cover crop : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

I need suggestions please, for a green manure cover crop. I have yellow clay soil that has been mechanically/chemically farmed to the point that it doesn't even support a real good crop of weeds! It has about a 20 second window of time between too wet to till and harder than hammered hell. Pop and my Uncle still farm the rest of the ground conventionally, but I have comandeered a 2 acre section that I plan to work my way. On it right now, I have about 1/8 acre of asparagus and am putting out another 1000 strawberry plants (I sell them picked to the local small grocery store). I will also raise some sweet corn and pumpkins for family, and sunflowers to feed the birds this winter. I want to cover crop the balance with something that will send roots deep, smother out weeds (for me, clover IS a major weed in my berries!), and will come back after being mowed, and have the decency not to regrow after I till it down (or post winter kill). Any suggestions for E. Central Illinois climate gratefully appreciated! Many thanks in advance. Polly

-- Polly (, March 30, 2000


Not sure how well it will respond to dying after you till it under, but alfalfa would seem to meet your other requirements. Good luck!


-- Brad (, March 30, 2000.

I've had good luck with buckwheat on all counts except that it isn't a legume to increase nitrogen. It plows down well and if you don't let it go to seed, it doesn't become a weed. I suppose you could let it go to seed, turn it under and let the seeds come up for a second crop. I had a terrible time with annual rye once because it didn't winter kill, nor did it want to give up even after I'd tilled it several times.

If you know someone who has a mowing business, not a big lawn care outfit that sprays, etc., provide him with a place to dump his clippings. You can mulch with them, have your green manure and they break down quickly.

-- Marilyn (, March 30, 2000.

You're right, of course, that organic matter is the long-term sustainable way to improve clay-soil structure. However, that long- term can be VERY long sometimes. SOME clay soils with degraded structure respond to the addition of the mineral gypsum, and that can be a way of getting the organic matter cycle started. The ones that do, sound like what you've described; but so do some others. It can make a really spectacular difference if it's going to work at all, and if that is an option it's worth knowing about. Identifying gypsum-responsive soils tells you how to find out if your soil would respond to gypsum. Best wishes with whatever you do.

-- Don Armstrong (, March 30, 2000.

i had a similar problem with my garden when i bought my house. the only thing that has worked for me is massive (approx. 30 yards for 1000 sf garden) amounts of compost. 40 years of commercial style gardening just killed the area. it litterally would not grow the worst weeds in the area. if you can find cheep or free compost, spread it out, till it in, and start all over again. by concentrating the amount of compost i applied, in just two years i had a decent crop. not outstanding, mind you, but decent. good luck with your two acres, and i really wish i had it, problems and all! annette

-- annette (, March 31, 2000.

Check with horse farms, they usualy are happy to get ride of there manure and it will have shavings in it which will help to.

-- kathy h (, April 01, 2000.

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. I'll give the alfalfa and buckwheat a shot and may try some hairy vetch too. I'll try them each in a strip and see how they work. I also plan to check into the gypsum idea further. Now all I need is a goat to feed the alfalfa to!!! Thanks again!

-- Polly (, April 03, 2000.

In addition to buckwheat, we use a lot of oats, planted late in the summer, so it grows before it is killed by the winter weather. Alfalfa can become a weed in situations like you have, but might be worth it for the soil building it does.

-- Jim (, April 04, 2000.

Lots of good suggestions so far. I had the same problem with my place, only red clay. I actually found several cans of something called "Brambleside with DDT!!" What I have done is grown annual rye grass, tilled in 7 trailers of rotted horse manure, and planted rape as a cover on the winter. Depending on your gardening zone some green manures work better than others. Clover is also very good at improving tilth. You might benefit from applying a topical kelp meal as well. There is some stuff called Medina that is just incredible! Check out Howard Garret's . It took me two years to get the "dirt" smell back into the soil. Now in the third year it is pretty loamy, if I do say so myself! Good Luck!

-- Doreen Davenport (, April 06, 2000.

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