Mustard is a fast growing cover crop that’s great for gardens. Learn everything you need to know about growing mustard in your garden.
My fall/winter garden is jammed full with greens – mustard greens being one of them. In addition to using mustard greens for food I make in the kitchen, I also use them as a cover crop to help control the weeds and attract beneficial insects.
Mustard grows well as a fall crop here in Arizona (and does in many other places, too). If you are growing mustard for seeds, then your best bet is to plant the mustard in the spring. Having a longer day will help your mustard plants produce flowers that they need to go to seed.
Mustard seeds germinate quickly. Scatter them over a garden bed and gently pat them in with your hand or with a rake. Within a few weeks, the garden bed will turn into a lovely stretch of green mustard. Once they start to establish, thin them to a few inches apart – use the younger greens for stir fries. Allow the others to go to flower.
Growing Mustard as a Cover Crop
Mustard does well with cool fall weather and can withstand temps down to 20-25 degrees F. Anything lower in temp will drive the mustard plants back into the soil. When worked back into the soil, the rotting mustard can suppress nematodes and help conquer soil diseases.
A few weeks ago, I spent a week putting in a new garden bed in the yard. My plan was to sow mustard into the bed as a cover crop then work it back into the soil before planting lettuce, spinach, turnips and beets. Just 5 weeks later, the garden bed is a sea of green mustard greens.
I’ll now use a sharp lawn mower and then work the mustard under using a digging fork.
Mustard seeds are used as a cover crop to manage soil-borne pathogens – this is also known as biofumigation. Biofumigation is the suppression of various soil-borne pests and diseases that may occur naturally. Cabbage, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, mustard, broccoli and turnips all have high levels of glucosinolates.
A higher level of glucosinolates means a greater biofumigant effect (read more about it here). These crops are ideal for adding organic matter to the soil and improving soil quality.
When using mustard as a cover crop, it’s important to turn the mustard back into the soil after chopping the plant. Those beneficial compounds that the soil needs will be released within hours of doing so. After turning in the mustard, wait two weeks and then plant your cool-season crop of lettuce or spinach for a productive crop.
Growing Mustard Greens
If you enjoy to cook in the kitchen, then you’ll appreciate growing having grown mustard seeds. While cover crop variety produces spicier brown seeds, seeds from good mustard greens are typically yellow and used in pickling.
Mustard seeds thrive as a fall planted crop and truly excel in cool conditions. Those cool temps will tone down the flavor when compared to mustard greens grown in the warmer months (which are typically stronger in flavor).
Mustard greens can be fermented. My favorite way to use the greens is in stir fries for added flavor. As for the seeds – you can toast them, grind them with a mortar and pestle, or soak them and blend them into various types of mustards (beer mustard is super… and even better when made for beer brats in the summer!)
If you are growing mustard for seeds, allow the plants to flower and set seed. Once the pods dry to tan, remove them and place in a paper bag. Once they dry, then use your hands to release the seeds from the pod.
Have you considered growing mustard in your garden?