Using permaculture techniques in your marijuana garden is the biggest step forward towards healthy, organic plants. And the most common way to go about it is by using cover crops. They are plants that can be used in between seasons or during the cannabis season to make your soil healthy, feed your plants nutrients and keep pests away. Fight pests the old-fashioned way with the cover cropping techniques we suggest in this article!
Cover crops, along with companion planting, are methods that have been used in agriculture for years. Marijuana plants are heavy eaters who like to get a lot of nitrogen on their plates. Along with helping your plants get ample nutrients to eat, cover crops can also help to regenerate the soil that your plants grow in.
In general, cover crops are low maintenance plants that can grow in almost any weather condition, making them suitable for any kind of grower.
Cover cropping is used in between seasons to keep the soil working and “alive”, while regenerating it with nutrients. Some cover crops are even “phytoremedial”, meaning they clean the soil of toxins in between seasons.
In this article we are going to talk about the benefits of using cover crops in a cannabis garden and will list a few recommendations!
1. Nutrient fixation
The number one reason that growers use cover crops is for their ability to fixate nutrients into the soil. While the air is rich in Nitrogen (which marijuana plants love), it is not a form of nitrogen that can be absorbed by plants. This is where cover crops come in to do some magic for your cannabis garden.
Many cover crops, legumes in particular, convert the N2 gas in our air into ammonium or nitrate, which are forms of nitrogen that marijuana plants can eat. Legumes are special in this regard because they are the hosts of a special microorganism in their roots. The role of this microorganism is to convert the nitrogen in our atmosphere into usable nutrients.
Most of the time, microorganisms and bacteria in the soil help to decompose organic material, turning it into nutrient rich food for plants. However, if these microorganisms aren’t present, then plants rely on the very slow process of natural decomposition. Which doesn’t really work for a plant with such a short life cycle as marijuana.
2. Cover crops help maintain healthy soil
Because of cover crops’ magical ability to fixate nutrients, they are great doctors for soil that has been exhausted. Growing marijuana outdoors season after season can leave your soil infertile, and if you want to continue to grow in the same spot, it’s important to address this.
Interestingly, the hemp plant is one of these cover crops and is often used by farmers to regenerate the soil in between harvests (such as tomatoes and other vegetables, for example). Hemp, along with sunflower, Indian mustard and willow, are all phytoremediation plants. They assist in maintaining healthy soil, detoxifying and assisting with nutrient fixation.
Cover cropping in between seasons gives the soil an opportunity to regenerate using the organic matter that cover crops attract. Plus, they assist in retaining moisture so that your soil doesn’t get dry and erode.
3. They invite microorganisms into your soil
Soil is not healthy without its hard-working microorganisms. You could say that microorganisms are what keep your soil alive and breathing. There is a lot of organic material in soil that is rich in nutrients. But all the goodness is virtually unusable to plants without the presence of microorganisms.
These busy bodies are constantly hard at work, converting that organic material into food that your marijuana plants can eat. Microorganisms are also dependent on cover crops for shelter and food. The cover crop provides sugars for the microorganisms to feast on.
4. A natural form of pest control
In the long run, cover cropping can even save you money on pest control. And different cover crops work in different ways. While some help to fight soil-borne diseases, others completely smother the area, not letting weeds get in and around your garden.
Some cover crops develop flowers that are full of nectar, bringing insects into your garden that will keep the destructive ones away. These flowers will even provide a home for those beneficial insects, to keep them hanging around.
Even with chemical pest control, it can be extremely difficult to fight diseases that are occurring in soil. For some agriculturalists, it just means not planting anything there. However, with cover crops, you can make your soil healthy enough to keep growing weed.
Different cover crops for different seasons and reasons
Depending on where in the world you live and what kinds of pests you’re dealing with, you will choose to grow different cover crops. It’s also important to pay attention to the seasons that certain cover crops flourish.
While cover cropping usually happens in between seasons, you can also plant them at the same time as you plant marijuana. But it is still great for your soil to plant in the off season, too. Will you be planting them in between cannabis seasons or will you grow them together? Both ways are perfectly fine, it just depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Below we will talk about a few different cover crops that you can try and the reasons you might want to use them.
As we already mentioned, legumes are a great cover crop for your cannabis garden. They are professionals at fixing edible nitrogen into the soil. Clover, alfalfa, beans, lentils and peas are all in the legume family.
If you choose to go down the road of beans or lentils, you also get some home-grown, protein-rich food growing in your garden. So, you can also get a healthy diet in!
Clovers will survive through colder climates, so they are great to grow in between seasons as well as during.
Brassicas are not a conventional cover crop, but they work very well. Mustard, kale (you hipster!) and rapeseed are some examples. They are great at keeping your soil healthy and contain enzymes that kill pathogens responsible for diseases in soil.
Brassicas will die in the winter time, so you can enjoy their benefits during the autumn months. Alternatively, you can harvest them before they die and enjoy the culinary benefits!
If you’re often fighting with weeds in your cannabis garden, buckwheat is a great crop for smothering the garden. It is sturdy and grows extremely fast, becoming fully mature in about six weeks. There are really no weeds that can compete with buckwheat.
This cover crop is for growing during the spring or summer because they generally don’t live through a winter. They grow very fast and provide huge volumes of organic matter as compost for your soil. When you plant them next to legumes, they also give the work of your legumes an extra boost of productivity. They also suppress the weeds that want to take residence in your garden.
Unlike oats, the hairy vetch grows during the winter, fixating large amounts of nitrogen into the soil. When the spring time comes, the hairy vetch will die and provide nitrogen rich compost for your soil. It is a great way to prepare your soil for the next harvest. This cover crop survives freezing winters, so if you live in Europe, this is a great cover crop.
Cover cropping is a great way to keep your garden healthy, even after you’ve harvested your buds. Over time, you’ll even find that you don’t need to spend so much money on nutrients or pest control because your cover cropping will look after most of that for you. Enjoy trying these methods in your garden!