Zone 4 cover crop for raised beds?

mustard_seeds(4 -Onalaska Wisconsin)July 14, 2010

Hello! I have been gardening in 4 beds (4x4 wooden sides) the past 2 years. I compost and add this to the beds, working in a bit by hand but no tiller. I add fall leaves to cover over the winter. I use some fish emulsion, epsom salt, and crushed egg shells in garden. Mulch garden with saved fall leaves. This year I have some bacterial speck on some of the green tomato fruit. I read that cover crops could perhaps reduce the risk of disease. Wondering what might be recommended - would not be able to "mow" in spring with the wooden sides of the beds.

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

You could plant a cover crop in a raised bed for the winter and then in the spring rather then mow it simply turn that in. A bit more work in a raised bed then on a ground level bed but doable. However if you mulch with compost and or shredded leaves over the winter there would be little real benefit from a cover crop.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 12:18PM
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m_lorne(5b)

Have to agree with kimmsr in that cover crops for such a small area is more work than it is worthwhile. A layer of compost, some complete organic fertilizer, and a thick layer of shredded leaves and grass clippings added after the bed is done for the season will do just as much or maybe even more than a cover crop will do. In the spring, when the soil is dry enough, incorporate the layers into the surface and you are good to go.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 9:34AM
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borderbarb

This article from ND university tells ways to prevent bacterial speck. [treat seeds B4 planting]

Re: cover crop. The only advantage I can think of would be the root structure of the cover plant, which increases water-retention of soils.
////////////
You may also want to look into methods to encourage/grow beneficial soil fungi. These fungi prosper where cover crops are used [they need living roots to stay viable]
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/02/060201232838.htm
...snip....The fungi, called mycorrhizal fungi, live inside and outside root cells and help them reach for nutrients by extending long threads called hyphae into the soil.
///////////////
http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/ar/archive/may01/fungi0501.htm
...snip....Mycorrhizae also enable plants to use water more efficiently and resist pests.
....snip....On-Farm Fungi Production ....

Here is a link that might be useful: Bacterial speck

    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 11:50AM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

A cover crop doesn't exclude mulching or adding compost. There's no reason I can think of you can't do both. Last fall I grew cereal rye and was able to mulch around it just fine.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2010 at 5:39PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

You could do both nut since they both serve the same purpose so why spend money on a cover crop seed if you mulch? I would doubt that the Cereal, Winter, Field Rye seed would germinate very well in the 6 to 8 inches of shredded leaves I put down in the fall although they might if an insufficient amopuints of mulch were layed down.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 6:30AM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

$4 for seeds is going to break the budget for most people except maybe for kimmsr.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 10:54AM
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borderbarb

Re: cover crop OR mulch ... I also wonder how grass/cereal seeds can sprout in a heavy mulch.[maybe a layer of soil over the mulch and roots grow through mulch?]

BUT ... maybe selecting a different kind of cover plant might give the benefits of both methods. Plant SWISS CHARD in drills through the mulch. Their roots go down to China [well, deep and wide] and even when the tops have been frosted, the roots will still stay viable. The tops make excellent addition to compost [sheet or pile] and animal fodder.
Another cover choice might be PARSNIPS ... also planted in drills thru the mulch. Left in ground over winter improves the flavor for spring harvest. Both of these plants are attractive and prolific with a root structure that will act in concert with mulch-borne soil organism to create optimal soil vitality.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 12:01PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

Planting rye grass in mulch is no different than any other plant. Move the mulch aside temporarily then bring it back when it's big enough.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 1:31PM
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alabamanicole(7b)

I used to have a house with 10" of hardwood mulch in the front flower beds over weed cloth. (I didn't do it; the previous owner did.)

*Everything* sprouted in the mulch. And anything with runners (like bermuda and mint) thought they were in plant heaven. It was easy to weed, though.

I would think in Zone 4 the limiting factor would be your choices for winter annual cover crops. I would find out what works in your area first, then try to pick the best one for your needs. I have heard rye is a good cover crop for tomatoes, and it is hardy to zone 3; I'm sure you have other options.

