Definition: The practice of sowing a crop on arable land that primarily serves to protect soils from erosion and moisture loss, improve fertility, and suppress weeds.
Cover cropping in the Forest Garden:
To sustain productivity from year to year, it has long been a common practice to allow fallow periods where part of the land is kept out of production to allow soil health to regenerate naturally. With populations growing rapidly and resources becoming limited, fallow periods are no longer possible in many places. Two alternatives commonly used today: chemical fertilizers - which we know are unsustainable - and cover cropping systems.
Forest Gardeners take advantage of the numerous benefits of cover crops. The ideal cover crop will fix nitrogen back into the soil and produce an abundance of biomass that, after protecting the soils while growing, can later be cut and mulched as green fertilizer to maintain constant soil cover that will eventually decompose into organic soil matter.
Additionally, cover crop systems may include the many legumes with harvestable products that can be used for consumption or sale. For example, Forest Gardeners in Kenya have had success using lablab, velvet bean, and cowpea to protect their soils in the offseason and provide a steady harvest at the same time.