Cover crops or winter vegetables?

gardengirl3(8)October 5, 2013

I live near Portland, OR and I can't decide what I should do with my raised beds this year. I want to protect the soil in my raised beds so that they don't get compacted and hard by the time spring comes around. Can I do this by just growing vegetables in them or should I use cover crops or something else? Could I do both? I wanted to try this, but worried that maybe cover crops would grow like a weed and overtake the whole bed and the vegetables, but I don't know much about cover crops. I know this is the time to plant cover crops and planting things like garlic, so I thought I should ask before it's too late to plant anything.

Also, are there alternatives such as placing a tarp, cold frame, mini greenhouse, etc. over the raised beds? Any help you can give me is much appreciated, I'm still a learning gardener. The only thing I planted for a fall garden was kale, 1-2 years ago.

Thank you so much in advance for all your help!

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gardengirl3(8)

Also, I forgot to add, what cover crops would you recommend or are your favorite, for this area?

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 6:42PM
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larry_gene

Red clover works well here. Cover crop seed was planted today. Seed planted in August resulted in lush growth that has been partly removed.

Not sure why overwintered raised bed soil would compact. If the soil is in good shape now, it can easily be spaded up next spring.

The cover crop needs to get roots 2-3" deep and foliage as tall or taller so it can survive a hard winter freeze. If it ends up a foot tall by next spring, just pull and toss the coarser growth and work the rest into the soil, late March to early May.

A tarp could protect an immature cover crop from a hard freeze, but take it off as soon as the weather warms.

Productive winter vegetables will require a more elaborate setup.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2013 at 11:18PM
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gardengirl3(8)

Ooh I see. Thank you so much for your help! I planted garlic yesterday and I think that is all I will plant in the winter, edible wise haha; The cold and rain doesn't really motivate me to go outside as much as the summer weather does, to garden haha. I hear that that rain here washes away our soil, I don't know if that compacts it too. I have some native soil in the bottom of some of the beds, which maybe why it becomes hard during the winter. I do have one new raised bed though that is mostly full of veggie gardening soil from a local nursery and is very loose, so hopefully that will be easy to spade in the spring.

I am still waiting for my cucumbers, beans, and peppers to die off then I can try putting cover crops in those beds because the nursery manager said that we can plant cover crops in our area until mid-November and that I should wait for my plants in the beds to die off first. I live across the river from Portland, in Vancouver.

Although, I want to try bringing in at least one jalapeno pepper to prune and transplant in the spring. Do have experience or know how to do that successfully in our area? I have watched videos about it, but none of them were in the NW. Maybe the location doesn't matter though.

I almost forgot to say that I bought some crimson clover and dutch white clover to try to cover crop with. The nursery said to watch for birds, so they don't eat the seeds because you don't cover them with dirt. If so, it's very little dirt he said. You learn something new every year while gardening! :-)

    Bookmark   October 14, 2013 at 2:41AM
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larry_gene

If you have framed raised beds, rain will not wash anything away; frameless beds could get eroded in heavy rain.

Vegetable plants, once harvested, should be removed immediately, don't wait for them to die off. Leaving them in the ground past their useful period only uses up soil nutrients and promotes disease and pests.

Waiting until mid-November to plant cover crop is a gamble, one early December hard freeze and it is toast.

Birds can also pluck out new sprouts, so you do have to keep an eye on them.

The overwintered jalapeno could be an interesting experiment, my guess is keeping it in the garage and dormant through the winter would be better than trying to make it a house plant.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2013 at 12:40AM
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hemnancy(z8 PNW)

My experience with cool season vegetables is that they won't make it through the winter if planted much after July 15, because they need to get big enough to make it through the frosts. Kale, collards, mustard, overwintering broccoli, winter radishes, and turnips have worked for me. The greens can be eaten, and then they start blooming in late winter or early spring and tand the sprouts can be eaten like broccoli.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2013 at 12:31AM
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gardengirl3(8)

Hello everyone,

I planted some dutch white clover and crimson clover in the beds, around the time I first started this thread. I wanted to let everyone know that I read your advice and thank you very much for responding to my post.

I also would like to provide some pictures on how they are doing. Most have 2-3 leaves on them. I hope they survive the winter and grow normally and aren't stunted come spring. Hope you can click on the pictures to enlarge them and get a closer look.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 10:12PM
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gardengirl3(8)

I took these pictures this week. The one in the middle is growing garlic. My first time planting garlic in the fall.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 10:19PM
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larry_gene

Those look like fine beds, which compass side is the fence on with respect to the beds? The sprouts are marginal but could survive the winter and grow starting in late Feb and be fine to work into the soil a few weeks later. You did get a nice, fairly even germination of your seeds. And the beds don't look squirrel-cratered.

You could try covering them if temps go below the mid-20s this winter.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:32PM
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gsweater

Compaction happens from traffic and/or poor soil. Which do you have? Otherwise, you have nothing to worry about. I have never in my life seen a compacted raised bed. In fact, I've never heard of such a thing. Soil compaction happens on land from foot tromping, tractors, machinery... all things typically not present in raised beds.

I could be wrong, but it's very unlikely you'll ever experience compaction in a raised bed unless you are trying to intentionally use the worst soil you could find then stomp on it for a good deal of time to squeeze all the air out of it and purposefully change the soil structure yourself. I can only assume you didn't do that lol. I don't see that in your pic - you clearly have loose soil. You have NOTHING to worry about.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 10:21PM
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larry_gene

Extreme recent weather may have toasted that crop.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 11:48PM
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