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Green manures are not "special" or new plants. On the contrary, these are plants which have always been known for various uses and which are grouped under this name because of their common capacity to improve the structure of the soil and to enrich it. Without even having looked into the question, you probably know some of them: lupine, rapeseed, lamb's lettuce ... You have no doubt already admired the flowering of the former and tasted the leaves of the latter! You see, green manures are nothing new or magical. To appreciate their virtues, you just have to use them wisely. Before going into detail, let us refocus on the role of fertilizers in general. Why bring it to plants? Don't they have all that is useful for their growth with the good water of the sky, the hot rays of the sun and the minerals drawn from the soil? Yes and no ! No, simply because as the crops succeed, the soil becomes poorer. To avoid this phenomenon, a first good practice consists in alternating the types of cultures to avoid that the same plant does not come, year after year and in the end in vain, to seek the same nutrients in the soil. The other complementary good practice consists in helping the soil between two cultures (belonging to different families, if you have followed correctly), by allowing it to enrich and restructure. It is the role of green manure which, unlike conventional fertilizers, is not provided for the plant. It is the land which it enriches, and it is for which it is intended. Because it is from a healthy, nourished and well-structured land that we will then get healthy and quality crops!
Why sow green manure?
Why do we sow green manure? There are many good reasons! As we have just seen, green manure is intended for the soil and not directly for the plant. By sowing a green manure, you can help re-mineralize the soil after a crop. Depending on the variety, green manure is able to fix nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus ... All of these will benefit the following crops. The other role of fertilizers: improving the soil structure. Thanks to their important root tissue, they lighten the soil and enrich it with humus during their decomposition. This benefits the gardener who benefits from soil that is easier to work and into which water penetrates better. We can also remember the capacity of most green manures to limit the invasion by weeds: it's simple, they smother them! Finally, most have a charming, even spectacular flowering, and many have a strong pollinating power. Nothing like phacelia for example to attract browsers to the garden!
Plants used in green manure
The least we can say is that the gardener is spoiled for choice! Three families of plants - grasses, legumes and crucifers - produce most of the varieties that can be used as green manure. How to choose? By answering a few essential questions about the fertilizer used - when it is sown, after what crops, and what it brings to the soil - or simply by letting its desires speak! Phacelia Bees love it! This green manure is becoming more and more popular. It is found in many public gardens (on strips left fallow) or in mixtures for flowering meadows. Blue or mauve depending on the variety, the phacelia is really a pretty flower ... until the moment when it seeds, what remains of the flowering stalk then turning brown-gray! It thus becomes less attractive, and above all, its scattered seeds will germinate at the first opportunity. To avoid this inconvenience, deprive yourself of its flowering and mow it as long as there is only green matter. In addition to its role with pollinators, phacelia has rapid growth and a great capacity to smother weeds. Mustard It is one of the most common green manures, appreciated for its rapid growth and its ability to succeed whatever the soil. Here too, we are dealing with a honey plant appreciated by browsing insects. You sow mustard from May to August. The Clover While some gardeners seek to eradicate clover from their lawn, others sow it in their vegetable patch! Clover - in its crimson variety - is also part of green manure. It is frequently used in alleys between two crops, where it is sufficient to mow it to avoid flowering and thus control natural sowing. In the following crops, dig up your aisles, bury the clover and install another alley - clover again - a little further. It's as simple as that ! Clover is a good producer of humus. Buckwheat Buckwheat is used to make flour, but also green manure! Buckwheat is fast: it grows quickly (which allows it to be sown again in the fall) and it decomposes quickly. Between these two phases, it will fight against weeds by smothering them. Its discreet flower has a pleasant fragrance and insects love it.
Lamb's lettuce Lamb's lettuce is a fabulous winter salad. Instead of sowing it in a row, sow it on the fly after your summer crops - potatoes or tomatoes for example. It will occupy the ground during the "bad season" while you will enjoy all winter long its tasty little leaves in salads. An edible green manure, what could be better! Note that spinach can also be used as green manure. And also… You can also let yourself be tempted by the magnificent flowering stems of lupins, perfectly suited to mountain areas. Another striking visual effect guaranteed with a bed of rapeseed that will light up with yellow flowers in spring. If you get your hands on seeds, try sorghum, a grass native to Africa. Also to experiment: faba beans, peas, oats ... Finally, if you are undecided, do not hesitate to mix the varieties!
When and how to sow green manure?
Green manures are generally sown between two crops. They are also useful for occupying land intended to remain fallow for some time. If you sow them after a crop, all you have to do is finish cleaning the land of weeds and dry matter, and level it if necessary before sowing. A prior digging is not necessary, better, it is useless! By their deep roots, green manure will loosen the soil: you will not have to turn it over! Sow and tamp down to promote emergence. A little watering if the weather is dry. All you have to do is watch for emergence, which will not be long in coming as green fertilizers generally grow quickly! To avoid the risk of natural sowing, you cut the fertilizer before it flowers - by mowing it or why not by mowing it - then, once the plant debris is dry, incorporate it into the soil. It is then the turn of the rain and micro-organisms - including the precious earthworms - to intervene to decompose the dry matter and reintegrate it into the soil. A few months later, it's done! All you have to do is start a new culture.