Cover Crops- Nature’s Fertilizer

Improve your soil naturally

The use of cover crops dates back to ancient times. Over 2500 years ago, the Japanese and Chinese noticed that many crops grew and produced better following the growth of certain other plants.

There is a finite amount of nutrients in soil, and with every harvest, nutrients are removed from the system and put into your vegetable or flower. This removal of nutrients and organic matter from the garden is what makes adding nutrients back into the soil necessary.

Cover crops improve soil health because they add organic material and nitrogen, bring buried nutrients to the soil surface, break up hardpan soils, improve water percolation, suppress weeds, increase microbial activity and diversity, and reduce some soil pests. By sowing cover crops, you are essentially growing your own fertilizer in addition to improving soil quality!

The Herb Cottage carries Botanical Interests Seeds for cover crops for all seasons:

Soil Builder Peas/Oats:

A dynamic duo of peas and oats that improves your garden’s soil fertility and structure. Sow in the fall, 6 to 8 weeks before your average first fall frost, or spring, when the soil is at least 40ºF.

Crimson Clover: A hardworking cover crop for your vegetable garden that fixes nitrogen for improved soil fertility. Sow in the fall, 4 to 6 weeks before average first fall frost, or spring after the average last frost date.

Common Buckwheat: In just a few weeks, grow your own green manure for healthier soil that is more productive.Spring through fall, when soil temperature is above 55ºF.

Cover Crop Clover

Cover Crop Clover

Cover Crop Common Buckwheat

Feeding Your Plants- The Low-Down on Fertilizer, Part 2

This post is a continuation of the March 2015 Newsletter. Here is the Part 1 of the Newsletter.

In this post I’m discussing how to use fertilizer in various types of garden situations- raised beds, traditional row gardens and for flowers and herbs, of course!

Raised Garden Beds

Raised Bed

Great raised bed from

Raised beds for vegetable gardens are very popular right now.There are basically two ways to do raised beds: one is to create the sides to contain the soil and simply place it on the ground, filling with soil and amendments to make a place to plant your crops. The other way is to put down some sort of landscape fabric or layers of newspaper or cardboard so the bed is not directly on the soil. That way, you’re sort of making a really large container and the bed must be treated as such.

In my opinion, compost is the best all around soil amendment you can use in a raised bed. You can use your own top soil if you can dig it from somewhere and bring it to your raised beds and mix it with compost. That’s really all you need for a good vegetable garden to start. The compost will contain all the nutrients your plants need.

When planting tomatoes, peppers and eggplant lots of folks like to put a handful of rock phosphate (phosphorus) in the planting hole to give the plants a good start. Another product sometimes used is Epsom Salts. Chemically, Epsom salts is hydrated magnesium sulfate (about 10 percent magnesium and 13 percent sulfur). Magnesium is critical for seed germination and the production of chlorophyll, fruit, and nuts. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. Here is a very informative article on using Epsom Salts in the garden from the National Gardening Association.

During the growing season, you might want to use a seaweed based foliar spray to help repel insects, give the plant extra protection from temperature extremes, as well as add nutrients to the plants. Plants will take up nutrients through all their above ground parts.

Vegetables that produce a fruit are considered heavy feeders. So, supplemental fertilizer at bloom time or when fruit starts to form and several more times during the growing season is also a good idea. You can use a balanced organic fertilizer or if you prefer using man-made fertilizers, use one with less Nitrogen or with Nitrogen and Phosphorus levels about the same.

Traditional Row Gardens

Row gardening

Nice lettuce gardein in long rows.

Row gardens are grown in a style that makes it easy to use machinery if the garden is large enough, and to keep the garden plot looking neat and clean. A fertilizer program is very similar to that of the raised beds, except you’re using the native soil for your region.

Make sure your soil has lots of compost tilled in to start the season. Then, proceed during planting and growing as for raised beds. Keep the weeds down, as they will compete for nutrients in the soil and if they get too tall, can shade out your vegetable plants. Using companion planting among your rows is a great way to bring beneficial insects to the garden.

Flower and Herb Beds

GardenFlower and Herb bed at The Herb Cottage Herb Garden

Full herb bed at The Herb Cottage

Flower beds are somewhat different than vegetable beds in that you’re going for blossoms rather than fruit. Still, you need to start with a good, well draining soil amended with compost. You can use raised beds, of course, or an in-ground bed. And, if you’re growing for a cutting garden, row-crop gardening might work best for you.

To have and maintain good flowering, especially with annuals, you need to keep up your fertilizer program with a product that has plenty of phosphorus. A balanced organic formulation works great for flower beds because the flowers find the fertilizer they require. An organic fertilizer might need to be applied every 3-4 weeks instead of every 6-8 weeks for a man-made product.

I have found annuals to need more water than perennials and most herbs– basil, stevia and mints being exceptions. Fertile soil holds water better than soil fertilized only with man-made products, making it easier for the plant to acquire the moisture as well as nutrients it needs.

As I have suggested many times before, herbs do very well in beds with flowers. The extra fertilizer you might add to flowers doesn’t seem to negatively affect herbs, even though they can be grown with less nutrient rich soil on their own. Herbs and flowers are wonderful companions bringing more complex aromas, leaf colors and textures to a garden area.

For more on Fertilizers, go to March 2015- Feeding Your Plants-

The Low-Down on Fertilizer, Part 3