Tuesday, 15 April 2014
Turning in Fall/Winter Cover Crops
In the Fall, I seeded rye in this newly formed bed at the front of the house. We had finally finished the construction of the front verandah (minus the railing which is now done) and could at long last, create growing space out front. The area was compacted (from walking on it during the long construction process) and weedy (from neglect and also the disturbance of construction). Enter: sheet mulching and cover cropping!
I had saved cardboard and newspapers for months so had all we needed to thickly cover the compacted weedy soil. Onto that, we dumped many wheelbarrow loads of partially composted chicken coop bedding (wood shavings and manure). Onto that, we raked in fall rye and kept it watered.
Before long, we had rye growing! The neighbours thought we were crazy because it looked like we seeded grass into our new garden, LOL.
Because the rye grew quickly, it smothered the ground before any weeds could push up through all the cardboard and mulch (which is exactly what I was aiming for).
Soon, the snow fell and it all was blanketed in white for 6 months. Fast forward to April and Spring's arrival. The snow is nearly all gone (you can still see the remnants of the large snow pile in the background) and the ground is thawing out. Time to turn the rye under!
A few test digs netted beautiful results. The soil is lovely and soft and the cardboard/newspaper is almost all decomposed. The clumps of rye came up easily (which was a great relief to me). I had visions of toiling and sweating for days to turn this over. I REALLY wanted to avoid using the tractor to till it in as the weight of the tractor would surely compact the soil again plus the tilling was bound to destroy the soil structure that I have been working so hard to repair. Greatly encouraged by those few test digs, I kept going...
Here's a look at the underside of the rye. You can see the fine network of roots and how they haves totally enmeshed into the wood shaving/manure mulch and into the soil below. After shaking off the soil, here's a look at the mulch/roots.
It was amazing to me to see the effect of microclimate in this small patch of earth. Right up against the verandah skirting, the soil was completely thawed (warm, in fact) and soft up to the full depth of the garden fork (nearly 12"). It was fast work to turn the rye over in the entire back half of the bed but as soon as I reached the halfway mark (working toward the front), I had to stop digging. The soil there was still frozen! This wonderfully warm microclimate has me scheming of what to plant there... I'm guessing grapes would be a good choice with the protection from prevailing winds and the added benefit of reflective heat. We've got the railing there now to support the vines and as an added bonus, the shade in summer (from the grape vines) would certainly ease the intense heat reflecting into the house off the cedar deck boards. I can totally "dig" harnessing all that solar energy in the forum of grapes! Seems like a good example of stacking functions, permaculture style :)