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Lab Cover Crop Experiments

Posts: 71
Location: Colorado~ Front Range~ Zone 4/Wheaton Labs
forest garden food preservation woodworking
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A whole mess of seeds have been slung at berms and fields and even wofati rooves over the past few months. The seed concoctions and experimental methods have all been in the hopes that something would stick and start something growing on all the bare soil left behind after natural building and garden bed projects. We have also been sowing directly into undisturbed fields and forests to see how cover crops will fair alongside knapweed and douglas fir. Certain species and methods have out-shown others throughout the year but the information gleaned from kneeling in the dirt and squinting at sprouts has a ways to go before it can give definitive evidence of anything that works well.

Here's a list of the species that have been planted:

Clovers -

Hykon Rose

Other nitrogen fixers-

Sweet Clover (Not a true clover)
Hairy Vetch
Common Vetch
Field Peas
Birdsfoot Trefoil


Forage Turnips
White Mustard
Black Mustard



I'll go into more detail in later posts as the season progresses.

Stand of Rye, Hairy Vetch and Mixed Mustards
Stand of Rye, Hairy Vetch and Mixed Mustards
Kai Duby
Posts: 71
Location: Colorado~ Front Range~ Zone 4/Wheaton Labs
forest garden food preservation woodworking
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Frost Seeding Experiment

In early March Sean and I went seeding under the big gray sky that we hoped would shake out all the pent up precipitation as snow. Even more then that, we hoped that the following night would be a good hard freeze. One that would rend the very earth we were throwing seeds at.

Frost seeding is fast and efficient. You don't have to bend over or even stick anything in the soil. You just throw some good, hardy seed at bare spots and cross your fingers for more substantial frosts but not too many that it will set the seedlings back. When we seeded in early March (the 5th to be precise) the timing factor was a bit of an unknown but it was likely that after the next snow fall it would not snow heavily again until October so we gathered up the seeds and went sowing.

We made test plots for nearly 30 different species and another 30 species mixes (most of the emboldened in the first post) in rough 10ft. X 10ft. plots in a field across from ant village. The field is riddled with knapweed but it's also home to a surprising diversity of other native plants despite knapweeds reputation for domination. The field also has many old burned logs and bark littering the ground, which may have inhibited an even representation of each species. Nonetheless we tried to sow the seeds at a relatively even rate across each plot.

The test is mainly to see how well each species does when frost seeded but also to determine if frost seeding is a viable option for seeding large areas of land by hand. It did end up snowing and frosting after we seeded but the results are still rolling in.

Here are some observations:

- Most species germinated within the first week or two of seeding
- Large seeds like field peas and hairy vetch did not seem to germinate but it's more likely that these did not get pulled down into frost cracks and, instead, got pulled into turkeys' beaks.
- The clovers and mustards sprouted fast and vigorously, however - Now (2 months later) the mustards are still small and most are yellowing while the clovers, (especially red, white, crimson and alsike) are growing very well.

We also frost seeded bare ground on berms and the tops of wofatis. I've seen that:

- Seeding in sandy areas was less effective. This may be because sand just doesn't freeze and thaw like clay so there were not as many cracks for seeds to fall in.
- Mustard and clover sprouted the best on bare ground but where the ground was compacted the mustard showed the same yellowing and weak growth.

[Thumbnail for seeding.jpg]
Throwing the Seeds
[Thumbnail for frost-seeding.jpg]
The Field with Markers
Up and coming clover
Up and coming clover
Posts: 184
Location: Zone 4 MN USA
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Obviously the mixes you are using are clover, nitrogen, and mustard centric.
I've noticed in my disturbed areas after recent work a mix of preferential "weeds" can be cultivated by collecting seed and sowing them in spots.
I use Burdock, Cleavers, motherwort, self heal, wintercress, wild lettuce, curly dock and mullein.
These add deep rooted biomass and I find preferable to the usual thistles, grass, and nettles(which are nice too at times, but can be too much)
Things like chamomile, radish, turnip, mustard, clover, buckwheat, parsnip can also be pretty vigorous if you've got enough seed to spare.
The great thing about all these is the massive amount of seed that they produce for future work and can be harvested for chop/drop options, herbal, edible, or other uses. If you want nothing but bare ground coverage this might be a good option. There's maybe a better specific mix of species for your climate too obviously.
Something to think about at least.
Good luck!
Posts: 733
Location: NW California, 1500-1800ft,
hugelkultur dog duck
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Good work and thanks for the wisdom. On top of a dozen of the classic NW cover crops I have been given a bunch (maybe 150+ packets) of various seeds by my late neighbor's son. While I miss her, she was a bit of a hoarder and had a half dozen trailers full of junk she eventually planned to sell somehow.  Yet therein were the seeds she had collected (some from as far back as the 70s!) for many different gardens that apparently only grew in her mind. I would love to see them have a shot, and am going to mix into my broadcast cover crop experiment anything that will have a shot at sprouting in September after a light rain. This includes cabbage, parsley, turnips, parsnips, radishes, various brassicas, herb mixtures, marigolds, perennial wildflower mixes, and at least a dozen other flowers and basically anything she left thats not morning glory or similarly invasive and I will hold off on anything warmth dependent (will try them in spring). Does this sound crazy or like a waste of time? I can ID pretty much all of the plants and understand a vast majority of the older seed will not germinate at all or will be stunted by age and outcompeted by the other stuff. I guess it will be mulch then, and the best way to make sure they don't germinate and grow is to keep them in their bags. I broadcast 78seed packets with my small cover crop seeds (red, white, alsike clover, rye, buckwheat) after spreading my larger cover crop seeds (fava beans, austrian field peas, common vetch and nasturtiums from my garden), all mixed with a loose starter soil filler to spread it out. I have put this  everywhere I don't have something I like already, including my hugel beds amongst the 1yr old grapes, the remnants of lawn, on wood chip and straw mulched beds alike. I will also spread kelp and chicken bedding again soon over everything that hasn't gotten it recently. I guess if any seeds burn, oh well, thats why I am spreading thousands of them! I feel like a maniacal chortle right now...
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