Green Manure

Green manure, what is it really?

Green Gold 🌱🍃🌿☘️

With this post I’ll hopefully provide you with lots of information and ideas to action in your own growing space. It was my first time sowing & growing it in October & November 2021 and the plants I planted the following spring in 2022, I think, have benefitted from it. I can’t remember where I first heard the term, let alone why I decided that it was a good idea to do. But I didn’t want the big raised bed (finished build and filled sept 2020), to be an open empty bed over winter – hellooooo kitties – this is not a litter tray! – so I looked for things to plant that were low maintenance. My tip for winter growing, if you’ve got bare soil this winter, is to sow some green manure. It’s so good for so many things!

Using green manures has been done since ancient times. Before the rise of chemical fertilizers farmers had to work with organic solutions. There is evidence of the ancient Greek, dating as far back as 300B.C., and the Romans using faba beans (or broad beans as we know them) in their fields as well as lupines (another great of the Legume family). Chinese agricultural text going back 100s of years mention the importance of grasses and even weeds in providing farm soil with nutrients. Early colonisers in Northern America coming from Europe used the common green manure crops like Buckwheat, Oats and Rye.

Using green manure is also known as the fallow cycle of crop rotation. This is used to allow the soil to regain lost nutrients in its last harvests and gain back its fertility. Now this is most useful if you use a mono culture, ie 1 bed only has carrots, 1 bed only has potatoes, 1 bed only has tomatoes etc. If using permaculture that 1 bed would be mixed with various crops, a polyculture, this means that after harvest the soil won’t be as depleted since there have been a multitude of different crops aiding in the soil’s fertility and diversity.

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The benefits

It’s so good for so many things! Apart from soil erosion and frost damage to the soil it offers so many other brilliant things. Think of the soil as a living organism, sand and dirt in themselves aren’t, but the countless micro organisms and mycelium & not to mention the insects, bugs and creepy crawlies that live in it are. Soil lives, breathes and needs care. The more you protect and feed your soil the right things (this means no chemical crap, the better your plants, vegetables and fruit do.  Listed below are the key features mentioned on the packaging from the mix I bought from Suttons. The winter mix I had was rye & vetch but there’s loads to choose from ☺️

🌱 Less weeding, it acts as a weed suppressant whilst retaining soil moisture
🌱 Pest control & provides shelter for beneficial insects
🌱 You sow it from August to October ( I sowed mine in two sittings, mid October and late November 2021 – seems to still have worked, I do live in south Devon though so please bear that in mind)
🌱 Whilst the rye & vetch grow they take nitrogen from the air and make it available for current crop use (I have some kale & chard in there at the moment)
🌱 It takes the nitrate from the soil and stores it in the plants root nodules for subsequent crops (that’ll be for spring!)
🌱 More nitrogen = better plants*
🌱 It’ll need digging in between February & April, to be ready for your spring crops to be planted out.
🌱 First it’ll need chopping to a fine mulch, leave it to wilt on the surface for a few hours before digging in into the top 15cm of soil.
🌱 It’ll have to rot down for 2-3 weeks before you can plant in it.

*all listed benefit info in this section is from the package from Suttons winter mix

Now these are just a few of the benefits of this particular mix. There is so much more possible and available. Figure out what works best for you and your growing space and your soil will thank you.

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Living manure

Not just things like rye & vetch mixes are green manures. Clover is a green manure too, as a family member of the Legume, a nitrogen fixer, with nodular root growth where nitrogen get stored. White clover makes an wonderful long term green manure, not quite a perennial as it will die back after 2 to 5 years and quicker still when there are dry/draught spells. It is what I sowed in the Woodland Orchard (opens a new tab) with the idea of a clover lawn.

In 2021 I ventured into a ground covering that’s green, hardly needs strimming, flowers, fixes nitrogen into the soil & suppresses weeds. So I sowed 1kg of clover seed (it’s a lot) into an area that could probably have done with less 😆 but it did have the desired effect. Unfortunately it died back over winter and became food for some animals (pigeons? 🐦 slugs? 🐌 maybe a bunny? 🐰) and so the couch grass won the battle of who comes up first in spring. I love the clover, I do think I need to do something different first to sort the couch grass out. Finding out now it would be best suited for sowing between perennial crops such as soft fruit. It’ll spread by a network of creeping stems close to the surface which fix the beneficial nitrogen. Frost tolerant, it also makes an excellent weed suppressant.

