Crimson clover and barley cover crops

I like growing cover crops to improve and protect garden soil. Dealing with a winter cover crop that has resumed vigorous spring growth can be a challenge. Here’s a bed of barley (planted mid-September) that I covered in mid-April with a brown tarp when it was 18-20 in. high. I was surprised that green growth was still visible after 3 weeks although the plants were greatly weakened. If you simply mow the crop, without weakening it first, it will likely regrow from the crowns.

I then mowed the barley to a 2-in. height and will plant through the residues using a bulb planter for transplants and a narrow hoe to make a furrow for sowing seeds.
Crimson clover is beautiful in early May and will return extra nitrogen to the soil when it decomposes. It’s a a little easier to deal with. Mowing it close to the ground will kill it when it’s in full flower. I’ll plant sweet potato slips into the residues.

7 Comments on “Crimson clover and barley cover crops

  1. Jon,

    Would love to see a follow-up on the barley bed to see how that over planting went. Also, what type of fertilization did you do prior to planting, on both beds. We know the crimson clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, but how much additional N is needed to get to the .2 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.


  2. I have vetch in my garden courtesy of the farmer who tills the adjacent fields. And I have no mower. If I just cut them down at the ground and drop them until I can ready the bed, what do you think?


  3. No fert for the sweet potato slips planted into the crimson clover because the soil is fairly fertile. I'll monitor vine growth to make a decision about supplemental fertilizer.

    I will be planting pepper, eggplant, and possibly squash in the barley bed. I will apply a soluble fertilizer to soak the root zone after planting and sidedress with a balanced fertilizer when fruits form. This bed has had a lot of organic matter added over the years and is also fairly fertile. I have not tested it in several years. If the P is high I would select a “0” P or low P fertilizer.


  4. It dies back naturally after seed set but then you could have a hairy vetch weed problem! Some organic farmers roll it with a heavy water filled barrel to crush and kill the stems and crowns. I think if you mow it close to the ground when it's in flower you will weaken it but you may see some regrowth.


  5. I've mashed some down under my boots when I'm out with the dog in the morning, but may try clipping some to the ground by hand, and yanking others and see what transpires. The thing about yanking them, is that the worms love the roots and I hate to dislodge those handy little critters.


  6. I never realized crimson clover was so pretty. I may have to try that this next winter. One question though: when does crimson clover bloom? I'm assuming it's relatively early in the spring?


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