Fall Bed Prep

This weekend we turned three of the beds over to fall cover crops. Why? To build soil health and ensure living roots are in the soil producing sugars and storing carbon until the ground freezes.

Cover crops within our no-till system are key for building soil organic matter while gradually reducing weed pressure (we hope!) and we had just finished seeding when the rain started. Whew.

The beds we rotated out are filled with early perennials, all bulbs: narcissus, allium & crocosmia and, at least through next year, we will rotate through two different diverse mixes of annuals. While the flower leaves are alive and producing energy for the next year’s bulbs we want to grow a low crop, probably clover and radish. Then, when the bulb foliage dies back, we can flail mow the bed and harrow the very top (1/2”) of the bed to chop the upper rootstock before planting a fall mix of taller plants that will encourage mycorrhizal fungi and provide food for soil organisms.

We buy our cover crop seed from Green Cover Seed in Nebraska . The founders were early no-till pioneers and their catalog includes articles on all aspects of cover crop use (check our their website).

Our process:

Flail mower in a bed we formed this spring. It was in a soil building spring mix.

Flail mower in a bed we formed this spring. It was in a soil building spring mix.

Everything is done with either hand tools (sickle, hoes, wheelbarrow, forks) or our BCS 2-wheel tractor. I’ll write another post specifically about the BCS this fall because I love it so much (and never have to use a four-wheel tractor).

Using attachments for the BCS we can form beds, flail and sickle mow, harrow, and plant. The flail mower chops even very tall and thick foliage.


Beds after flail mowing

Beds after flail mowing

After the beds have been mowed I used an adjustable power harrow to stir the very top layer of soil. Within the longer-term goal of never tilling the short-term goal is to decrease weed pressure while preparing a seedbed for the cover crop mix. So, setting the harrow for 1/2”, I made a pass with the BCS on each bed.

The harrow is essentially a series of eggbeaters that spin around horizontally and stir the soil rather than a rototiller-style vertical mixing. This lets us chop the roots and soften the topmost layer without bringing new seeds up from below or (hopefully) adversely affecting the biome.

Two beds after harrowing the top 1/2”.

Two beds after harrowing the top 1/2”.

And then we sowed and the torrential rain last night should jumpstart germination!