I've been learning a bit about cover crops in a rather eclectic fashion for the past couple years. I was at our CSA farm day a couple summers ago and he was talking about how letting a field lay completely fallow (totally bare) is actually a very poor practice, since you lose half your topsoil in the first big gust of wind. Rather, he said, plant a cover crop. He mentioned that about 1/4 of their giant garden was seeded with clover each year and left alone. Then the next year it would be rejuvenated and they'd dig it up and have at-'er! He must have been into some permaculture as well as organic gardening, since that's exactly what I read in my permaculture book this summer! Cover crops can do so many things for your soil - break up hard clay (like giant diakon radishes), add nutrients (such as nitrogen from clover), and add organic matter (what happens when you grow a crop of buckwheat).
So, I thought I'd try it out. I had a raised bed that nothing grew in this year, and I think it's because the "full of organic matter" soil that I bought from Canadian Tire was actually mostly peat moss with a little soil in there for color. Peat moss is basically carbon, so doesn't provide much in the way of nutrition for your plants! (as a brief aside, peat bogs are one of the best carbon sinks on the planet, which is why environmentalist gardeners keep telling us to stop using/harvesting the stuff! When we harvest it, they basically drain the bogs and then take a giant machine into it, and as it gets cut up and removed, it releases carbon into the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global warming). So as you might imagine, I was rather ticked about the misleading labeling since I now have a whole 4x8 bed of water-retaining but nutrient-defunct peat moss. Grr.
ANYWAY, I decided to see what kind of cover crop seeds I could order from West Coast Seeds, so I picked up some white dutch clover and buckwheat. And, obviously, I planted it. I was going to take a picture of it, but it's still pretty small and frankly it just looks like weeds! I'm wondering if I even planted it too late (end of August). But whatever, it's just one of many experiments. I'll wait until next spring and then turn it into my garden and hope that there's some more life coming out of all my plots as a result!
I'll have to take some pictures soon of the front yard, because, aside from the weedy-looking stuff, I also have a new apricot tree, apple tree, and three big asparagus 'plants'! Gotta love end-of-season sales.
And now my next-door neighbor decided to expand her front yard garden as well. It's still not to the extent of mine, but she's planting a bunch more perennials! I'm excited that she's planting lots of lilacs and other blooming bushes, because it means the pollinators will come visit and probably enjoy my fruits as well. It's quite a little food factory we have going. :)