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Tropical Wet Season Cover Crops

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As the wet season starts to set in my garden seems to grow over night.

I walk out in the morning for a stroll with my cup of coffee and I can almost see the blades of grass rising towards the sky right before my eyes. We call the wet troppo season up here in the Northern Territory and for good reason- It sends you troppo. My once pleasant weekends of pottering in the garden in a comfortable climate turns into a stinking hot sauna, everything goes into overdrive even the compost.

Most gardeners I know in the Darwin area are in the same boat this time of year,  veggie garden? What veggie garden? Yes you can have a half passable vegetable garden but as we dart around combating troppo season with weeds on steroids, secateurs in overdrive pruning,not to mention picking up fallen branches from our afternoon storms there is very little time left over.

Just today when I got home from the gardening rounds I walked past my veggie patch and almost had to look away in shame, I 'have not had the time of day to give to my once flourishing vegetable patch. My climbing spinach, basil, capsicums, spring onions and yams are all booming in between the weeds that just wont take no for an answer but in all honesty the more rain the more jobs mother nature creates so I've made the decision to opt for a cover crop this year.

Usually I will carry on planting seedlings to feed the family over the wet but as our business keeps growing my husband and I loose garden time in our own little slice of heaven. In addition to this our vegetable patch is quite close to the entertaining area, I'm a bit of a fussy one by ensuring my patch is in perfect rows, no weeds, compost in check, scarecrow standing perfectly straight, produce looking fresh and i cant forget about my vintage welcome sign to top it all off. Previous years I've tried to image a cover crop and I saw a messy looking garden staring back at me. However as the birthdays roll over I grow a little wiser as this year the idea of letting all my hard work building the soil go to waste makes me feel like a damsel in distress. I've spent a good year building the vegetable patch up with good rich organic matter that the thought of a cover crop excites me, I cant wait for my packets of goodness to arrive in the mail so I can get started.    

If your new to cover crops your probably wondering what is a cover crop and why use them so keep reading.

A cover crop is a green leafy crop you plant over your vegie garden to help protect your soil by reducing wind/water erosion and nutrients being leaked away with heavy rainfall. They also provide a protective armor to the top layer that will hold the soil in place.


  • Help avoid soil erosion
  • Building your your organic soil matter
  • Harvest excess water
  • Adding Nitrogen to the soil

Cover crops will also take up nitrogen and other important nutrients then they get released  back into the soil when you dig (when I say dig you can also just slash or whipper snip as the roots will just decompose anyway) it into the soil at the end of the wet season. Unlike when we apply Nitrogen as a fertiliser allot of waste still occurs as the water passes down into the soil whereas cover crops hold the nutrients in plant residue. Cover crops will also help to control nematodes which are small wormlike creatures however not closely related to the normal garden worms. Majority of the nematodes are not harmful however the ones that are feed on your plant tissue seriously damaging your plants.


My suggestions for tropical cover crops

* I always buy organically certified seeds when buying, there are a number of places sell organic seeds the trend for organic is in high demand.

When sowing your seeds just damped the soil then scatter the seeds in the area your wanting to cover, grab a light rake and gently rack back and fourth so your just covering the seeds with a light layer of dirt.

  • Buckwheat

Reaches around 50cm in height, germinates in 3-4 days and is high in phosphorus and quite nice in a salad if you pick the young sprouts. Scatter your seeds over damp bare soil (not water logged) then lightly rake back and fourth to ever so slightly cover the seeds. The flowering will begin in around 4-5 weeks, I've been told its best to dig in the crop whilst still flowering to avoid self sowing.


  •  Cowpea

This is one I've ordered as it adds nitrogen and builds beautiful organic matter, smothers the weeds and control nematodes plus my chooks can benefit from forage.


  • Japanese Millet

This is a clumping grass and once again will add good organic matter to the soil.



  • Lablab

Another one I've ordered is this fast growing legume called Lablab as it loves our wet season weather but yet can still be used in the dry season, which will come in handy as forage and building my soil in expansion areas. With Lablab you can also cut it down through the entire wet and mix it into your soil.



  • Mung Bean

Adds nitrogen and organic matter, very fast growing and hardy.


  • Soy Bean

I was told this is a must for Tropical zones as Soy bean loves hot weather and ticks all the right boxes with nutrients, weed control, edible seeds, forage and great at building your soil up.



Now that you know a little more on the topic of ground covers, get out there and start ordering your green manure to save your soil. I'll be updating this blog once my cover crop gets going and post some pictures of the progress. Peanut might also be a good option.

I have such a large collection of books piling up in my office book case yet I am still to add a book on cover crops, I've been told Dick Raymond has a wonderful collection of books including one on green manures / cover crops. If your lucky enough to stumble upon this book I would suggest you grab it as its a rare title to find as I've found so far.

Feel free to suggest any others that you have found work well in the wet season, I'm more than happy to add it to the list.

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©Kylie Stephens- Lawn Ranger
in Gardening Hits: 58695
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Guest Monday, 18 February 2019