I apologize for the delay in getting back into the blogosphere. As most of you have dealt with this fall, there is unevenness. Some weeks are still allowing for tomatoes and peppers to cling on. Then the first very, very light snow mixture occurred in Freeport on Saturday, October 4. This week has been more mild with temperatures in the 50s and 60s so perhaps there has been a recovery on the part of your plants to still potentially yield this late in the fall.
On to today's subject then. Cover crops are a useful tool not only in vegetable production but also in the backyard. They are a crop that is grown to either be removed, tilled under, or plants planted between the actual cover crops. There are many benefits to cover crops which are mainly tide to soil. This includes addressing erosion, managing weeds, eliminating the fallow period, restoring nutrients like Nitrogen, helping to break up compacted soil, and feed soil microbes. Some cover crops are useful in attracting pollinators to your crops.
Cover crops are broken down into two different categories of either legume or non-legume. Legumes restore nitrogen to the soil that was taken up while non-legumes do not. Legumes are typically thought of as within the bean family such as clovers while non-legumes are thought of in the grass/brassica families. Non-legumes include rye, oats, brassicas, and other. Further, legumes and non-legumes can be broken down into cool and warm season plantings. When selecting a cover crop, it is important to consider what exactly it is (legume or non-legume? Cool or warm season?) as this will help determine what qualities you'll get out of the planting.
Cover crops cover a wide range of qualities. Some can easily be scattered into the garden and germinate fine. Others may need to be drilled. Some will be winter-killed while others needed to be harvest and removed. Some are better for tilling under in the form of a green manure. Others go to seed easily and can become a nuisance. When it comes to deciding cover crops it's important to do your homework and know what you are getting into. Two resources, Growing Cover Crops Profitably (http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition) and the Midwest Cover Crops Council (http://www.mccc.msu.edu/) are excellent sources that can be used together to determine what will work for you. I also developed a Cover Crops Calendar (http://web.extension.illinois.edu/jsw/downloads/55743.pdf) that tells you what your options are within Northern Illinois based on the time of the year. All three of these sources can help guide you when it comes to selecting for cover crops.
So begins Day 1 of Cover Crops Week here at the blog. Join us tomorrow for an overview on Legumes.