Gardening

Results of winter rye cover crop

The rye cover crop I planted last fall made tremendous growth this spring and now it’s time to till it into the soil.

Timing is important when it comes to tilling under a cover crop like rye. The plants grew and entered the “boot stage” of growth, forming flower/seed heads inside the stalk. This is the ideal time to till rye into the soil.

You can feel the seed/flower head beginning to form inside the stalk when grain enters the boot stage.

 

Spots that received extra compost had taller, greener plants and were further along in their development.

I thought the garden was quite fertile, and it is, but the spots that received a little heavier application of compost last fall are much greener, taller and are developing seed heads earlier. It’s a good demonstration about the benefits of compost.

My rye last week was about 20 inches tall, even taller in some spots, too tall for the rototiller to handle on its own. I had a couple of options, either kill the rye with an herbicide like Roundup, which is what most of the conventional farmers do, or mow it. Since this is an organic garden, I mowed.

Twenty inches tall sounds like a lot for a mower to handle but rye is very tender and juicy in the boot stage — they are almost all water. If I had mowed it before the boot stage, the plants would have grown back just like a lawn. If I waited too much longer, the plants would have been tougher and drier as they begin to form seeds. That would have made it much more difficult to till and would leave too much coarse plant material in the soil.

Mowing left a dense but fine covering of plant residue on the soil surface.

Plant growth stage was not the only thing I was checking, I was looking at soil moisture too. All the rain we had last week left the soil temporarily saturated but it dried fairly quickly.  Tilling a garden that is too wet destroys its soil structure negating most of the benefits that a cover crop provides. The rye along with winter freezing and thawing improved the soil structure by forming loose aggregates of soil particles leaving plenty of space for roots to grow.

I tilled in the rye by tilling twice, changing the direction with the second pass of the tiller. .

Another very visible advantage to this cover crop was the lack of weeds this spring. By this time the garden would have been full of all kinds of broad leaf weeds and grasses. Dandelions would have come and gone by now. The rye did its job and outcompeted virtually all other plants giving me a head start over the weeds this year.

 

 

 

Bob Dluzen

As a result of being a gardener for more than 40 years, 30 of those as a professional, Bob’s gardening has become an integral part of his life. “It’s the ever-changing seasons and the wide variety of plants and gardens that keeps me intrigued,” he says. Bob lives and gardens in rural Monroe County.