It’s a good idea to plant a winter cover crop on vegetable beds that are not in use. Winter field peas are one such crop that benefits the garden.
Winter cover crops are critical to building your soil. They add organic material that then gets tilled under in spring prior to planting your summer crops.
The cover crops also are a living mulch that keep the soil from eroding from wind, rain and any other nasty weather.
Austrian winter field peas is one such crop that does quite well and is actually hardy. This means it won’t completely be killed off by freezing temperatures. While the plants won’t grow if it is too cold, they will continue growing in spring once the air and soil temperature increases.
And the blooms add some colour to the spring garden for a short period of time before you cut them down.
Preparing the seeds
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You will need inoculant and seeds. Here is what I recommend:
Rhizobium bacteria helps legume (eg. peas, beans) crops such as the winter field peas fix nitrogen in the soil. What this means is that nitrogen in the air is actually captured by the plants and then in turn released in the soil when the plants die or are cut down.
Nitrogen is key to having great soil health.
While you may already have this bacteria established in your soil, adding extra bacteria will not do any harm.
The bacteria can be bought as a legume inoculant, a fine powder usually in a bag.
The most common way to add inoculant to the planting location is to adhere it to the seeds you are planting. The steps to do this are simple:
- Empty some winter field pea seeds into a container.
- Wet the seeds with a bit of water.
- Add pea inoculant to the seeds.
- Mix inoculant well so it sticks to all of the seeds.
Preparing the bed
For winter field peas, bed preparation is fairly straightforward.
Just clean up any old plants, remove weeds and rake the bed level. If you have the bed mulched, remove the mulch temporarily.
I usually also make sure I have some soil set aside to rake on top of the seeds. Easier than making a hole for each seed, especially for a large area.
It gets a bit trickier if you still have some crops growing in your beds over winter. Make the best of it and plant winter field peas around your other plants you are keeping.
Sowing the seeds
Literally just toss the winter field peas on top of the prepared soil in what is called broadcast seeding. No need to place them in orderly rows. Just make sure they are somewhat spaced apart.
If you have a really large area, consider using a broadcast seed spreader.
Once the seeds are sown, cover up with the extra soil you set aside to a depth of 1-2″ (3-5cm).
If the weather is dry, give them a soaking of water. And keep them well watered (either via rain or irrigation) until they sprout.
In winter the crop will go dormant and not grow, unless your winters are very mild. You should get some decent growth in spring once the weather warms up.
A few weeks prior to planting in the bed, cut down the crop to the ground, leaving the roots in. The nitrogen that was captured by the plants will be in the roots. As the roots break down they will release the nitrogen into the soil.
Use the plants you cut down as a green mulch on the beds.
After several weeks (2-3 at least), clean up the greens and roots and put them on your compost where they will help feed the compost.
Now you can plant your vegetables!
So there you have it. A simple and inexpensive planting that will put nitrogen back in the soil, after a busy summer of growing vegetables.
Give planting a cover crop such as winter field peas a try and let me know how it goes in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this article, have something to add or have any questions, please leave a comment below!Marc ThomaTranquil Garden, Victoria, BC