If you love the earth, gardening is a marvelous way to watch and participate in the changing of the seasons. Here in the north us winter gardeners are busily cutting back dying vegetation and preparing the soil for winter rains or snows. My Australian gardening friends, Linette and Marie, are all excited about new lettuce, basil, and tomato plants—the often more exciting end of the gardening spectrum.
But I love putting my garden to bed and thinking about protecting my soil! Winter rains or snow can severely compact things. And since one-half of a healthy soil is air pockets, avoiding compaction is important.
One way I protect my soils is to cover them with leaves. Another more productive way is to plant a cover crop. Cover crops not only stabilize soils, they bring deep-rooted minerals to the surface and lessen the loss of nutrients during winter rainfall.
Where I live a good cover crop consists of a mixture of winter rye, fava beans, Austrian field peas, hairy vetch, and crimson clover. Birds love this mix of seed—they are also getting ready for winter! So, to insure that you actually get a cover crop it is helpful to lay down some garden fabric or row cover until the seeds germinate.
More on cover crops in a few months when I turn ours over!