Winter Rye

Now that fall is here, we are slowly clearing our garden beds of plants that have died back. Gone now are the potatoes, corn, onions, pole beans, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and all but one pumpkin vine. That opens up quite a bit of bare soil, and this year we decided to experiment with a cover crop.

I chose to use winter rye because it is supposed to be able to sprout and get established even through the end of October, and that seemed a wise choice for our New England garden. From what I have read, the trickier part will be making sure that we get outside to turn it back into the soil a month before we want to plant in those spots. Still, we are hoping that the winter rye can protect our soil during the winter and add some nitrogen while we sit inside our cozy house.   

I sowed some spots last week, just before the rain. In just a few days, the seeds (which are quite big, and also tempting to the chickens) were already sprouting:


By the end of our rainy week, we had shoots everywhere I planted it:


The chickens still love it now that it's sprouted, and can be found scratching it up and nibbling on it when they are let out to range. That's probably not a big deal, since we don't plan to eat it ourselves, and since it's quite tough and dense:


Seeing the chickens in the rye made us think that early next spring we would put up temporary chicken wire enclosures around the rye beds and let the chickens get a head start on turning the rye for us. If they spend a few days eating it and scratching it up, our job with the shovels might be easier. We've heard that rye can be tough to turn, but its ability to grow in the cold seemed to outweigh that disadvantage. We'll know for sure next spring.

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