Green manures are fast-growing plants sown to cover bare soil, making them a living manure or mulch. Often used in the vegetable garden, their foliage smothers weeds and their roots prevent soil erosion. When dug into the ground while still green, they return valuable nutrients to the soil and improve soil structure. I first added green manure to the big raised bed, and since it had not had anything growing in it, I wanted to make sure the soil was protected over winter. This raised bed was filled with all the soil I managed to recycle from the former, old raised beds that were there in its place. I then topped it with a layer of homemade compost (from the HotBin!).

Photos are through the months of growing with the last one after I chopped it all down, covered it with spent soil from the greenhouse raised beds and then we had frost. In May 😆 in south Devon 🤣🤷‍♀️

The following winter season I used it in the raised beds out front since they so epically failed to produce anything that year! Hoping it would improve things for the following year 👍☺️

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Mixing my own

All this gathered info has come to me deciding I want to make my own mix of green manure. I’ve got so many seeds I don’t use for “normal” use so in my opinion it’s better to use them in this way than not at all. Will it be good? Not a clue. Will it work? No idea, but I do hope so. It all fails, at least the rye & vetch will grow as they are meant to at this time of year.

As well as all the usual suspects like the nitrogen fixers, vetch & crimson clover, I’ll also be adding various edibles to help aid and fill out the spaces I want all this to grow in. I’ll be adding herbs, some salad types, radish and lupines. As well as the mix from suttons and the crimson clover

List of all the seeds I’ll be sowing as green manure, link as to where to get them where possible. None of these are sponsered. I either bought them or had them free with a magazine I bought.

Green Manures
Winter mix
Crimson Clover
Rocket
Organic gardening, Gardeners World Magazine, Mr Fothergill’s, Thompson & Morgan
Salads
Claytonia
Corn salad vit (lambs lettuce)
Lambs Lettuce favor
Watercress
Winter cress
Herbs
Coriander
Parsley Plain
Parsley Italian giant
Caraway
Radish
Winter radish black Spanish
Mooli
Sparkler 3
Cherry Belle
Misato rose flesh
Japanese wasabi
Vegetables
Spinach
Red frills mustard
Flowers
Blue lupin

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Prepping for Spring planting

What to do once you’re nearing planting out season? Ideally you’ll cut it back before it starts to flower (and can go to seed) as you don’t want the plants to self seed. By the time you need this section you should hopefully have lushious green floiage in your beds. There’s a few steps to consider before the beds are ready for planting.

🌱 Your green manure will need digging in between February & April, to be ready for your spring crops to be planted out. I won’t be digging it in though. I chop and drop, cover in spend and/or new compost, which will then be ready for planting in after a few weeks. I’m looking to do this end of March – mid April.
🌱 First it’ll need chopping to a fine mulch, you can do this with various tools. A strimmer will make quick work of it but sheers and even scissors will do the trick. I love using my Hori Hori knife for the job. Once cut/chopped leave it to wilt on the surface for a few hours before digging in into the top 15cm of soil. I will actually just top the bed up as I practise no-dig in my garden.
🌱 As I don’t dig the chopped plants into my soil I tend to stab my soil instead. Doing this is quite the workout as you’re cutting through all the roots to prevent regrowth and I also find it hilarious just stabbing the ground. When I did this out the front of the house I did get a lot of rather odd looks from passers by 🤷‍♀️ The Hori Hori knife is great for this, specially if it has a serrated edge.
🌱 Once cut it’ll have to rot down for 2-3 weeks before you can plant in it ideally. I think going by your last frost date and counting those 2-3 weeks back for your chopping/digging should work well. It’s the beginning of April here in my garden. You can find yours last frost dates here (opens a new tab)

So, would you consider using a green manure after reading all this? And if so, or not, why?
Let me know ☺️🌿

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