Using Edible Cover Crops and Green Manures in the Home Garden

How to Use Arugula as a Cover Crop
How to Use Arugula as a Cover CropI always seem to plant too much arugula and mustard greens – seeds are so tiny. Luckily, I discovered years ago that they make a wonderful cover crop for smaller spaces.

Plant arugula to eat, protect the soil, control weeds and add nutrients. If you live in a cold climate, they’ll naturally decompose over winter.

PLANTING: Scatter the seed lightly. Cover with just enough soil to keep the birds at bay. Water thoroughly but gently so the seed stays in place.

HARVEST: Let it grow as usual, enjoy some at meals and just when a few plants start to flower (4-8 weeks), chop them down to soil level and let the organic matter sit on top for a month or more to decompose.

LEAVE ON THE SURFACE AS A MULCH: Worms and microorganisms will break everything down. You can also work it into the soil but realize you won’t have much left to protect the surface from sun and wind.

TIPS FOR CUTTING: If you let green manures grow too tall, cut the tops off first and then cut again at the ground, creating smaller pieces – the smaller the material, the faster it will decompose.

BUILD BIOMASS: Many greens including mustards will grow back at least a couple of times if cut about an inch above the soil line. I teach the kids at school “cut and come again” techniques. However, when growing green manures, you want lots of plant material (biomass). So it works better to leave it alone and then snip up the large leaves when you’re ready to mulch or amend.