By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a saying that directly applies to gardening.
When weeds creep up, it is better to just pull them up while they are small then to put it off and be faced with a “crop of weeds” in your tomato garden.
When the first tomato hornworm is spotted, it is better to inspect the plant then for damage and other tomato hornworms then to wait for your tomato plant to be eaten down to the ground.
But there is another approach that can be used to preserve ones soil, reduce plant diseases and fertilize it all at the same time. What is this magical elixir? Green manure.
Green manure by definition is manure that was alive at one time and is tilled under in the spring. When turned under, the plant dies and releases nitrogen.
Green manures come in two different types of ground cover. One type consists of grass like plants, such as winter rye, oats, rape, and wheat. The second type consists of legumes, such as fava beans, peas vetch, crimson clover, alfalfa, and mustard. While both types protect soil from erosion and control weeds, mustard is a very important ground cover for tomato gardens. Once tilled under, it provides nutrients just like all other green manures but also provides protection from nematodes and verticillium wilt.
To utilize this technique, one must first clean out the tomato garden space. Do not compost the tomato plants but instead just throw them away. Composting these plants can spread nematodes and other nightshade specific plant pests and diseases.
Once the tomato garden has been cleaned, broadcast your choice of seed and let it grow until spring arrives.
Knowing when to turn over your ground cover is an important part of utilizing this technique. The green manure should be turned four to six weeks prior to planting.
If you want to keep your healthy soil bacteria and fungi intact, do not use a tiller but instead turn the soil by hand. Once turned, the plant material will begin to breakdown and release plant nutrients.
Repeating this process every year is a fantastic way of preventing soil erosion, improving soil quality, and improving plant production through an ounce of prevention.
So until we blog again, utilizing green ways to improve our green days is a great way of saving the day and the future growing season.