-season cover crop. It suppresses weeds, (plants not wanted). “Buckwheat solubilizes and takes up phosphorus that is otherwise unavailable to crops, then releases these nutrients to later crops as the residue breaks down. The roots of the plants produce mild acids that release nutrients from the soil. These acids also activate slow-releasing, organic fertilizers, such as rock phosphate.” Buckwheat’s dense, fibrous roots cluster in the top 10 inches of soil, providing a large root surface area for nutrient uptake. It thrives in low fertility soils which is just what I have. It attracts beneficial insects and pollinators.  I’m thinking spring cover crop. I’ve grown buckwheat as a food crop in a different location before but this time it will be a cover crop.

I’m also thinking oats as they prefer well drained soil like my sandy soil. It would make a great fall cover crop to hold the soil and will winter kill. I remember ranchers planting oats during the beginning of lambing the first of May as it will germinate at 38 degrees F.. Wonder how well it would spring up in late August. Too hot?  Lots of cover crop mixes have oats and field peas together. The stalks of the oats supporting the tendrils of the peas.

Winter rye rapidly creates a covering to hold the soil and protect against erosion and so it is another thing I’m thinking as the chickens could eat and till it in the spring.

Winter wheat would do the same as winter rye.

Then there is barley, and millet. Two other grains that grow well in Wyoming.

Spring winter rye, summer buckwheat, and fall I’m also wondering about clover, the short dense varieties. They are suppose to add a great deal of nitrogen.

A lot to think about. While I’m growing cover crops I could get a feel for how I need to manage grain crops. I’ve grown hulless oats, a cinch. Someday I could at least add winter wheat and winter rye to hold the soil in the winter and then harvest it later so as to give me a continual supply of seeds. Any extra would be turned into food for us. Yes, possibilities are opening up.




2 thoughts on “Cover Crops

  1. Valerie

    I have hulless oats and was planning to try them. It would probably be much different growing for us here on the east coast. Glad to hear they were easy to grow though.


    1. The hulless oats I grew for eating but I am growing regular oats for a cover crop. It will be tilled in before harvest. I’m thinking a pea /oat mixture they sell as a spring cover crop mix. This will be a new adventure. Right now I’m just dreaming as I push snow around with the tractor.


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