Green manure crops are used within a crop rotation cycle to re-nourish the soil in preparation for further annual crops. Our latest AND LAST Crisis Gardening video steps you through what green manure seeds you can grow for both cold and warm seasons and how to do it.
It also explores how we can grow a better world. Because as we still have months/years ahead of us in recovering from covid-19, now is the perfect time to ask ourselves
“what type of world do we want to re-emerge into?”
Instead of going back to business as usual- why not consider going forward and outgrowing the status quo? You can watch the whole video here and read about how to garden both of these things into existence below.
What are some of the common green manure crops?
Green manure for cold seasons
- Broad beans (also known as faba or tik beans) (Vicia faba)
- Mustard (Brassica nigra)
- Peas (Pisum sativum)
- Lupins (Lupinus)
- Oat grass (Avena sativa)
- Rye grass (Lolium rigidum)
- Vetch (Vicia)
- Annual crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum)
Green manure for warm seasons
- Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
- Lablab (Lablab purpureus)
- Soybeans (Glycine max)
- Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata)
- Millet (Panicum miliaceum)
- Marigolds (Tagetes)
Different green manure options will have different benefits for the soil, as Sustainable Gardening Australia puts it below…
- Biofumigants, like marigolds (Tagetes patula) planted in spring, brassicas (Brassica napus and Brassica campestris) and mustard, planted in autumn help to control root knot nematodes and root rot fungal pathogens. These crops must be dug in to release beneficial gases as they decompose.
- Legumes, like lucerne, clover, beans and peas, which fix nitrogen and will make it available to whatever follows the green manure crop.
- Weed smotherers include lablab, cowpea, lucerne and buckwheat.
How to plant them
- We mix up a range of the above seeds in a bowl (usually a blend of mustard, peas and broad beans or lupins) and simply broadcast them across the soil.
- We then rake them in, not overly worried if some are still exposed.
- If needed, we water them in – if rain’s coming we let nature water them instead.
We make sure they’re never allowed to flower, as once they do the plant starts to put all their energy into flowering/fruiting instead of into the soil. Remember we’re feeding the soil NOT ourselves. So we will slash them down a couple of times over the season to ensure they’re putting all their good stuff into the soil.
Once it’s time for the next crop to be planted, you can either:
- Dig the plants into the soil (remove any excess green matter from the top of the plant first), slash/mow/sythe them to ground level and leaving the roots in the ground,
- Plant your crops amongst them (knowing you might have to manage any re-growth) or,
- You can slash them down, water it and then smother the garden bed with a non-toxic tarpaulin/silage tarp 4 – 6 weeks before you want to plant the next crop. This process encourages all the biology to the top soil level where they eat the whole plant – leaving no trace of it.
This last method is our preferred one as it means you don’t have to dig the soil at all (meaning you don’t disturb the soil food web) and all green manures have perfectly “disappeared” into the soil, with all the biology having eaten and cycled them back into the soil profiles. You can see how a variation of us doing this in our garden here.
Photo from Longley Organic Farm
Where to source seeds
In Australia we recommend the follow – but check in with your local nursery to find local ones.
How to grow a better world
Green manures are the perfect way to feed, rest and activate your soil simultaneously. Which leads me to how to grow a better world. During these past 10+ weeks of covid-19 lock downs, people have been retreating, hibernating, watching, wondering, resting, feeding and activating their brains with new thinking – sewing new seeds for how we might move forward.
Some of these new “social seeds” we can all start or, continue sewing are listed below with links to impactful organisations and resources already working in these areas.
First Nations Justice
Organisations and resources to help you learn and support First Nations Australians.
- Original Power – a community-focused organisation that aims to build the power of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through collective action.
- Seed Mob –Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network, building a movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people for climate justice with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
- Amazing book – Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe – Reexamines colonial accounts of Aboriginal people in Australia, and cites evidence of pre-colonial agriculture, engineering and building construction by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance –The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance is a farmer-led organisation made up of organisations and individuals working together towards a food system in which people can create, manage, and choose their food system.
- La Via Campesina – an international movement which coordinates peasant organisations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities
- Savoy Global – is the large-scale regeneration of the world’s grasslands through Holistic Management to address the global issues of desertification, climate change, and food and water insecurity.
- Regeneration International – promote, facilitate and accelerate the global transition to regenerative food, farming and land management for the purpose of restoring climate stability, ending world hunger and rebuilding deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems.
- Market Forces – believes that the banks, superannuation funds and governments that have custody of our money should use it to protect not damage our environment.
- 350.org – an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all.
Where our economic system operates within ecological and social constraints and drops the finite growth approach.
- Kate Raworth website resources and book explaining this concept thoroughly.
- Renew Economy – Australia’s best informed and most read web-site focusing on clean energy news and analysis, as well as climate policy.
- Beyond Zero Emissions – a climate change think tank, showing through independent research and innovative solutions how Australia can reach beyond zero emissions.
- Plan International – driving change to advance children’s rights and equality for girls by working together with children, young people, our supporters and partners.
Compassion and Courage
- This Ted Talk by political strategist, Tom Rivett-Carnac is well worth watching. It’s about approaching crisis with love.
Other resources for a better world
- Retrosuburbia – a book by David Holmgren that’s recently become available as an e-book that you can pay what you feel. This book outlines how our suburbs can transform for the better.
- Australia reMADE – a national organisation working toward whole system transformation.
- From what is to what if, book by Rob Hopkins.
- 2040 documentary – explores just some of the possibilities available to us.
And look, there’s more than this list (obviously). I haven’t even mentioned healthcare for all, education, housing and adopting a more ethical approach to refugees seeking safety. There are many, many things needing our attention. And while some of us might feel covid-19 restrictions easing and the sense of crisis lifting. We need to remember that there’s also the ever-present climate crisis here, waiting for us to address it effectively.
Here’s the good and interesting news. A lot of what we’ve already been doing in response to covid-19, i.e. relocalising our diet, flying less, walking/riding our bikes more, working from home where possible, fostering more community (albeit online) – everything – is actually in line with what we need to do to address the climate crisis (except please f*#k off forever physical distancing). But we now know we can make global changes quickly and effectively – if the will is there.
So please my friends, please go forth and sew both those green manure and social seeds to re-nourish our soils and societies towards a better world for all. We are more powerful than we think.
This clever artwork by Brenna Quinlan captures it all…