There are two main ways to improve your soil: incorporating soil amendments, and cover crops. If you are leaving your garden beds bare in the winter, you are missing your best chance to fix nitrogen, reduce weeds, prevent soil erosion, and bulk up the soil with organic matter. A cover crop is a plant grown with the primary purpose of improving the soil. Our favorite cover crop is Hairy Vetch. It's a legume, and it's well-known that legumes have a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia bacteria that take nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available to the plant. How cool is that? Hairy Vetch grows long vines along the ground and creates a dense, 2ft. tall ground cover. It will continue to grow during the winter and produce beautiful little purple flowers. When winter is really severe, it may turn gray for a few weeks, but it is hardy to zone 4 and will come back. How to Plant a Hairy Vetch Cover Crop:
  • Seeding rate is 1lb/1000 sq. ft.
  • Sow Hairy Vetch seeds several weeks before true winter. Prepare the soil like you would for any other seed: amend the soil, rake it smooth, spread the seed and cover with a light layer of soil. Keep the soil moist until the seed has germinated.
  • Water occasionally during the winter.
  • Three weeks before planting in the spring, cut or mow the vines leaving the roots in the soil. Pack down the vines with your feet or hands to use as mulch between rows.