Best cover crops for my area?

mjandkids(6)June 21, 2009

Hi all. I'm one of those people who's been lurking for months reading all your posts and gleaning a ton of information, and now (finally LOL) I've registered to join :-D Let me start off by saying I'm a relative newbie to gardening, especially gardening in Oklahoma as I was raised in Northernmost California. We've purchased land here and I started a little (and I mean little) garden for the spring to see if I could get my kids, 3 and 6, doing it with me. My daughter, I'm sure, has the spirit of a lifelong gardener :-p.

Now, we're in the process of killing off some of our pastureland for a real garden :-p. My question to you is what are the best cover crops for me to plant (I'll be planting late Aug)to enrich my soil for next spring. I plan to till these plants right into the ground next spring so I'm wanting plants that will act as good decomposition for the ground.

I've been leaning toward bush beans because I've heard legumes have a way of providing nitrogen into the soil and they would be good for tilling over in the spring. But I want more than just beans lol. I've heard maybe clover or alfalfa? Soybeans are out as my son is HIGHLY ALLERGIC to soy in all forms.

The decision to trellis Heirloom Kentucky Wonders this fall has already been made and the seeds are lying on my kitchen counter lol, but beyond that I'm a little at a loss.

I don't have much of a clue what grows well here.

I'm partial to organics and heirlooms but will take any and all advise.

It should also be noted that I do not use any chemical pesticides, etc.

Thanks so much. You guys have already helped me a great deal. You all saved my Cherokee Purples and I bet you didn't even know it :-p.

Thanks, Mandy

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Mandy, let me be the first to welcome you here on the Oklahoma Garden Web. I know you're going to learn a lot more as you post here and have your questions answered by some very experienced gardeners, just as I have been blessed by. Plus, you will no doubt also be made to feel very welcome and "at home".

I too am looking to enrich my garden area with a cover crop, but since I am renovating my garden area over into a lasagna garden, the cover crop may have to be cardboard covered by mulch..LOL

You are sooo lucky to have some acreage to work with. I know you're going to have a lot of fun with it as you see things develop.

Just know that you don't have to be intimidated by growing vegetables. Your pole beans are very easy to grow, and you can still have some time to maybe find a spot or two to pop some other things in the ground as well.

I am presently killing off a section of bermuda by laying heavy black Visquane plastic over it. It bakes the burmuda as well as any surface seeds, and I don't think it hurts the soil composition...not nearly as much as a lot of tilling does. In this heat, the whole batch is "baked" and killed including the roots in a matter of a couple weeks.

I have been reading a lot about no-till cover crops. It seems the farmers are progressing over into that wisdom and I fully agree it makes sense and sounds wonderful. But I'll leave the types of cover crops you might plant for someone else to advice you on as I don't have that much experience.

I did plant annual rye last fall at the ranch garden where I worked. But I would LOVE to be able to plant Sudan Grass here in my own garden, if I were going to be able to plant anything here, but that is sort of a summer or hot weather crop, I think. You will need something to make it through the winter.
Lots of luck with your venture, and again...


    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 7:19PM
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Barbara, thanks so much for the welcome. It seems like a very friendly place here :-D

Let me say that by the sounds of it this may not have been the most encouraging year to start a spring garden here in OK as my property didn't dry out enough for planting until the third week of May LOL, but I'm doing it anyway. I found a great compost in the area too (Back to Earth Organic) and I love it. Couldn't find that where I grew up lol.

I am on-board with no tilling, but was informed by my husband that the area is going to have to be tilled once or twice to break up the ground for planting, then I could convert over. The ground has been sitting in it's current state for years and years, and the property, until our upgrades this last winter, was poorly drained. It's awefully compacted right now. So the plan is to lightly till and plant cover crops, till those crops into the ground this spring to help improve the soil, then compost well and continually as the soil test shows we have a general lack in everything. Also, I prefer not to mince my earthworms lol so the tilling will stop as soon as I can make it.

I also am using heavy black plastic to kill off an area for the fall garden. Seemed logical and like it would be easier to keep down in this wild wind than, say, cardboard.

I did a lot of gardening in the summers with my grandmother growing up, but the last time I had any true hands on experience with it was when I was 14. The only thing I truly had a green thumb for back then seemed to be beans and peas, but I'm happy to say that my heirloom tomatoes are doing great this year and my potatoes (yes they were store bought and not seed) are doing beautifully. One of them looked a little sorry and I just didn't have a good feeling about it so I yanked it out (not sure if that was a good thing or not)figuring better safe than sorry. I don't know if it's all the celtic blood or what but my family sure does love potatoes lol.

I have found this region of the country to be very friendly in comparisson to where I come from :-p Though I am still getting used to the humidity. I've attacked our small spring garden with the attitude that I don't really know much of anything because gardening here is just so different from hot, dry, no-wind, no-freezes, California--well, except for the concept of hot :-p

I'm looking forward to posting questions and gaining more information about gardening in general, and in this region specifically.

Thanks so much,

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 8:41PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Mandy,

Welcome to the forum. It's a terrific online community.

There are many cover crops you can plant including cowpeas (blackeyed peas) which could be planted in July or August and would make quite a lot of growth before a frost arrives. You also could use clovers, buckwheat, sudan grass, alfalfa, millet, hairy or wooly vetch or cereal rye. Then y'all could till them into the soil at the appropriate time for whichever crop you choose. Or, to get started in no-till, you cut them off at the ground level and leave them in place to decompose and plant right through them.

And, don't forget, you can plant more than one type together. Some people interplant a legume with a different type of cover crop like cereal rye.

I've linked an article below that is from the Kerr Center and is geared towards Eastern Oklahoma. There's a chart of some cover crops in that article. Just click on the link to see it.

Another great source of cover crop/green manure information is the website of Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (, a company you might be familiar with already since it is based in California.


Here is a link that might be useful: Kerr Center article on Cover Crops

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 10:11PM
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I'm about 30 miles south of you and I would suggest crimson clover, but only if you are planting warm-weather crops. Crimson clover does a little growing in the fall, and then explodes in late March and early April. It will seed beautifully in mid-April and growth stops by late April. If you cut it before April ends, then almost all of the seeds will not mature. Even if they do mature, they are mostly not hard seed and will never cause you problems.

The hairy vetch is a bit later than the crimson clover in the spring, so you have to cut it a little bit before it reaches maximum growth (If you want to plant before the end of April).

After you research it, if you are interested in crimson clover, I can give you more info and provide some good seed sources near you.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 10:29PM
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Welcome, I am a newbe also and this forum has helped me.
I never had much gardening experience as a child, I did try gardening when I was much older. Like you I was trying to get the kids involved. They are grown now and trying to get their kids involved in gardening. I even have Greatgrand kids but they are too young to garden.

The others can tell you about cover crops. I have tried Rye grass and Grain Rye for winter cover. Both did ok, the problems I had was, my tiller had to work pretty hard to till them in, and, I had to do the tilling in late winter before the spring rains, or it seemed that my soil would never dry. But I have never lived in a good place to garden.

Enjoy the time with the kids, they will be grown before you know it.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 10:29PM
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Thanks so much for your input Dawn :-p That link to the Kerr Center is great and has added two more candidates to my list:
Kale &
Hungarian Vetch

I'm not sure clover would do well here even though I'd like to try it.

Your idea of planting right through them rather than tilling has peaked my interest so I'm going to talk to my husband about it and see what he thinks :-p

Oh, I forgot to ask--how do lettuce and spinach do here in the fall?

Thanks for all your help.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 10:51PM
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Larry, I'm afraid my soil here is not all that great either, though I guess there's always someone with a worse scenario than mine lol.

I'm enjoying the time with the kids, my daughter is taking to the garden quite well because she loves it's beauty and she's a sucker for anything living. My son, who I should disclose is autistic, sees the garden from a whole different perspective. He wants to know what everything is, why it's there, should he kill it or leave it lol. My kids are like night and day, sort of like me and my husband I guess :-p

It was my daughter who brought up the idea that all of our plants are going to grow up and aren't we going to start baby plants--she's too cute sometimes :-p That's what got me started thinking about a better set up for fall.

Y'all should have seen it, 2 days ago my son was inspecting the ladybugs. He asked what they were and when I told him they were ladybugs and they were good for our garden he wanted to know where the boy ones were. Laughed my toosh off!

Larry, I'm sure it's an amazing thing to see the generations to follow enjoying nature. I know it's a thrill just watching my kids take it all in. And their outlook never ceases to amaze me or give me a good laugh.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 11:00PM
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Scott, I'm looking into Crimson Clover, thanks. I've heard about the Hairy does it differ from the Hungarian? The chart for the Kerr Center seemed to suggest that the Hungarian does better in poorly draining areas...which this garden area, unfortunately, isn't the best drained (though it is the best on the property).
You all have been so welcoming, for a girl from CA it seems a bit shocking, but it's really, really nice. :-D

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 11:08PM
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Both hairy vetch and crimson clover cannot be under standing water for hardly any length of time (I use red and white clover for those areas). They have done well in my heavy soils, but water does drain off the surface of my soil. I have never tried Hungarian, but it sounds promising.

I plant crimson clover in my beds and garden a lot of the time (end of Sept) because it is the only one of the cover crops that I know will be totally finished growing before the end of April when it is planting time in the garden. It generates large tops and I either till or mow it in the garden, or pull it and lay it down as mulch in my beds. It is an annual and cutting it in late April will kill it. It is also totally NOT a nuisance later on because the plants are so easy to pull and the seeds that germinate before September all die anyway. It also brings bees by the thousands in April if you let it seed. As you can tell, I am a big fan. It is also relatively cheap at 50lbs for less than $100 (I plant about 5 acres/yr).

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 5:01PM
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Welcome to Gardenweb. You'll find a lot of help here.

We used to plant a fall cover crop--annual rye and vetch mixed--and till each section of the garden a month before we wanted to plant it--earlier than Scott's late April. But a few years ago we abandoned the practice. Our here in the country there are simply too many deer. They found our garden, jumped over our fence, ate our cover crop to the ground and after we tilled came back for the veggies. So now we just topdress the corn section of the garden with the manure/pine chip mixture from the chicken house and till it in sometime during Oct/Nov. If deer are a problem, human hair spread around the patch is suppossed to help deter them as is blood meal--but blood meal attracts dogs and buzzards. Good luck and let us know how it works out.

Oh, you asked about lettuce and spinach in the fall. They usually do well if you keep them watered. In mild winters they may even overwinter. We had a great crop of both during January of either 05 or 06. Somebody help me. One of those years we had the warmest Jan on record. But usually it freezes out by Jan after giving a good crop in late Oct through Nov. I usually plant about first of Sept.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 5:32PM
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There is a slope where I'm hoping to put the crimson clover and hairy vetch so I'm hoping it will work for me. And yes, I like the sounds of the Hungarian for the lower end. Where do you usually buy your seeds? These three are the last few I need to get and I'm wanting to get them ordered and here lol.

I can tell you're a big fan and you've got me really interested so I'm going to give it a go :-D

    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 6:17PM
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Mulberryknob thanks so much for your input. I don't think I've ever seen a deer around here...our main wild animals are guineas......lots and lots of wild guineas LOL.

Excited I may have some luck and keep my lettuce and spinach until January :-p Maybe I'll need to rearrange so I can plant a few more........


    Bookmark   June 22, 2009 at 6:20PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

Break for turtles looks like scottokla would know about your crimson clover.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2010 at 9:02PM
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