Winter Garden Cover Crops - Grain Rye, Hairy Vetch, Clovers and Winter Peas in Michigan

Are you looking for an effective way to reduce your fertilizer costs? Have you considered using cover crops to protect your soil through the cold, idle winter months? Garden cover crops like grain, hairy vetch, clovers and winter peas are an effective way to protect your soil by managing nitrogen content, controlling for wind and water erosion and reducing weeds. Michigan cover crops offer superior protection and are super simple to use.


Choosing a Cover Crop

Most people in Michigan use cover crops to protect their soil through the winter months, which is why they plant in the fall. There are a variety of cover crop seeds to choose from, each offering slightly different benefits. Some inhibit weeds or recycle nutrients, some protect water quality and still others reduce disease. Nevertheless, there are three basic groups that most cover crops fall into- grains and grass, legumes and other broad leaved plants.


Clover, Grain Rye, Hairy Vetch and Winter Peas

In Michigan, the most popular cover crop is the red clover, a legume used quite frequently to increase soil organic matter and reduce soil erosion and surface water pollution. However, don’t forget that once red clover has served its need, it must be killed or it will become a weed. Another clover which is pretty new to the Michigan area is crimson clover. Crimson clover grows more quickly than red clover and has taller flower stems and larger seeds. It’s great because it offers faster growth during cool weather than more traditional red clover.

Cereal grains are another popular cover crop choice because they grow extremely fast, giving quick cover even when the weather is already cold. Rye, wheat, oats, barley, and triticale are all cereal grains. Grain rye is popular because it’s pretty vigorous, germinating and becoming established in cool weather. Winter wheat is also useful for late season plantings. In fact, if you plant before late September, you’re likely to get disease or premature death. Check out the selection of cereal grains cover crop seeds at Uncle Luke’s feed Store. Now is the perfect time to get them planted for the most effect.

Hairy vetch is another legume, pretty aggressive actually, considering that legumes generally are slow to grow in cool weather and do much better when paired with something else. Nevertheless, legumes are especially helpful for increasing the amount of soil nitrogen for the next crop. In addition, Austrian winter peas, sometimes called “black pea” and “field pea” are known for their good winter hardiness and can be grown alone or mixed with cereal grains to provide great cover.


Mixing Cover Crops

In many cases, mixing cover crops gives you the added advantage of getting the benefits from different types of cover crops easily. Typically, mixtures combine two species, but it’s possible to mix up to five. A common mixture is cereal rye and hairy vetch. Vetch germinates in the fall but grows slowly until spring. The rye makes the perfect structure for the vetch to grow. Basically, when you mix a cereal with a legume, you get the soil covering ability of the cereal and the nitrogen fixing ability of the legume.


Using cover crops is not a new idea. In fact, before fertilizer was invented, this was the only way to improve soil structure and productivity. Now, because of the environmentally safe angle, cover crops are the preferred method of many Michigan farmers. From grain rye to winter peas, remember to mix crop cover seeds for added benefits and shop Uncle Luke’s Feed Store for the best selection and prices.

Leave a comment