Growing Green Manure – how to plant for winter

green grass like plants growing in amongst some plants with rounded leaves in a wooden bed

It’s that time of the year when you find yourself planning for winter and I am growing green manure! Green manures are plants that you can grow in bare patches or beds in your garden or plot, which benefit the soil. They do this is a number of ways.

Benefits of Growing Green Manure

There are several advantages of growing green manures in your garden. I am always reluctant to leave bare patches in my garden, as I find that the next time I turn around, weeds will have taken residence! Green manures are much more preferable in my garden beds over winter.

I also have found that after a whole season of heavy cropping in the summer, the soil becomes exhausted. I am definitely not a fan of popping artificial fertilisers to grow more food over winter. Instead, I like to give these beds which have been busy over summer, a break to recover and replenish themselves in nutrients. This can easily be done with green manures.

These beneficial plants also help to improve your soil structure, and are known to break up heavy clay and hold lighter soil to prevent erosion in the colder months. This all helps to improve the structure of the soil for spring planting.

In addition, growing these green manures over winter supports the soil food web in the ground. The soil food web is a whole community of microorganisms that live in the soil. They have have an interrelated relationship with the plant roots and other soil elements, which is vital for a healthy ecosystem in our gardens. Growing green manures, chopping and then dropping the plants for the earth worms to incorporate into the soil is a fabulous way to replenish the soil.

It goes without saying then, that this is a great way of giving your garden soil a much needed rejuvenation in preparation for the following spring … in a much more nature friendlyย  and sustainable way!

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How to grow green manures

I have found growing green manures easy in my garden over winter. These are the steps I like to follow in general:

Preparing the ground

  1. Clear the patch where you’ll be growing your green manure. This means lifting or pulling out root vegetables that have been growing. I have just harvested all my beetroot from one of my beds. Trim herbs like chives and remove annuals like french marigolds. If there are any weeds, remove them with the whole root. I like to snip my bean plants at the soil surface, leaving the roots in the bed. This is in the hope that any nitrogen on their root nodules will dissipate into the soil.

Sowing the seeds

This autumn, I am sowing these green manures: Field beans and Phacelia

Field Beans Seeds

growing green manure

Phacelia Seeds

growing green manure

How to Sow your Seeds

  1. Lightly rake the soil to even the levels. Sow your seeds. This will depend on what you’re growing. If they are field beans, then pop them in according to the directions. However, green manures like Phacelia need to be sprinkled and then raked in. I also measure my beds in order to calculate how much seed to sow in that particular area. Here it is best to follow the instructions that are supplied with individual packets of seeds.
  2. Water your seeds in and watch them grow over winter!

Cutting the plants

  1. I like to cut my green manure while they are young as they have softer stems that can be incorporated easily. The timing will depend on individual green manure varieties. It is also good to catch them before they start flowering, otherwise they will start to produce seeds and then self seed! You can leave a few plants to keep flowering as the bees and butterflies will love them in your garden.
  2. Cut them down at the base of the plants and leave them on the soil surface. They will wilt and become great mulch.

Incorporating the green manure

Rye vetch green manure plants growing_grow-with-hema
Rye and Vetch growing in my raised bed last winter
Cut drop mulch green manure_grow-with-hema
Rye and Vetch green manure all cut with my pruners and left to wilt and mulch

Last autumn, I grew rye and vetch and then snipped them down in February. You can read more about it in my winter post. After a couple of weeks, I incorporated the green manure mulch into the soil with a garden fork. I left it alone for a few weeks and it was ready to plant in early spring. You can also leave it on the surface for the worms to incorporate it for you and I am planning to try this out this time!

Growing Green Manures – Which one?

There are several different types of green manures. Some help to fix nitrogen into the soil, while others generally enrich the soil with their mulch or help to break up heavy soil or to hold the soils structure. Which green manure you choose to grow also depends on what you are planning to grow in spring.

Last year, I grew a mix of rye and vetch in two of my beds and this was brilliant for growing my onions, beetroot and radishes. This year, I am planning to grow Phacelia in two of my beds and Red Clover and Field Beans in the other two beds, respectively. Phacelia is great at enriching soil, while the other two are super nitrogen fixers which will be perfect for my leafy greens!

Sow Seeds have a very comprehensive table of information on all types of green manures which I would definitely recommend to you. Hope you will find it as useful as I do in picking your varieties!

Field Beans Seeds

Phacelia Seeds

Posts you may also find useful:

Green Manure over Winter

Growing Beans – Tips for Success

How to Grow Radishes

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