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July 28, 2011

Cowpeas as a cover crop and green manure

What a versatile vegetable! Not only it is insanely productive, not bothered by pests and requires little attention, it also provides fertilizer for the garden even after it stops producing. The idea of a cover crop is to grow nutrient-rich plant, such as legumes, and plow it under to improve soil fertility. A cowepea in Florida is just that plant. We can plant cowpeas from March to September and dig them in even after we harvest the crop. Ideal time for digging cowpeas in as a green manure is when they are still young, have lush green leaves and their stems are not too thick, like this:

Granted, if you plow cowpeas under at this stage you will forgo most of the crop. If you need to improve soil fertility in a hurry, then this method is acceptable, after all a pound of cowpeas at a grocery store is only $1.69 or even cheaper. But in the event that you want to have a harvest and utilize cover crop quality of cowpeas, the more mature stage of this vegetable is still acceptable. Below is a picture of a cowpea patch that I kept harvesting until the plants are mostly dry:

In this situation you will just have to chop them smaller, for the stems - about three to four inch long, if you have patience.

Then just dig the stems and leaves into the ground. It will help if your shovel is sharp because you might have to break stubborn stems with it:

Keep the soil moist, water it if there is no rain. It might also help to cover the soil with newspapers or cardboard to keep it moist. This cover crop should decompose in about a month, just in time to transplant tomatoes into the ground.


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