2 Ways to Transition from Greencrop to Crop

Phacelia and buckwheat - the prettiest of all greencrops

Greencrop’s are your soils secret weapon.

How I love them, for the nourishing respite they bring – they’re an important regroup for your soil. A greencrop is the only crop we grow where the whole thing is returned. When we harvest our dinner, we’re in effect stealing from the soil – greencrops are our chance to say thanks, to give back.

They nurture + build soil biology, reduce the amount of compost needed and as a final farewell, add organic matter (OM). OM is your pathway to humus rich, strong, water retentive, awesome vegies growing soils!

Chop greencrops down just as they start flowering and you’ve got yourself a load of nitrogen rich mulch to cover the soil in prep for the following crop.

Here are my 2 preferred ways to go about transitioning from greencrop to crop.

Clear the whole bed: for dry soils + direct sown seed

lupin is down

Do this if your soil has become parched, or if you plan on seeding your next crop.

If you only want to use a portion of the bed, just clear off as much as you need and let the rest carry on until you need it. Yes, ideally we chop them as they gear up to flower, but don’t be too hung up on this. Leaving them to go full cycle also has benefits – one of which is collecting your own seed.

Slice the crop off at soil level with sharp secteurs or a scythe and pile the slashed down crop beside the bed as you go. Leave the roots in! Biology is attached and operating in the root zone, don’t go ripping them out. And if lupin is your greencrop – a burst of nitrogen hits the soil when its cut down.  

Water if needed, then spread a fine layer of compost, sow the seed and spread the cut down greencrop back on top. Right away, so you don’t leave the soil exposed.

You’ve grown your own mulch! How cool is that. All that organic matter will melt into the soil surprisingly quickly, feeding up the microbes, in turn boosting your plants.

Plant amongst the greencrop: for seedlings

broccoli planted into a crimson clover phacelia greencrop
Broccoli seedling growing amongst a phacelia, crimson clover greencrop

Do this if you are planting seedlings or if the weather is extreme – too hot, too wet, too cold. Seedlings speed along, in this protected environment and because they can plug into existing below ground networks around the greencrop roots.

Cut back just enough greencrop to create a pocket that fits your seedling, giving it enough light and air. Add a good dollop of compost, then plant.

  • If you are on sandy soils, scope out a divet before composting.
  • If you are on heavy soils, pop your compost on top like a little mound.
  • If its hot and sunny, leave some greencrop shoots to act as umbrellas.
  • If its cool and damp, trim back to create more light and airflow

Sprinkle the chopped bits on as mulch around the seedling. Continue to chop and drop the greencrop as the new crop grows and needs more space + light.

The perfect environment for new seedlings.

Comments

  1. Sadly I have never managed to sprout a lupin yet. The odd oat yes. Mustard definitely, along with phacelia .. but never a lupin. I’m wondering is it birds/ mice …. or just me doing it wrong.

    • wow – how interesting! perhaps rodents? old seed? burying the seed too deep? Heres how – Prepare the bed (weed etc) then scatter sow the seed then chop it into the topsoil with a rake. Dont worry if bits of seed are still showing. Turn the rake over and use the flat end to firm the soil and get good soil contact for the seed. Lightly cover with mulch and cover with bird net – fool proof 🙂 Lupin is such a feisty thing. Good luck, Kath

  2. Hi Kath, Do you just leave the lupin roots in the ground to rot away on their own accord?

    • Yes Noelene! thats the one. All that nitrogen released from the nodules on the roots when the tops are cut – makes sense to leave them in dont you think. As well as all those wonderful airways + biology attached to the roots and a wonderful addition of carbon the to soils. So much goodness in those roots 🙂

  3. Hi Kath

    We are slowly building up our gardens self seeding green crops. We have over the last two years planted a green crop of Lupin, oat and pea in winter and are noticing the good effects of this. We have about 3-4 years ago had potato blight due to potatoes being planted in the same spot too often. The result is potatoes with dark rings and not eatable. Is there a green crop that might support the soil to recover from this please? I thought maybe marigolds (unsure of what variety), do you have any suggestions please? Much thanks for sharing your knowledge. My mum of 85 can’t believe her cucumber crop this year where we had true success of covering the soil of veges and green crop of calendula.. Mum lets her cucumbers trail on the ground with much success. …Thankyou ….suzanne

    • Dear Suzanne, blight isn’t necessarily from potatoes in the same spot – they naturalize if not harvested and can grow wild happily, disease free. The usual culprits are poor drainage; heavy, cold soils and overfeeding (eg: manure, bought fertiliser, artificial fertiliser, bought compost). For best results, get the foundation sorted first. My ideal potato food is homegrown compost, thats it! Greencropping wont solve the blight, but its still an important part of nurturing your soils. Hope this helps, K

  4. Gill Clark says

    Hi Kath

    My raised veggie garden bed is surrounded by hedges and trees, mine and my neighbours. I’ve tried no dig but the tree roots seem to take over so I’m having to return to forking over to lift roots before planting. I’ve read about folk burying sheets of metal to provide a barrier but that’s not really a possible solution for me. Have you any thoughts on this

    • Sad to say, no Gill. Nothing will stop roots penetrating – they sniff out the nourishment and water, bursting through and around concrete even. And besides your bigger vegetables need to spread downward – a barrier is a double edged sword. The best you can do is slow the advance by root pruning in spring, as close as is commonsense using a sharp shovel to slice the roots. Forking is a perfect solution. Managing the roots will be part of your maintenance. Unless of course the trees are removed, or the garden shifted to a better spot.

  5. I have a very simple question and I have looked online for the answer without any luck.
    What does ‘ scope out a divet’ mean?
    And what is a divet?

    My second (or third) question relates to turning the compost pile.
    I have received assorted advice from Wellington South Coast neighbours – turn/don’t turn/ don’t bother
    All of us have very productive gardens – our soil is very good (former market garden) and mostly I just dig in garden/kitchen wastes and leave the roots in after harvesting . But at the moment there is a lot ofaround -so want to formally compost.

    • Hey Susan, a divet is a small hole and as for turn or no turn there are more ways to make compost than you can imagine. Turning creates compost faster, than not. Both have pros and cons. I have a no turn recipe on my website – if you use the searchbar you’ll find it. Otherwise follow your gut and if all grows well – you know you nailed it!

  6. I’ve got some small raised gardens, big enough to grow 6 lettuces or silverbeet. I’m using wool mulch mats (from a roll) across each vegetable box which seems ato be working well at suppressing weeds and retaining moisture. So to do a green cover crop can I just plant seedlings (as I did for vege crop) in a hole through the wool mat (which is slowly mulching away) or do you recommend taking that off?

    • Hi Jo, I’d take the wool off, direct sow the greencrop densely, then use the wool elsewhere – keep reusing it until it degrades into the soil.

  7. Jenny Keating says

    Hello Kath
    Your newsletters are terrific. So is your book,
    My best Xmas prez last year.
    I’m getting so much plantain in my garden. Do I dig it in or chop it down to roots or throw it out? Is it edible? Bitter though. All the best, Jenny

    • Hey Jenny, Yes plantain is an amazingly useful plant but if you aren’t infusing it for medicine then there’s only so much you can eat!
      Because of its robust root its best to dig up bigger plants when they’re in the vegie patch or they totally get in the way and will continue to clump outwards. Slash them up for the compost heap then plant/ sow area up right away.
      smaller seedlings simply chop n drop or pull up and drop – either one, lay them down in situ as mulch.
      Its one of those things you’ll just have to keep on top of ie grab the seedlings while small. In time the weed guild will change.
      K x