This Week’s Work on the Farm – Tilling in the Cover Crop

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Preparing for the 2017 Garlic Crop at Natural Jack’s


Cover Crop in Full Bloom

Notice the small bit of red leaves ~ Fall is on the way

Cover crop in bloom


Pacific Gold Mustard

The color of this flowering cover crop is magnificent.  When you walk past you hear the incessant buzzing of bees, literally thousands of bees.  In fact, flowering cover crops like mustard can be used across the farm or garden to help maintain heathy bee populations.  Growing flowering cover crops during fallow periods in your crop rotation is a multi-purpose strategy:  it both benefits crop productivity by enriching the soil with organic matter and provides resources for the local pollinators.

Pacific Gold Mustard in Bloom


This cover crop was planted less than a month ago, immediately after the garlic was harvested.  It’s amazing how high its grown!

Tractor cutting the cover crop


One pass of the tractor to cut the cover crop and then a second pass with the tiller to turn it into the soil:

Tractor tilling



A spectacular late summer’s day on the mountain

empty garlic beds


And the garlic beds are naked again–but not for long!

Soil ready for planting


Luckily, the weather in upstate New York has been favorable–dry and warm–so there’s time for a second planting of mustard.  The second crop won’t have as long to mature and may not completely flower before the beds will need to be prepared for fall garlic planting.  Even so, it’s a valuable opportunity to add a bit more organic material to the soil.


Cover crops can provide many benefits for soil health.  These include:

  • Suppressing weeds
  • Increasing organic matter in the soil
  • Improving soil health and subsequent crop yield
  • Preventing soil erosion
  • Conserving soil moisture

Considering a cover crop for your garden or farm?  There are several species to chose from.  Selection should be guided by your climate as well as your crop rotation window.  Here in the northeast, mustard and buckwheat are ideal for planting in late summer, after the garlic is harvested, and will bloom late summer to early fall–just in time for planting next year’s garlic.

Do you have a favorite cover crop?  Share what’s worked for you in the comments section.


carpenter bee on flower