The Sunday NY Times business section carried a lengthy, informative article about the increasing use of cover crops in large-scale commercial agriculture. Cover crops are planted while fields lie fallow, and they are grown not for their commercial value but for the ecological services they supply: when tilled into the soil, they enrich it with organic matter; while they remain standing, they help control erosion. Chemical fertilizers degrade the soil, but organic enrichment like that supplied by cover crops improves its fertility as well as its texture. The use of cover crops, as the Times article points out, is an ancient practice that modern farmers have long considered to be outmoded. But cover crops can ameliorate some of the harm resulting from long-term use of chemical fertilizers.
The article focuses on a farming family that cultivates thousands of acres. How can homeowners benefit from the use of cover crops in small-scale vegetable gardens? Vegetables are annuals, like almost all commercial crops, and the annual cycle of planting and harvesting continually robs the soil of nutrients. Instead of restoring those nutrients with chemical fertilizers, you too can use cover crops. This fact sheet from the Cornell Agricultural Extension explains you how. Consider adding cover crops to your vegetable garden next year. Your soil will be happy if you do!