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Gardeners often spend a fortune on fertilizers during the season to keep plants healthy and well fed. Yet some of us leave the soil unattended in the winter and early spring only to start the cycle all over again.

Crimson Clover patch

Plant cover crops like clover to put nitrogen back in your soil!

A few years back, I became a fan of cover crops to add nitrogen and to keep soils active and healthy during the normally “fallow” season. (Note that I live in an area of California where our growing season is almost year-round. However, there are certain green manures, such as hairy vetch and rye, that are suitable for colder climates, provided they are planted early enough before the winter.) As I was spreading some clover I got to thinking about the cost of cover crops vs fertilizers. The numbers shocked me.

Comparison of fertilizers vs cover crops:

Fertilizer Price Nitrogen Extra Info Price/lb N
Berseem Clover $8/lb seed 125 lb nitrogen/acre 30 lb/acre $1.92/lb
Banner Fava $6/lb seed 150 lb nitrogen/acre 200 lb/acre $8.00/lb
Common Vetch $8/lb seed 110 lb nitrogen/acre 90 lb/acre $6,54/lb
Blood Meal $2/lb 12% none $16.67/lb

Table disclaimer: these figures were taken from a variety of sources that are all subject to some scrutiny. Territorial Seed Company publishes information on cover crops in their catalogs and how much you end up paying for any of the items can vary drastically and how much REAL nitrogen you get from a crop can also vary significantly.

That said, unless your Clover does VERY poorly, you are going to get better results since it is 20 times less expensive with conservative numbers. We purchased Crimson Clover for $1.5 /lb by purchasing 10lbs. Plug in those numbers and we could be paying $0.36/lb of nitrogen.

One important thing to note is that you should choose your cover crops carefully. According to this article in Organic Gardening, some cover crops like rye are allelopathic, meaning that they suppress the growth of neighboring plants. And it’s also important to wait 2-3 wks after turning under your cover crop to make sure that the nitrogen will be available for your veggies.

And now for the punch line: Now I understand the lyrics to “Crimson and Clover”: you are supposed to plant it OVER and OVER! Who woudda known Joan Jett was a gardener! ūüėČ

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Rye Happies from Gerda Endemann

Rye Happies from Gerda Endemann

This recipe is credited to Gerda Endemann, a fabulous nutrition consultant and author of Fat Is Not The Enemy.  We have botched this recipe countless times but by some miracle, it always comes out perfectly!

Some people shudder at the sound of “rye” (icky dry rye bread) but believe us, this snack looks as good as the picture.¬† Everyone we know LOVES this treat – it’s¬†got omega-3¬†“healthy fat” from walnuts and canola oil.

It takes 20 minutes to prepare, about 25 min. to bake.

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 cup dark brown sugar (sometimes I mix 50/50 brown and white)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt (optional)
1/2 cup old fashioned raw oats (not instant!)
1/2 cup whole rye flour
2 tablespoons flax meal (optional, gives lovely nutty taste)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven at 350F/177C.¬† Butter or oil bottom and sides of 8×8 inch baking pan.

Beat eggs till frothy, ~2 min.  Add vanilla and sugar, beat at medium speed for ~2 min.  Add oil and a pinch of salt, beat for another 2 min.  Stir in the oats.

In a separate small bowl, add flour to nuts.  Mix well and then stir in the nut-flour mixture to the above.

Spread in pan, then bake about 25 min. till brown and set.  The result should be about as thick (1 inch) and dense as a fudge brownie, but healthier!

Bon appetit!

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