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Caring for your vegetable patch: green manureswith Uncle Bernie

likely to be) and the cold temperatures will freeze the top level of soil killing off the hard working micro-organisms and tiny insects living there. The solution to these issues is to

sow ‘green manure’. All of us that have any kind of gardening know-how are aware that the more manure you can get into your soil, the more nutrients and goodness you get in there too. And if the soil is right, the plants will take care of themselves. But for most of us the concept of manure is a brown, sometimes steaming, sometimes rather smelly product!

What is a green manure? Green manure is a crop that you GREEN manures are mostly

used by vegetable and allotment gardeners. At this time of year, as crops are cleared, patches of the vegetable garden are left empty. An empty plot creates problems in

two ways. Firstly, it is an open invitation for

weeds to move in and take over. These weeds will use up the nutrients that you want left in the soil for your next crop. Secondly, if you just leave your plot

cleared of plants and bare throughout the winter, it will get battered by the weather. Rain will wash away any nutrients in the topsoil (which is where most of your crops feeding roots are

sow in between the crops that you are growing to eat. They’re usually fast growing plants that produce a lot of top growth preventing soil erosion from the elements and providing a blanket from frost. They are ideal whenever a patch of land is going to be free of crops for six weeks or more and something that all gardeners should be considering during the rotation of their vegetable plots. The green manure will take

nutrients from the soil and store them in the plants as it grows. Once the plant has grown you can cut the foliage of green manure down and either add it to your compost heap or dig it straight

into the soil where it will break down returning valuable nutrients to the soil and improving soil structure. At the same time, it suppresses other vigorous weed growth. Green manures are usually sown

in late summer or autumn and dug into the ground the following spring in preparation for vegetable crop sowing. But if a particular space is not needed , they can be left – even for as long as a couple of years. Many of these green manures, if left to flower, will attract beneficial insects to the garden such as bees, butterflies and ladybirds, which prey on pests like aphids. A far more organic approach than blasting your products with chemicals which will kill the good insects as well as the bad ones!

How to plant green manure

Prepare the soil by removing weeds, dig it over and rake it through. Sow the seeds in rows, or broadcast them across the soil and rake into the surface. Each plant needs room to grow so do not sow too densely. Tap over the surface with the back of the rake and water in well. Bare patches should be covered within two to three weeks. Once the land is needed to set crops, chop the foliage down and leave it to wilt a little before digging the plants and foliage into the soil. After digging in, the site should be left

for two weeks or more before sowing or planting out as decaying green materials can hamper plant growth.

What sort of green manure to use Green manures fit into 3 categories: Winter hardy green manures Winter hardy green manures include

winter grazing rye and winter tares that will carry on growing all winter before being incorporated back into the soil in spring. Nitrogen fixing green manures Nitrogen is needed in soil to

produce green growth and certain green manure products have the ability to absorb nitrogen from the air which is transferred into the root and the soil. Winter Tares are our choice. They produce a large bulk of green, nitrogen fixing matter. Nitrogen-fixing green manures are not needed after growing peas or beans as both these crops already do this themselves. After harvesting these crops simply cut down the foliage and dig into the ground. Soil cleaning green manures The green manure are bio-fumigant,

which means they naturally clean soil killing off certain diseases and helping to control pests common in ground that has been used for growing tubers , such as potatoes. The best of these is Mustard. It can be sown at any time of year and it’s very fast growing so can

be used even for very short term plot ‘vacancies’. As soon as the first frosts arrive

, the foliage will turn black but it does not matter. Just leave the black foliage in place and the worms and insects in your soil will just pull it down into the ground over the winter and you’ll be getting the benefits of a green manure without doing any of the hard work! It’s a great crop to grow every couple of years just to give your soil a spring clean without using chemicals. Caliente Mustard, in particular, is

a bio-fumigant, which means once it is cut down and dug into the ground, the gas it emits as it decomposes attacks harmful pests and soil diseases. Leave for three weeks after cutting down and digging in (which should be done once the plants are topped), and replant your normal crops. If you have soil that is suffering

from Club Root, then Red Clover is a good choice. So, be it over winter, or indeed any

gap of four weeks or more between crops, then it is worth considering a green manure. Do not leave your vegetable patches

naked for the winter – wrap them up in a nice green blanket and they’ll come out of the winter in the perfect condition for you to start spring sowing and achieve a bumper harvest next year.

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