We currently have about 1 acre in permanent raised beds that have previously been used for vegetable crops but will not be used for 2 - 3 years. Does anyone have recommendations for which cover crops to use? We would prefer a perennial crop to limit our hands-on work, but are unsure which would be best. We use a BCS so want a cover crop that is easy to get rid of once the time comes… we have a flail mower, power plow, and harrow as options.
We were thinking red clover…
We have fairly significant twitch grass and Canada thistle so anything that will out compete those weeds would be ideal.
I had something similar going on my farm. We were only cultivating the first 2 acres out of a total of 5, so we planted the rest of it in red clover (I’ll try and share some photos later when I’m home). The biomass production was formidable, however weeds (like Canada Thistle) still came through so we had to control those when they were flowering (we ususally just flail/power mowed right above the clover).
However, I was using a tractor. I’m not sure how easy it would be to “get rid” of well established red clover using a BCS. I know @firmlyrootedfarm use a BCS, maybe Brian/Tamara can chime in on that. My only advice is to sow “after” you’ve cleaned the bed of the first weeds that come up in the spring and work the ground as shallowly as possible. Note that twitch grass comes up later, like mid-summer I believe, and that the more you work those rhyzomes, the more you’re spreading/multiplying your problem.
As for cover crops, I’m assuming it’s too late seed an overwintering crop (winter wheat, rye) that will establish early. So assuming you’re sowing in the spring, and considering that the clover will take some time to establish a good strong hold (which will also depend on the spring/summer climate), I would plant something more aggressive in the spring to choke out the weeds that will come up early (peas, buckwheat, oats?). Just make sure they don’t go to seed if you don’t want them to come back later, though they will winterkill.
Alternatively you could keep it simple and just frost seed the red clover and take your chances with early weeds and try and control those later in the season.
Ken Laing at Orchard Hill Farm does no-till cover crop, I’m sure he’d have some good advice regarding cover crop selection and weed control in a cover crop stand. I don’t think he’s on the forum, but you can reach him through the EFAO Advisory Service.
My recommendation would be to talk with Kevin at Speare Seeds in Harriston on which clover and species to use. They are one of the largest cover crop suppliers in Ontario.
Alternatively you can look at the Midwest Cover Crops website, albeit it is angled towards a field crop rotation. http://mccc.msu.edu/
+1 on @jbcagri’s comment on Speare seeds, I bought cover crop seeds from them and they are very knowledgeable and helpful.
Thanks for the feedback! I will talk to Speare Seeds.