The Giving Gardener: Plant cover crops now for healthy veggies next year

This post was contributed by Scott Behmer, Seattle Community Farm Coordinator.

2015-03-24 SCF Cover Crop ready to be tilled in

This cover crop, planted winter 2014, was ready to be tilled by March 2015.

Unlike veggies that we grow to feed us, we grow cover crops to feed the soil. They do many wonderful things like preventing erosion and water runoff, providing nutrients to the soil, and suppressing weeds.

When planting cover crop for winter, September is ideal and October is okay. The basics are similar for planting in either summer or winter. For winter, plant the cover crop in September. It will grow throughout the winter, competing with the weeds that would otherwise grow, holding the soil in place to prevent erosion and some runoff, as well as soak up lots of water to prevent more runoff.

When spring rolls around, till (mix) the cover crop into the soil where it will decompose and add their nutrients to the soil. It’s like composting, but directly in your garden bed. For nutrients, the ideal time to till cover crop in is as soon as it starts to flower. After that, the plants will instead be putting their nutrients into their seeds where they are less available to the soil, and if you wait until the seeds are produced it may become a weed itself.

You should allow two or three weeks for the cover crop to decompose before planting. If you run out of time before planting there are two options. You can either till in the cover crop early, or yank it out and compost it in your compost pile instead. If planting cover crop for the summer, the process is the same except it will grow much more quickly.

There are many different plants that are well suited to be a cover crop and many times of the year that you can plant them. They are most widely used over the winter when many veggies aren’t growing anyway, but you can also plant them in summer if you have a space that won’t be used for a while.

One of the most popular summer varieties is buckwheat. Buckwheat is fast growing and produces a lot of plant matter quickly. Over-the-winter popular varieties include field peas, vetch, clover, fava beans, and cereal rye (not perennial rye). It’s also very common to mix a few varieties together.

Cover crop photos by Steve Tracey

Food justice at Solid Ground

A Concord International School 3rd grader tastes food made from fresh ingredients at Lettuce Link's Giving Garden at Marra Farm.

A Concord International School 3rd grader tastes food made from fresh ingredients at Lettuce Link’s Giving Garden at Marra Farm.

The term “food justice” is not only defined as access to healthy food but also as access to land and knowledge about how to grow, prepare and understand the importance of nutritious food. The movement to achieve food justice in South Seattle guides the work of Solid Ground’s
Hunger & Food Resources Department.

Department Director Gerald Wright coined the phrase “Learn it, Grow it, Live it” as a way to describe our approach to fulfilling the tenets of food justice. Solid Ground’s school and community-based programs focus on gardening and nutrition education, providing fresh vegetables to food banks and community programs, grocery shopping on a budget, and cooking skills. Here are some of the specific ways we’re doing this:

  • Kids learn cooking skills and nutrition basics at Concord and Emerson Elementary schools through our Apple Corps program.
  • Low-income families and individuals from across King County attend Cooking Matters classes.
  • Youth in the South Park and Rainier Vista neighborhoods learn to garden through Lettuce Link‘s programs.

Solid Ground’s food programs rely on community members like you to help us achieve food justice as donors, volunteers and connectors. This time of year, there are lots of ways to get involved with our programs promoting food justice. Check out our food and nutrition-related volunteer opportunities, and consider getting your hands in the dirt for food justice this summer!

Merry Mice ornaments benefit Lettuce Link!

When you buy these cute little guys at City People's Garden Store, 100% of the proceeds go to Lettuce Link!

When you buy these cute little guys at City People’s Garden Store, 100% of the proceeds go to Lettuce Link!

At Lettuce Link, we’re so grateful for the support of our wider community. Every year we receive donations of seeds for our farms and seed distributions at food banks, food for events, technical skills and labor for building and repairing structures, and a host of other in-kind donations and financial support. (This year, donations resulted in some great new additions at Marra Farm.)

This December, we’re delighted that City People’s Garden Store has chosen us again as the recipient for 100% of the proceeds from their holiday Merry Mice ornaments, which cost $10.49 each.

Support Lettuce Link and a great local business: Stop by City People’s Garden Store today (located at 2939 E Madison St, between Martin Luther King Way and Lake Washington Blvd, in the Madison Valley neighborhood) to purchase Merry Mice ornaments, and consider shopping there for your garden needs all year long!

Solid Ground Board members get their hands dirty at Marra Farm

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Solid Ground’s Board of Directors‘ visit to Marra Farm on Saturday, 9/13/14 was more than just a quick stop by and tour. Board members rolled up their sleeves, turned compost, pulled weeds and invested in Marra Farm. Each Board member in attendance last Saturday now has a story to tell to friends, coworkers and potential funders about the investment they made in Marra Farm. The farm is no longer a place that exists on paper or in their minds; it’s something real and something to be excited about! The visit to Marra marks a shift in how each Board member thinks about the farm; they are connected and engaged.

As a former Executive Director of a small nonprofit, I know the value of an engaged Board of Directors. Gordon McHenry, Jr., no doubt, was proud of his team, and I am personally grateful for the time and effort each Board member contributed.

On behalf of the Lettuce Link team and the entire Marra Farm community, we thank all of the Board members in attendance and those that contributed in the planning and logistics of the day.

%d bloggers like this: