Ruud Kleinpaste shows
us how to improve our soil quality by planting cover crops.
By planting a cover
crop, you are giving your soil a break. You get more organic material
into the soil and you look after its fertility the nitrogen,
the phosphates and the potassium.
More importantly, cover
crops are short term two to three months and they
come in various mixtures.
The most important point
is that none of the plants in your cover crop should be an invasive
I'm going to have a go
at sowing a cover crop here, but the problem is what to sow. To
help me with that is Richard Maine, my colleague from UNITEC, who
has sections of cover crops growing.
what's the most predominant crop in his section? Lupins, says Richard,
which which are nitrogen-fixing plants.
That means they can fix
their own nitrogen from the air, and the reason they can do it is
because, if you dig up a lupin plant or a clover plant, you will
see, scattered over the root system, little nodules about the size
of pinheads. Those nodules are filled with thousands of bacteria,
which fix nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil.
what do you grow lupins after? What would it follow in a vegetable
use lupins to follow a heavy-user crop such as root crops, potatoes
and kumara, or longer-term crops like onions and garlic.
Another crop you can
grow with lupins is mustard. Mustard is a very useful green-manure
crop. It provides organic-matter content to improve soil structure,
and it holds the nitrogen that the lupins make in its leaves so
it doesn't wash away.
Watch out, though
mustard has very small seeds, so the birds love it.
With a combination of
plants you can get the right balance of cover crop. It's better
not to have just a mono crop. Have a selection of lupins, mustard,
and buckwheat, for example.
is a short-term crop. It provides mineralised phosphorus to the
soil and it's also an edible plant you can eat both the flowers
and the seed.
Phosphorus in the soil
is good for root crops. So plant buckwheat after heavy-user crops
like carrots and Swedes to replenish the soil.
Now, a long-term version
of a cover crop is called a herbal ley. It can be left for a year
or two or three, and is also used to restore depleted soils.
A herbal ley contains
a wider range of material, much more densely planted. It's usually
a mixture of many beneficial plants the nitrogen-fixing clovers,
chicory, endive, even lettuce and ryegrass, and, of course, many
idea is to get a whole range of root systems shallow root
mats and deep taproots to pool the available nutrients into
the leaves, which can then be regularly mown and incorporated back
into the soil profile.
But you wouldn't bother
mowing in your short-term cover crops. You dig them in yourself.
You would do that before the stems become really fibrous and hard,
and before the flowers open. Don't dig them too deep, though.
We were also going to
plant oats in this section, but the pukekos got those. So I'm going
to plant my next plot and show you how to avoid that predation by
birds by sowing them a bit deeper.
going to sow three species. The first one is the nitrogen-fixing
lupin. The second one is oats, to give it that bulky, fibrous material
in the soil. The third is buckwheat. Soft leaves, good flowers for
predators and parasites.
The first thing I'm going
to do is make a mixture of the buckwheat and the oats. I'm going
to broadcast that over my square metre. To stop the birds nicking
it all, put quite a good layer of soil over the top. Not too much,
but certainly deeper than normal, so the pukekos really have to
dig all the way to Africa to get it.
Finally, here is the
lupin. We only need maybe eight plants on a square metre because
lupin is very big. I can afford to plant them individually.
The last thing to do
is stamp it on nicely. Now they're safe. All I need to do now is
stand here for the rest of the afternoon going, 'Boo!' to the pukekos.
Incidentally, the green
crop cover method works very well with flower gardens, as well.
on Healthy Soil
with permission from NZOOM Home and Garden content,
from the previous
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the RNZIH