My seeds are sown; in some cases, a second and third succession is in. The warm season crops I started indoors have been transplanted out. We are already happily harvesting spring lettuces, greens, perennial herbs, and garlic greens. The birds are joyfully singing and so am I as I dig out my flip-flops and start a jar of sun tea. I am so ready for warm, sunny days.
I usually have a raised bed or two that I leave unplanted or sow a cover crop in every year, allowing the soil (and me) to rest. This year I am going to sow buckwheat both to attract beneficial insects, and as a summer cover crop. Buckwheat needs warm soil (over 55°F) to germinate and warm air temperatures to grow, so it is sown once the soil warms in spring, summer, or early fall, even late fall in the south. I will sow two successions of buckwheat two weeks apart to provide a longer flowering period for beneficial insects.
Buckwheat flowers are valuable to bees; in fact, it has been identified as one of the top 20 honey-producing flowers, and honeybees use it to make delicious, distinctively flavored buckwheat honey. Its flowers may appear as early as 3 weeks after sowing and continue for up to 10 weeks! Buckwheat also attracts predatory insects like ladybugs, hover flies, and minute pirate bugs that feed on pests like aphids and mites. After all, you can’t have a healthy population of predatory insects without something for them to eat!
Buckwheat is fast growing, and unlike other cover crops, it thrives in poor soils. It is particularly good at mining phosphorous from the soil ̶ a micronutrient essential for root, flower, and fruit development. As buckwheat breaks down, it helps existing nutrients become more available to future crops. Buckwheat also works to smother weeds, such as lambsquarters, pigweed, thistle, spurge, and even tough quackgrass. Not only does buckwheat shade and out-compete these weeds and others, but it also stifles nearby weeds’ root and shoot growth by exuding naturally-occurring chemicals. Buckwheat’s fine roots dig down 10” and loosen topsoil, making a nice seedbed with very little labor on my part.
While I would not claim buckwheat to be drought-tolerant, it doesn’t require much water to get established and grow. It’s ready to be cut down and worked into the soil (or mowed) just 30 to 40 days from sowing. If mowed, it will regrow, producing more abundant, enriching, organic material. As with any cover crop, it is best to cut it down before its seeds mature (in this case, harden and turn brown) so it doesn’t reseed where you want to sow food crops.
See why I love this cover crop? By adding a buckwheat to my raised garden beds, I am not only creating an inviting habitat for helper insects, but I am enriching the soil, eliminating time and energy I would otherwise spend weeding. How cool is that? All of the cover crops we offer, including Crimson Clover and Soil Builder Peas/Oats, are great for enriching the soil and are easy for the home gardener to manage.
Those who know me know I love a plant that has so much to offer, and I am always looking for ways to bring more diversity into the garden! I should also mention buckwheat makes a great cut flower. For now, the flip-flops will need to be on standby while I get the buckwheat sown, but this should take even less time than the sun tea will to brew! Happy sowing everyone!