I have a raised bed that I use to plant vegetables. Over the winter, I have planted fava beans as cover crop to get some nitrogen in the soil. What should I do with the fava plants before I plant the vegetables? Should I cut the top and leave the roots in the soil so they can provide nitrogen or should I uproot the entire plant? What should I do with the part I take out (whether that be the top only or complete plant)? Do I put it in the compost bin or mix the top with the soil in my raised bed?

  • Did you let them flower and form beans, or are the stems still green before the flower stage? Jan 20, 2018 at 3:08
  • They are still very young. They just sprouted and must be 2-3 inches tall
    – JStorage
    Jan 20, 2018 at 3:09
  • Oh my, JStorage, you are just fine. Just turn them into the soil, willy nilly. I wouldn't even add extra nitrogen. No problem at all. I was thinking mature plants. I used Annual Rye one year in Zone 5. That stuff grew to 2 feet easily. My garden looked like an inverted graveyard. Thick, dark green, alive all winter. Turned it under with a shovel (hummm, 10,000 sq. ft) and was planting a month later. The main thing is we are using annuals for cover crops that grow fast and if we do not allow them to flower they do multiple jobs for our soil.
    – stormy
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:15

2 Answers 2


To use this as a green mulch which adds nitrogen to the soil, wait until they're about to flower, and then mow them down and let dry. Then dig into the soil. That ensures that all the nitrogen that the plant has produced is returned to the soil. You then wait 2-3 weeks before planting your vegetables.

If you let them flower, and form beans, then all the nitrogen formed is consumed by the plant. Even if you cut the plants at the soil level and let the roots decompose in situ, you gain little as compared with digging the whole plant in as above. In the latter case where you have harvested the beans, remove the black stalks and use as a carbon source for your compost bins.


  • When your u say mow do you mean remove the roots as well or just the top or it does not matter?
    – JStorage
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:14
  • Graham, why do you let the vegetation dry?
    – stormy
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:17
  • Grins, I am so bad; Cutting the crop down (swathing) allowing it to dry 2 weeks, then digging into the soil, then starting the clock for 2 to 3 weeks? I think saying 1 to 2 months is in the same ball park...?
    – stormy
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:20
  • And the amount of nitrogen it takes to decompose all that yummy organic matter pretty much negates any left over for plants. That is why I add a little Nitrogen even to clover cover crops to feed the decomposers. Harvesting alfalfa, storing it dried, will last until those bales start breaking down, decomposing. That is why I like that alfalfa pellet kitty litter stuff. Very long lasting source of nitrogen. We will have to start thinking about making our own balanced fertilizers as well as potting soils one day...soon. Till then I like success and buy my balanced fert and soil for pots.
    – stormy
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:25
  • @JStorage the idea is to bury it. Roots are already buried. No need to pull out and rebury. And letting it compost in situ creates aeration pockets in the soil. Cut at ground level with a weed eater or whatever, and it'll die back including the roots. Let it dry for a day or so to make it easier to handle. Then bury it. It'll all be mainly nitrogen which becomes immediately accessible so no need to add more nitrogen. Jan 21, 2018 at 3:29

Just chop the vegetation up with your shovel and turn it all over in the soil. Allow lots of air, let it be chunky. Add a bit of nitrogen and let it be for a good month or two. Water every now and then to keep some moisture in the soil. I also clean out my trenches and throw soil on the top of the beds, I don't have lumber or concrete siding my raised beds. I will also dump decomposed organic matter on top. Let it go to town all by itself. Plant your early stuff somewhere else? Did you plant cover crop on everything?

Way cool. JStorage. All of that vegetation that has not been allowed to go to seed has been out competing weeds for the winter and now will add to the tilth of your soil. This is better than discovering row cloth!

Where is it you live again? Must be nice...

  • I planted cover crop all all the beds. Cannot afford to leave the beds decomposing for 1-2 months. Loss of productivity :-) I am in CA (North)
    – JStorage
    Jan 20, 2018 at 1:35
  • You'll lose productivity if you don't! And you only need to wait 2-3 weeks not months. Jan 20, 2018 at 21:37
  • I thought I said a month or two? That is not a long time if you've planned for it. J. Storage go ahead and chop all of that matter into your soil. Add a bit of extra Nitrogen to offset decomposer consumption. Graham...depends on one's zone and temperatures. Warmer like your environment absolutely 2 or 3 weeks but zone 5 it took a month, cool spring and all that. Lower? Grins, go 2 months minimum if you start preparing before Mother's Day. Heating greenhouse would be necessary to get done before a month. There is no problem planting during decomposition with proper N addition.
    – stormy
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:02
  • @JStorage Is this your first year producing crops commercially? I am clearly saying you can still plant while your cover crop is decomposing. You just have to add a little more N to feed the decomposer community. If you are dealing with cold temperatures, row cloth, very cheap, will raise the temps beneath the cover by 10 to 20 degrees. The decomposition of the cover crop will also increase the heat and be caught beneath the row cover. Are you planting seeds or starts? How big again?
    – stormy
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:08
  • I am not growing for commercial use. Just personal consumption.
    – JStorage
    Jan 21, 2018 at 2:12

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