Improve Vegetable Garden Soil with Cover Crops

Consider planting a cover crop in late summer or fall to improve your vegetable garden soil.  This article describes their benefits and types of crops to use.

The use of cover crops (green manure) is an excellent management practice for the home vegetable gardener. The crop is used to “cover” the soil of an otherwise bare garden, typically in the fall for most vegetable gardens. Cover crops improve soil health which results in improved production the following season.

Benefits of cover crops

  • Increase soil health and structure
  • Reduce soil compaction
  • Prevent erosion
  • Suppress weeds
  • Maintain soil moisture
  • Add winter interest

Cover crops are divided into two main categories: legumes and non-legumes.  Legumes take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form used by plants.  It is recommended that legume seed be inoculated with species-specific rhizobacteria for maximum nitrogen fixation to occur. Using inoculated seed will provide the required fertility without helping the weeds thus reducing the need to apply nitrogen fertilizers.  Use a combination of legumes and non-legumes for the best results.  There are many commercially available seed mixes to make it easier for the novice gardener.

Suggested Crops


  • Crimson clover – sow in spring or fall, reseeding annual, tolerates some shade, bright red flowers attract pollinators
  • Field peas – sow early spring to summer, annual, tops can be harvested for edible shoots.
  • Hairy vetch – sow in fall, perennial, will regrow in the spring
  • White clover – sow in spring to late summer, perennial, slow to establish


  • Annual ryegrass – sow in spring to late summer, annual
  • Buckwheat – sow in spring, annual, grows quickly
  • Oats – sow in spring or late summer, annual
  • Tilling radish – sow in fall, fast-growing, taproots reduce compaction
  • Winter rye – sow in late summer, perennial
  • Winter wheat – sow in fall, hardy annual

In the fall, immediately after vegetable harvest, remove weeds and plant debris. Sow cover crop seeds, allowing at least four weeks of growth before cold weather. Follow the directions on seed packets for broadcast rates. Water when needed.

In the spring, turn cover crops under at least three weeks before planting to allow organic matter to decompose. Flowering cover crops should not be allowed to go to seed. A good rule of thumb is to turn these under when about one-third of the plants are in flower. This is the point where the plant will provide the greatest amount of biomass and nutrients to the soil.


Valerie Vaughan Sesler

Area Master Gardener Coordinator




Surgeon general asks Congress to require warning labels for social media, like those on cigarettes

The U.S. surgeon general has called on Congress to require warning labels on social media platforms similar to those now mandatory on cigarette boxes.

In a Monday opinion piece in the The New York Times, Dr. Vivek Murthy said that social media is a contributing factor in the mental health crisis among young people.

“It is time to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, stating that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents. A surgeon general’s warning label, which requires congressional action, would regularly remind parents and adolescents that social media has not been proved safe,” Murthy said. “Evidence from tobacco studies show that warning labels can increase awareness and change behavior.”

Murthy said that the use of just a warning label wouldn’t make social media safe for young people, but would be a part of the steps needed.

Social media use is prevalent among young people, with up to 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 saying that they use a social media platform, and more than a third saying that they use social media “almost constantly,” according to 2022 data from the Pew Research Center.

Last year Murthy warned that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that social media is safe for children and teens. He said at the time that policymakers needed to address the harms of social media the same way they regulate things like car seats, baby formula, medication and other products children use.

To comply with federal regulation, social media companies already ban kids under 13 from signing up for their platforms — but children have been shown to easily get around the bans, both with and without their parents’ consent.

Other measures social platforms have taken to address concerns about children’s mental health can also be easily circumvented. For instance, TikTok introduced a default 60-minute time limit for users under 18. But once the limit is reached, minors can simply enter a passcode to keep watching.

Murthy believes the impact of social media on young people should be a more pressing concern.

“Why is it that we have failed to respond to the harms of social media when they are no less urgent or widespread than those posed by unsafe cars, planes or food? These harms are not a failure of willpower and parenting; they are the consequence of unleashing powerful technology without adequate safety measures, transparency or accountability,” he wrote.

In January the CEOs of Meta, TikTok, X and other social media companies went before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify as parents worry that they’re not doing enough to protect young people. The executives touted existing safety tools on their platforms and the work they’ve done with nonprofits and law enforcement to protect minors.

Murthy said Monday that Congress needs to implement legislation that will protect young people from online harassment, abuse and exploitation and from exposure to extreme violence and sexual content.

“The measures should prevent platforms from collecting sensitive data from children and should restrict the use of features like push notifications, autoplay and infinite scroll, which prey on developing brains and contribute to excessive use,” Murthy wrote.

The surgeon general is also recommending that companies be required to share all their data on health effects with independent scientists and the public, which they currently don’t do, and allow independent safety audits.

Murthy said schools and parents also need to participate in providing phone-free times and that doctors, nurses and other clinicians should help guide families toward safer practices.