The Garden Plants to Grow with Your Vegetables
When we think of gardens, we often see the beds, the soil, the seedlings, and mulch. The particular crop or group of vegetables we want to harvest becomes the focal point of our endeavor. It becomes easy to lose sight of the life outside and around the star players of our backyard garden beds. But when we step back and look at the bigger picture, we see our garden’s health as much more than the individual plants we cultivate.
Much of your gardens’ health depends on the health of the soil and the relationship between the plants in it. Integrating plants that act as cover crops helps to manage many benefits for your soil and the garden’s overall vitality.
Cover crops are plants grown in the garden with one specific purpose: to cover the soil. Cover crops can be edible, like strawberries, but they are often inedible plants with other benefits. Clover is a popular cover crop that protects the soil from erosion, suppresses weeds, and prevents the soil from drying out (like most cover crops). Clover is an exceptional cover crop because it adds nutrients to the soil as it grows.
Clovers are a member of the legume family, along with peas, beans, and peanuts. Legumes are nicknamed "nitrogen-fixers" because they "fix" nitrogen into the soil as they grow. Nitrogen is a nutrient that plants need in the most considerable amount, and most plants drain the soil of its nitrogen.
Nitrogen-fixers, like clover, have developed a relationship with bacteria known as Rhizobium. This bacteria is responsible for nitrogen-fixing, growing on the roots of legumes, where they trap nitrogen from the air and make it available to the plant’s roots. When the plant dies, the roots decompose and release all of its nitrogen accumulated during its growing period. Knowing this, it is essential to remember to leave the origins of the clover behind in the soil to make the nitrogen available to the next growing plant. It's like nature’s own fertilizer.
Cover crops don't have to be nitrogen-fixing plants; they can be herbs, flowers, or fruits (like strawberries). Also, fragrant, low-growing herbs make excellent cover crops that can be planted during the growing season can double as companion plants. Herbs like thyme, organum, marjoram and mint are lovely cover crops that protect the soil and great companion plants that repel leaf-eating insects from the surrounding plants.