Compost crops are easy to grow, protect the soil from the weather over the winter, and feed your soil when you aren't using your garden. They "mop up" the fertility you have worked to give your garden, and keep it from washing away. There are compost crops to suit all soil conditions and all times of year. For advice about overwintering, planting times, and adaptation to conditions in your local area, try talking with your neighbors, your state university ag department, or your state's university cooperative extension service (county agent). To help choose which crops to plant, see our chart here, Compost Crop Applications
Grains are often used as cover crops because of their big, soil-holding root systems, their fast growth in cool-weather, and the abundant carbon in their straw. For grain choices, please see our grain section.
Harvested and composted, they return to the soil nutrients lost when food crops are harvested, and protect the soil from the weather over the winter.
Traditional and organic farmers have been successfully using compost crops for centuries, and they are an essential part of crop rotation. A Compost crop is a plant primarily grown to be cut down and composted. The prime goal is to grow more soil. Some compost crops also fix Nitrogen in the soil and some produce a food crop at the same time. Compost crops provide a nutritious, low maintenance ground cover for your precious soil. You can produce large amounts of organic matter in as little as six weeks, utilizing your garden beds when they would otherwise lie empty.
By compost cropping you end up with better soil - an increase in the quantity and the quality of all aspects of the soilís ecology including: your soilís microbial population, organic matter content, and soil fertility, thereby giving all the rest of natureís processes a boost. By making compost from your crop you not only increase soil volume and quality, but feed earthworms and soil organisms, which in turn stimulate and speed up the release of nutrients, thus making more nutrients available for the next crop.
There are Compost Crops to suit all soil conditions and all times of the year. Building up fertility is a slow process, and takes considerably more than one season. Somewhat faster results can be achieved by following the Biointensive method detailed in How To Grow More Vegetables... and our other books.
Ecology Action has tested an extensive selection of compost crop seeds at their Research Centers for over 30 years.
Every gardener should try at least one of these crops in his or her garden. Your garden will thank you!