If you’ve had a vegetable garden for a while, you know that nutrients in the soil deplete with each year’s crops. Compost helps, but it’s hard to produce enough in the average urban or suburban garden. You could add stuff you buy in a bag or in bulk, but what about growing your own green manure?

Green Manure – Nature’s Compost

Plants live to be symbiotic, some taking from the earth to give to the air and water, some giving back to the earth, and some giving back to each other. Green manure plants help ‘set’ (provide) nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil, either through their leaves and roots as they grow or when tilled into the soil. They break down in the soil, releasing the good minerals and nutrients they’ve accumulated from the atmosphere to rebuild diminished dirt.

Red Clover

After growing in our raised beds for two full seasons, we knew the soil needed more than bagged compost could provide. (Tried that last year, with minimal benefits.) We picked two kinds to seed last fall in the hope that they, along with the results of our compost bins, would give the boost our beds need to grow happy, healthy vegetables this year.

The fava beans and red clover sprouted late last fall as the weather turned colder. Throughout the winter, they grew, despite cold temperatures and the occasional snowfall. As the weather turned warmer, they took off, ready to share their benefits with our soon-to-be planted seeds and plants.

How to Turn Plants to Fertilizer

The process to turn green manure from plant to fertilizer takes time. First you cut them down, in our case with hoes and rakes since we have raised beds. The cutting part took the better part of the afternoon for the two of us as we weeded and chopped and weeded some more. The chopped salad mess is then left to decompose on top of the soil.

Letting nature do it’s thing

One week passed, enough for them to begin to shrink and crinkle. Pirate then began to work them into the soil. Since our little decades-old rototiller was on the fritz, he did it the old-fashioned way, with a hoe and a rake and a pitchfork. Watering came next, to help them ‘rot’ (in a good way) and feed our future crops.

Pirate doing the heavy labor

Now we’re waiting again, another week, and then we’ll be ready to direct sow the seeds we should have already done. But a month ago, it was still raining and snowing, and the soil was mud. This timing will have to do…

More on the seeds and sowing in our next garden installment…

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