If you only have 4 4x4 beds, one of those old fashioned grass clippers or grass shears would do admirably for "mowing" your bed. If you already have hedge clippers they will probably multitask for you.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2010 at 2:17PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

What is the purpose of planting a winter cover crop?
What is the purpose of mulching a garden bed for the winter?
Which is the least expensive means of accomplishing that?
In the spring which bed can be planted more easily?

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 6:41AM
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mister_potato_head(VT 5a)

>What is the purpose of planting a winter cover crop?
Roots will bind the soil and keep it from eroding, and when it's tilled in, it improves tilth and adds nutrients. Winter rye roots go very deep and bring nutrients to the surface.

> What is the purpose of mulching a garden bed for the winter?
Basically, same as above.

>Which is the least expensive means of accomplishing that?
At 65 cents a pound winter rye seed cost is not a problem. 5 lbs takes care of 2000 sq ft garden.

>In the spring which bed can be planted more easily?
The mulch bed might be easier to plant in spring. For me I rototill everything, so there's no difference. You would also have to till in a leaf mulch, or move it aside to plant your seed. Either way, there is some work to it.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 4:39PM
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jnfr(z5b CO)

I planted alfalfa last year in my raised beds because my soils are always a bit nitrogen starved. I also put a lot more fresh compost in this spring. So far the plants are much darker green and growing faster than last year.

A cover crop also helps in my raised beds because our normal soil here is very mineral rich and organics poor, and the soil I add tends to be compost and peat so just the opposite. The roots seem to help mix the soils deeper down. I only double-dig the beds when I first make them, so the deeper mixing from roots really helps.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 6:02PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

Another thing I like about cover crops is there is something green and growing during the November to March period. It's pleasing to look at.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2010 at 10:34PM
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hoodat

If you are thinking of a disease inhibiting cover crop there is nothing like annual marigolds but that isn't practical as a fall crop in your area. You might want to read up about corn meal as a fungus inhibitor but remember it only works if you use whole corn meal. The stuff on the grocery shelf has the germ removed for better shelf life. A feed store is probably your best bet for it.
Have you considered getting something like a Mantis tiller? Those are small enough and maneuverable enough to use in raised beds. They only weigh 21 pounds.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2010 at 4:30PM
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borderbarb

While not wishing to get into a pissing contest, I'd like to say something about a few comments passed in this thread. "At 65 cents a pound winter rye seed cost is not a problem" .... "$4 for seeds is going to break the budget for most people" [naming the thread participant you aim your snide remark at]

I often hear similar from younger folks in response to my frugal ways. But I have a paid-for home, no bills and live within my limited income. We used to joke that our family motto was 'better you should do murder than to waste ANYTHING, ESPECIALLY money that was too hard come by'.
It becomes a way of life to watch the pennies.

One final 'old folks' story. When we kids wanted to spend money on this or that, Mom would say something like "Well, you know that Irene's parents don't have a college education like Dad and I do, so they don't know how to have fun without spending money" A certain level of snob or elitist appeal...which was not borne out elsewhere in our family culture ... but instilled in us the fun that can be had in being frugal. Still works for me.

So, count me with kimmsr in tsk-tsking spending money for stuff to put on your compost pile or other froofraws. Which is not to say that buying seed for a cover crop is wasteful. But if you want to have your veiwpoint respected, pass it on.

So there, you young whipper-snappers!

    Bookmark   July 19, 2010 at 5:12PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

I probably could've responded more diplomatically. But the original poster asked nothing about money yet kimmsr injects it a huge amount of threads. If one does a google search for kimmsr a staggering 763 threads come up.

Sorry if I stepped on anyone's toes.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2010 at 2:44PM
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alabamanicole(7b)

The OP seems most concerned with trying to find something to reduce or eliminate bacterial speck in the soil, and cover cropping was one idea. I think only barb addressed that issue.

