This Plant Kills Pests and Will Give Your Soil a Boost

Meet Kodiak mustard, the fall cover crop you can plant in January.

(Photo: Courtesy Taylor Orci)

Jan 16, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Orci is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared on NPR and and in New York Magazine and The Atlantic.

I felt guilty about neglecting my garden. All winter long I'd forsaken my plot, using the time instead to dress up my house for the holidays. The time I had for tilling I used for making a centerpiece out of thrift store nutcrackers, the time I had for watering I used instead for dry brining a turkey in a too-small refrigerator (so much blood).

When I visited my plot in my community garden for the first time in a while, I was relieved that I wasn't alone. It reminded me of what summer homes must feel like in January. What had been such a place of abundance in the spring had been reduced to fallow patches of dirt, with the occasional berry tangled in a leaning wire fence to declare, "I'm still here." This is what we had exchanged for sugar cookies and those sandwiches where you mix the cranberry with the stuffing while watching Elf. Meh. Sometimes you can't do everything.

Sometimes you need a detox. I have, like, four friends who are doing some version of a paleo–juice–gluten free–sugar detox thing as penance for ravaging their bodies with cake and eggnog. And just as your body occasionally needs a boost, sometimes your soil does too. Especially if you didn't elect to throw a cover crop on the ground before you cut the turkey.

Soil is alive—at least it can be. Despite all the beneficial bugs, vitamins, and minerals, a lot can be lost if nothing is growing in the soil you worked hard to maintain before winter came around. Hard-core gardeners spend years, nay, a lifetime perfecting their soil, but if you're not so extreme, you can still give your dirt a boost before planting for the spring—even if you neglected to plant a cover crop in the fall.

Enter Kodiak mustard! If temperatures have warmed up just slightly in your area, you can cast these fascinating seeds on your ground and let the mustard work its wonders. Kodiak mustard is beneficial for several reasons: For one, it gives your soil nitrogen; for another, it acts as a fumigant for the soil, which means the spicy plant gives off powerful juju that rids your soil of bugs that can be tricky to kill off post–spring planting.

Additionally, this member of the Brassica family (also home to turnips and brussels sprouts) is relatively quick to germinate, which makes it perfect to plant pre-spring. Last, Kodiak mustard has a high biomass content. More mustard equals more mulch! Just before mustard flowers, simply mow it down and cover it with plastic, and the clippings will turn to mulch. In life and in death, a blanket of Kodiak will give your garden soil a needed boost before you get back into the spring farming groove.