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Green Manures

Green 'manure' consists of plant-derived green material, grown where it will be dug into the ground, specifically for the purpose of enriching the soil. Legume family plants in particular are used for their ability to add nitrogen to the soil, in a form that is readily accessible to other plants.

Plants are often chosen for their quick growth, and can be sown from spring onward, frequently into fall. Some may be grown as winter cover crops, i.e. left in place until early in spring, so that their roots help prevent erosion from runoff. A few weeks prior to planting, the plants are dug or tilled into the ground, provided the ground is not too wet to work: the ground should never be worked too early.

Green manures are typically sown after vegetables have been harvested, or earlier in the year, as part of a regular crop rotation, to enrich the soil of a particular garden area not used for other crops that year. Using green manures as part of a crop rotation makes sense especially where the growing season does not allow for a sowing after harvest. Rake to cover, and ensure that the area is well-watered while the plants establish themselves.

Commonly used are:

alfalfafixes nitrogen
buckwheat
cloverfixes nitrogen
oats
peasfixes nitrogen
ryegrass
sweet cloverfixes nitrogen; very vigorous roots can help break up
heavy compacted soils

A so-called legume inoculant helps establish legume green manures, but can also aid the growth of other legumes: beans, peas, etc. Such formulations contain nitrogen fixing bacteria, which typically grow in little blebs on the roots of these plants. The bacteria 'fix' nitrogen from the air, i.e. bind it organically so that it is available for plant growth.

Commercial preparations are available, as general purpose inoculants mixed with seed prior to planting, or those for specific types of legumes: for true clovers, clover-family plants, soybeans, fava beans, etc. Mix with untreated, moistened seed, then sow, or sprinkle into the planting furrow.

 
Plants Referenced

alfalfa
buckwheat
clover
oats
pea
sweet clover

Topics Referenced

Fruits and Vegetables
Soil

 
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