What are Cover Crops and How Do They Work?
As the name implies, these are crops that are intended to cover the soil and, although they’re the most important crops at The Chef’s Garden, they aren’t harvested for consumption. Instead, as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shares, “Cover crops are grasses, legumes, and other forbs that are planted for erosion control, improving soil structure, moisture, and nutrient content.” Examples of ones we use to enrich the soil at The Chef’s Garden include buckwheat, oats, rye, and sorghum.
Now that we’ve answered the question of “What are cover crops?” we’ll focus on how they work and why they’re important.
How Cover Crops Work
We plant multiple species of cover crops in a field that’s currently fallow. Then, we allow them to grow—at least for a while. With oats, we might let them grow until they’re about six to eight inches tall. Then, we’ll gently work the crop into the ground to feed the soil and control weed growth. Our farm team will, in fact, repeat this process as many times as needed.
At this point, our farm team is also busy with laying out stale seed beds where we plan to grow this season’s vegetables. We monitor these beds to give weeds time to germinate—but not giving the weeds time to emerge. The farm team will shallowly till the soil at this time, disturbing the hairs of the weeds.
Timing is crucial, and here’s why. “If we dug too deeply,” Bob Jones, Jr. explains, “we’d only be bringing up a whole new set of weed seeds. Or, on the other hand, if we waited until the weeds emerged, it’s much more difficult to kill them. So, we address the weeds when they are nothing more than white root hairs because we can gently till them, so they’ll quickly desiccate in the wind.” This process is also repeated a couple more times.
Why This Labor-Intensive Process is Important
By following this admitted repetitive process, we have much less competition from weeds—which means that we have eliminated the need to use chemicals. Instead, we focus on our regenerative farming techniques—cover crops, gentle tilling only, and so forth—to build healthy soil for healthy crops for healthy people and a healthy planet.
Because we grow our vegetables slowly and gently in full accord with nature, you benefit from deliciously healthy, nutrient-dense, farm-fresh vegetables as we protect our land for future use.
Taste the Difference: Farm-Fresh Vegetables
If you were to ask us if this cover crop process was time intensive, we’d say yes. If you’d ask us if it’s worth it, the answer is a resounding YES—and we invite you to taste the difference with our farm-fresh seasonal vegetables, herbs, and microgreens.
If you live in or are visiting Northeast Ohio, then stop by our farmer’s market to say hello and choose your own vegetables. Or, you can have deliciously fresh produce delivered directly to your front door anywhere in the United States.
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