The benefits of cover crops for your garden’s soil are many and well documented–they help to keep your soil from eroding, they catch and accumulate nutrients, and their roots can break up compacted soil. One other major role that they can fill is as a habitat for insect life. The above picture is of the four beds that we have in winter cover crops ( a mix of clover, vetch, rye, tritacle,and wheat).
Throughout the winter these beds served as a home for overwintering insects (ladybugs, praying mantis, aphids, grubs, etc…). The slow-growing vegetation helped to moderate swings in both temperature and moisture and provided a place to hide from predators. As the days lengthened and got warmer the cover crops began to grow more quickly and, eventually, to flower. This tender vegetation provided food for insects such as aphids, which in turn provide food for a robust population of lady bugs–one of our most helpful insects. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for a host of beneficial insects, including parasitic wasps, various types of bees, and butterflies. As these insects feed from the abundance of food, they also increase their populations and spread into the rest of the garden and surrounding ecosystems!
Our warmer weather cover crops are already coming up and will help to provide many of the same benefits during the late spring into summer. There are varieties for all seasons, for different purposes, and for every space. Check out this site for some great resources on cover crops in NC: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg/covcropindex.html