Quick, Fast, and Easy: Annual Buckwheat as a Cover Crop

Cover crop growing tips

Buckwheat is a fast-growing broadleaf crop that is excellent as a cover crop for the home gardener. It does well in poor soils and reaches maturity in 70-90 days. The residue breaks down quickly for green manure. It is not bothered by most pests or diseases, so no extra pest management is needed. 

Buckwheat growing in field with blue sky

Even though buckwheat does well in cool conditions, it is not frost-hardy and is not well adapted to winter growing. It also fares poorly in hot, dry conditions, so we recommend it for a short-season cover, especially in midsummer.

6 Benefits of Buckwheat as a Cover Crop

If you need something that grows quickly in case of an emergency, buckwheat will perform well. It has many great qualities. 

  1. Quick soil cover - Buckwheat’s seeds germinate in three to five days, making it one of the fastest cover crop options available.
  2. Weed suppression - Warm season annual weeds don’t stand a chance against the quick growth and shade of buckwheat.
  3. Loosens topsoils - Buckwheat has plenty of fine roots that can break up and condition the soil, perfect for getting the soil ready for fall crops. 
  4. Scavenges phosphorus - Buckwheat is much more efficient at this process than other cereal covers. Its fibrous root clusters take up phosphorus (and other nutrients) and produce mild acids to release these nutrients into the soil.  As the residue from buckwheat’s green manure breaks down, these nutrients become available to later crops.
  5. Nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects - White blossoms attract lady beetles and other beneficial insects that help to control aphids, mites, and other pest populations.
  6. Rejuvenator for low-fertility soils - Buckwheat outperforms cereal grains on low-fertility soils or soils with high levels of organic matter and can be used to replenish over-farmed soil and cleared land.

Other Uses of Buckwheat

Buckwheat can be raised as a food crop. It is a pseudocereal (along with amaranth and quinoa) that isn’t technically a grain, but its seeds are used for flour and other uses. Because of its quick crop cycle, it can be double-cropped if planted in early summer in most areas.

Hulled buckwheat, or groats, can be boiled and eaten whole as a healthy porridge called kasha. Kasha is widely eaten in Asia and elsewhere. In addition, ground groats can be used as nutritious gluten-free flour and are commonly used in pancakes, noodles, and other dishes. 

Leftover buckwheat hulls are also sometimes used as fill for pillows, especially in Japan.

Buckwheat can be grown as a habitat for beneficial insects or food for honeybees. 

When to Cut Buckwheat Cover Crops

The drawback of growing buckwheat as a pollinator habitat or as a food crop is the risk of reseeding. If you wait too long, some of the seeds will escape and scatter into the soil. To prevent buckwheat from becoming invasive, mow about a week to 10 days after flowering begins, well before seeds begin to harden. The residue can be left on the surface or turned back into the soil.

buckwheat flower closeup

Buckwheat is an easy, quick-growing cover crop for soil protection and weed suppression and can easily be prevented from becoming invasive with a little bit of care. We especially recommend it for use during those times when you’ve had a crop failure or planting has been delayed because of weather or other emergencies. It pairs well with red clover for maximum soil conditioning and replenishment. 

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