One option is to not plants tomatoes, peppers or eggplant in the affected bed(s) for 3 years, and not to use any seed saved from those beds. But for someone with only a few small raised beds, that would be a tough pill to swallow.

Anyone have any other ideas?

    Bookmark   July 20, 2010 at 5:21PM
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mister_potato_head(VT 5a)

I find that .65 cents a pound is very affordable fertilizer, even on my fixed income budget. And worth every penny I pay for it in the vegetable it helps yield. I'm not a "whipper snapper", but I'm certainly more open minded than some old farts. How's that for a "pissing contest".

    Bookmark   July 20, 2010 at 6:19PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

"If one does a google search for kimmsr a staggering 763 threads come up." That should've read "kimmsr and money".

    Bookmark   July 20, 2010 at 8:20PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

Back to trying to help the original poster...

Try a different variety of tomato.

Avoid overhead watering if possible or water first thing in the morning.

Avoid working in the garden when it's wet.

Allow your tomato plants to have enough space between them.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2010 at 8:37PM
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borderbarb

Sorry to further hi-jack the subject-line of this thread. But the 'pissing contest' seems to have overtaken courtesy.

When I do a google search on my REAL NAME [not forum moniker] I get 20,305 'hits'. I know from experience that many of the references to my name are duplicates and even bogus hits. I used to be very active ... my name is on a lawsuit against the CA Board of Ed, which went clear to the U.S. Sup.Ct.[we lost, which is not the same thing as being wrong] I only mention this to mitigate for the silly claim about 763 'hits' for kimmsr's name in connection with money.

Which is apropos of nothing. What does it matter if this participant has a 'thing' about not wasting money. How is that different from your 'thing' about holding his views up to ridicule. If we search your name in connection with smarmy, sarcastic references to kimmsr, what will we find? Nice try, but no cigar.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2010 at 11:09PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

You won't find much :P

    Bookmark   July 20, 2010 at 11:29PM
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mustard_seeds(4 -Onalaska Wisconsin)

Ok. I am the OP. I appreciate everyone who has commented here but it has probably come time to end this one and go play in the garden!

I have noticed since I posted this originally that the my one raised bed that only has one tomato plant in the back of it seems to be stronger and no sign of the bacterial speck compared to the other 2 boxes that each have 2 plants side by side in the back. So perhaps crowding is also an issue. I will take the advice to give these more room next year as was suggested. I think maybe last year I put tomato plants in the compost. Perhaps that was a mistake too and I added to the chance of the disease. Will clear all that out in the fall. Not sure yet if I will do the cover crop. Need to digest all the advice you all gave me. Thanks again!! Rachel

    Bookmark   July 21, 2010 at 8:28AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Last year where I raised spring broccoli and left a few there which seedeed, after amending some more and tilling, I had a beautiful green cover crop of broccoli which lasted till heavy freezing...made a good winter cover too and was not unwieldy next spring

    Bookmark   July 21, 2010 at 11:58AM
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chinamigarden(z5 MI)

I love to use cover crops. I will pay good money for seeds that will allow my larger investment in time and work be more fruitful. I venture to guess the cost of the seeds are returned to me several fold in what I get back.

Not sure if it will help your bacterial speck problem but If you have the space for another raised bed, you can cover crop one every summer and rotate your beds keeping one cover cropped each year. I keep a portion of my garden empty and use buckwheat over it. It crowds out the weeds and gives the garden a break while producing something that feeds the soil. This winter all of my garden will be cover cropped with winter rye.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2010 at 5:37PM
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peter_6

mustard seeds: I don't know of a direct answer to bacterial diseases, but the indirect one of improving the soil biota would help. I would try cereal rye and/or rape (read "canola") as cover crops and also compost tea several times a year. BTW, the best authority on cover crops is "Mananging Cover Crops Profitably" which points out, among other things, that there are half a dozen different reasons for growing covers, and each reason has a different selection of covers. Regards, Peter.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2010 at 8:24PM
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