As I've mentioned several times previously, Andrea and I decided to plant cover crops for the first time this year. I've taken a couple of different workshops on the topic, and we've both read books and articles on the subject as well. I don't think there is any question as to the benefits of cover cropping.
Andrea handled the task of choosing the cover crop combination to use. She decided that we should go with a combination of winter rye and hairy vetch. I later attended a workshop hosted by the Laurel County Cooperative Extension Agency on cover cropping. The instructor, who had come up from the University of Kentucky, suggested that winter rye and hairy vetch was the best combination for a late fall cover crop in our area, so it seems that Andrea chose well.
We purchased rye and vetch seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange at this year's Mother Earth News Fair. We later realized that I had significantly under-estimated the square footage of the garden area, so we didn't have enough seed. Luckily I received some hairy vetch seed at the workshop I attended, so we just needed to order some additional winter rye seed from Southern Exposure.
I began prepping the garden for the cover crops on the weekend of October 20-21. I tilled a 30' x 47' area. I used approximately 150 square feet of this for the garlic, leaving 1260 square feet to be planted in cover crops. It wasn't until November 11th that I finally was able to plant them.
Prior to planting Andrea order some inoculant for the hairy vetch. Applying it was very simple. I emptied the seed into a container, then dumped the inoculant on top, added the specified amount of water, and mixed it up. After allowing a few minutes for the combination to dry, I added the winter rye seed to the container, and mixed it thoroughly. I'm not sure how most people handle planting multiple seeds like this, but we figured that the most consistent method would be mixing the seeds first, so that when they were broadcast the mix would be fairly homogeneous.
Since we don't have a seed spreader, I decided to broadcast the seed by hand. In hindsight this may have been a mistake, as I sewed the seed much too thickly. I realized my mistake after a while, but by then it was too late. I started sewing the seed less thickly, but still ran out about 2/3 of the way through. We didn't have any more seed, and we didn't want the added expense of buying more, so approximately 1/3 of the garden will be left dormant until Spring.
I plan to apply a straw mulch to the section of the garden without cover crops. If the rye doesn't start making more progress soon, I'll probably go ahead and mulch that section as well. I'd rather buy a few bales of straw to use as mulch than leave the soil exposed to the elements for the entire winter.
I feel confident that we'll be better prepared for planting cover crops next year. I have certainly learned a few things, and likely will learn more once the time comes to cut the plants and incorporate them into the soil. Learning is part of what this process is all about, so I can already safely say that, based on that, this years cover crop planting has been a success.