5 Green Manure Crops You can Plant to Heal the Soil
Much of the soil in our nation has become infertile due to the overuse of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and the persistent practice of mono-cropping which depletes nutrients from the soil, and thus the crops that are grown within it. Our current nutrient-depleted soil may soon lead to the impossible growth of crops, causing food shortages and more increased food prices. We need to change our farming practices to save the soil – this is where green manure comes in.
Green manure is the final product when crops are grown to be sewn back into the soil, instead of harvested for human consumption. You can think of them as plant offerings to Mother Nature that will increase future crop yields, help make plants more resistant to pests, and keep the soil fertile for another season.
Small farmholders and home gardeners alike can benefit from green manure. In a time of food sovereignty issues created by corporations like Monsanto, practices like these are paramount. Agroecologist, Roland Bunch, states in his report, Restoring the Soil:
“Millions of smallholder farmers around the world, however, are facing a serious soil fertility crisis, and many of these families also suffer from food insecurity. Soil infertility and erosion losses in many regions of the world are standing in the way of increased food production and improved livelihoods for many smallholder farmers. Maintaining, and in many cases recovering soil fertility, has become a major challenge facing agricultural professionals and farmers.”
Just 4 Benefits of Green Manure
- Green manure is less expensive than animal manure, and is usually more trustworthy since many animal manures are often laced with antibiotics and growth hormones. Green manure, once grown for a few seasons, is practically free.
- Green manure can also help create vital soil in areas with little or no top soil due to water run off or construction that often tears away at vast tracts of land without considering the long term effects. The best thing about green manure – it deters weeds, even without the use of harmful herbicides. Earthworms and beneficial bacteria love green manure, too, and these critters are great for your garden.
- Poor and exhausted soils really perk up from planting this type of manure as well, so if you are planning your Spring garden now, consider planting some of these crops instead of relying on commercial fertilizers which are often full of plant-weakening chemicals.
- Green manure also helps with soil erosion due to weather, like wind and rain.
A good soil is usually balanced in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous, plus lots of trace minerals that come from decomposed organic matter – not industrial fertilizers. The run-off alone from chemical fertilizers upsets the entire eco-system from the microscopic beneficial bugs and worms in your garden, all the way up the food chain, to trees and people.
By planting the following green manure crops you can help revitalize tired soil. Just be sure to add a good organic compost too before your next planting, and your garden should grow beautifully without using pesticides and herbicides because the plants will be stronger and better able to resist disease and pests. Also be sure to plant organic, heirloom, non-GMO seeds.
These 5 crops are notorious for replacing nitrogen to pesticide depleted soil:
- 1. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) – Not only can alfalfa plants restore your soil by adding nitrogen back to the soil, but they are also ages-old medicinal plants that support good health. Alfalfa is full of vitamin C, K, and calcium. You can sew some of the sprouts for yourself as a nutrient-dense addition to salads, and let the rest grow an entire season for a deep rooting into your soil. Then till them in when you’re ready to plant in the spring or late summer.
- 2. Broad Beans or Fava Beans (Vicia faba) – These beans grow very easily, and produce a great nitrogen-fixing green manure crop. You can also enjoy some as they grow to get extra folate (which helps prevent birth defects), energy-giving Vitamin B, vegetable protein, and potassium.
- 3. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) – Even the mainstream media admits that Red Clover has amazing healing benefits. It is used in some Essiac tea recipes to prevent cancer, and can also help with skin conditions as well as purify the blood. It is also a wonderful crop to plant to revitalize your soil. Just make sure you sew the seeds at least 6 inches apart to allow space for the beautiful flowering plants. You can allow some to grow to full maturity, and plow the rest into the soil before they flower to add nutrients back into the earth.
- 4. Lupin (Lupinus angustifolius) – Lupin is a deep rooting legume which you can eat and also till into the soil before it grows to full maturity to replace nitrogen. You can even plant this crop in 8 week rotations to keep the soil viable. Lupin is being called the next ‘super grain’ since it is 45-50% protein and full of vitamins.
- 5. Winter tare (Vicia villosa) or Hairy Vetch (Vicia sativa) – Great nitrogen-fixing crops with an extensive root system that helps to prevent soil erosion, these are amazing plants that even grow during the winter months in many parts of the world. Since the crops grow into long 12-foot vines, they can also act like a blanket for the soil during winter months.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.