Monday, March 24, 2014

Accidental Cover Crops

Oats volunteering in the garden
from seeds in the straw mulch
If you used straw as a mulch last fall, you are probably growing a healthy crop of grain/grass about now. Don't despair.  In our area, most straw is oat straw, but wheat or barley straw works the same way.  The oats that is growing throughout your garden can be either clipped or pulled and placed on empty rows or around plants as mulch.  It’s good to put some pine straw on top of it to encourage composting.   
Straw mulch in one of our herb beds last fall

Oats and other grains are good sources of potassium as cover crops, so the oat straw mulch just added a cover crop dimension to your garden.  Oats mines minerals in preparation for producing seeds, so right about now,  it probably has some of the highest levels of nutrients accumulated in the stems and leaves, just before sprouting seed heads.  This is the best time to mulch it.    If the oats is in  growing rows or beds, just clip it off and drop it.  If it’s in the pathways or areas where you won't disturb "good" plant roots, you can either clip or pull it, using the oats as mulch in growing areas.  Oats also tends to suppress nematodes.  See IFAS Publication 389  

You do want to stop it from maturing before it makes seed heads or you may have much more oats sprouting than you anticipated -- too much of a good thing.  If you have chickens, rabbits, or goats, they would love for you to share it with them.  

The buckwheat and southern peas cover crops we dropped in place and mulched with straw last fall at the VegHeads garden have been totally integrated into the soil without tilling, and the resulting oats sprouts will do the same once they are dropped in turn.   Beautiful rich soil is the result.  When we pull the oats sprouts, there is often an earthworm lurking among the roots.    

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