Consider Cover Crops

co-vercrops

Cover crops — also unglamorously called ‘green manure’ (although the technical definition is different) — are well-known to larger-scale gardeners and farmers, but also worth considering even for the home gardener.

Cover crops are grasses (oats, wheat, clovers, buckwheat, barley, rye, alfalfa) and legumes (peas, hairy vetch, fava beans) that are planted to cover the soil surface. They help to reduce erosion and weed growth in unplanted and overwintering garden beds. Green manure crops (especially the legumes) have the added benefit of enriching the soil.

Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative will have more information and sample packets of cover crop seeds for sale at Seedy Saturday, so drop by our table on March 9, 2013 at the Powell River Recreation Complex.

There are at least eight reasons why you should make cover crops part of your year-round  garden plan, including:

  1. To protect good topsoil from being washed or blown away;
  2. To keep the nutrients in topsoil from being washed out of your soil;
  3. To loosen the soil deeper than you can or would want to dig (thus avoiding the hard work and microbial damage caused by extensive soil disturbance);
  4. To increase organic matter, improve soil structure, drainage, and aeration;
  5. To control weeds (cover crops typically outperform weeds);
  6. To help beneficial insects, birds and micro-organisms overwinter (the plants provide protection and food);
  7. To increase yields and break pest/disease cycles;
  8. To grow your own mulch and compost material (when the plants are tilled into the soil and left to rot for at least 3 weeks).

It would seem that merely letting a garden go fallow would relax it, but the right cover crops provide the aeration and nutrients required when they are cut and tilled in before the seed heads mature (this is important as cover crops will self-seed and become unruly weeds if not managed). If you till in the whole plants, allow at least 3 weeks for them to decompose, as raw biomass ties up soil nutrients to the detriment of newly planted seedlings. Depending on the cover crop used, you can be planting any time between the late winter to late fall, so as you remove spent plants, you can plant cover crops and never miss a beat.

Cover crops provide the primary benefit of preparing your soil for further vegetable cropping. If you choose to allow your cover crops to go to seed so you can harvest the grain, be aware that their root mass can be extensive and difficult to turn over. That said, your own oats, rye or buckwheat straight from your own garden are really a treat and can aid the determined 50-Mile dieter.

The choice of cover crop seeds and when to plant them depends somewhat on what you will be planting once the cover crop is turned under, but the most popular cover crops for our Maritime Pacific Northwest region are:

Maritime Pacific Northwest cover crops: From http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0302hsted/covercropsbook.pdf

Maritime Pacific Northwest cover crops: From http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0302hsted/covercropsbook.pdf

Also, for more info, check this link to  Oregon State University’s article

“Plant cover crops to protect and nourish soil”.

The Oregon State University Master Gardener handbook “Sustainable Gardening” recommends planting the following cover crops in the late summer and fall after harvesting your summer vegetables. Mixtures of legumes and non-legumes are especially effective. Here is an excellent guide to when to plant/turn under different types of cover crops,

And below is a handy guide on how much seed is required per square foot:

from West Coast seeds- see their list of cover crops here: http://www.westcoastseeds.com/product/Vegetable-Seeds/Cover-Crops/
from West Coast seeds- see their list of cover crops here: http://www.westcoastseeds.com/product/Vegetable-Seeds/Cover-Crops/

Goin’ Squirrely

Did someone say “nuts”?

Skookum is all about projects that serve our cooperative, and that benefit the co-op as well as the wider community, too. It’s members helping members to grow, pick, prepare, preserve, store, and share in the bounty of food.

The accent these early autumn days is on ‘store’ and ‘preserve’. With a mega-load bulk purchase of Tattler BPA-free reusable lids (drop by our table at the Fall Fair Sept 22-23, 2012 to buy a sample pack or extra rubber rings; help out with our apple cider pressing event there or donate apples to this Skookum fundraiser: Click here) and Excalibur dehydrators in, several small Skookum work parties where members processed, canned and dehydrated fruits and vegetables, and yet another Abundant Pantry bulk food purchase period under our belts, it’s time for the once-per-year order of this season’s freshest dried fruit, nuts, seeds, plus delicious and decadent confectionery from Rancho Vignola.


  • Rancho Vignola makes their product list available only once per year, when the nuts and fruit are at their freshest;
                          • The final deadline for our order to go in is September 27, BUT the final deadline for members to get their order and payment to us will be 12:00 noon on Monday September 24;
                          • They will ship to us in November or thereabouts;
                          • We need to make a minimum order of $500; Shipping is free
                          • Skookum will be adding 11.11% to each member’s order, so that of each dollar spent, 5¢ goes to the coordinator, 2.5¢ to Skookum, and another 2.5¢ to the benefit of the community.

What you need to do:

  • Take a look at Rancho Vignola’s price list click here.
  • If you have questions, please contact David as soon as possible at skookum@skookumfood.ca;
  • Otherwise:
    •  print out the attached price list
    • mark the products you wish to order, and
    • calculate the total price. Don’t forget to add 11.11% at the very end (i.e., not for each item individually, but on the final total; If you prefer, you may simply email David with the list of products you want and a final tally. He’ll verify the total amount and get back to you);
  • Get the order form and payment (cash or cheque only) to Kingfisher Books at 4468 Marine Ave. in Powell River no later than 12:00 noon on Monday September 24No money means no order!
  • We have a a splits page (click here), as we do for The Abundant Pantry Bulk-Buying Club. [For example, a member might want to order almonds but might not want the whole ten pound case (which has a better price than smaller units)]. If someone else wants to split that amount, then one of them can order it and then the two members can arrange to split it between them later.
  • To be clear: The coordinator WILL NOT MANAGE YOUR SPLITS; all splits will be between members, with one member ordering and paying for the entire item to be split.
  • Any questions? Please get in touch with David ASAP at skookum@skookumfood.ca

As always, members are encouraged to propose and run projects! Interested in running your own Skookum  project? Submit a quick proposal here.

Just the facts.

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