Buckwheat in flower
I was out west over the last couple of weeks and stumbled on a garden supply store in Cortez, Arizona, that sold buckwheat in bulk. Organic gardeners among you will already know that many gardeners plant buckwheat, or a similar product like alfalfa, clover, oats, etc., as a "living mulch" to add nutriants to their garden dirt, and to suppress weeds over the next gardening season. I usually plant oats because they are readily available at our local farm supply stores, but I've longed to plant buckwheat because it is such a versatile plant.
Buckwheat was once a common crop in the United States, but cultivation declined sharply in the 20th century due to the use of nitrogen fertilizer to which corn, soybeans, maize and wheat strongly respond. In 1918 over a million acres of buckwheat were harvested in the United States, but by 1954, that had declined to 150,000 acres and by 1964, the last year annual buckwheat production statistics were gathered by USDA, only 50,000 acres were grown. Today, buckwheat is mostly grown by small organic farmers, or imported from Asia.
Buckwheat is usually planted in early spring because it grows fast and has a short life span (about 10 weeks) but I like to experiment and want to see how it handles an early frost. In any case, and even if it gets bit back by the cold, I know that it will be an effective "green manure" and it will crowd out any weeds lurking in my garden beds. Last year, I planted oats in about half of the garden beds in a community garden I volunteer in and these beds were virtually weed free all summer long. The beds that didn't get sown with oats were weedy and pretty ugly. If you don't enjoy weeding then you should really consider planting a ground cover this fall.
One final word about ground covers: they are pretty! Last year, the garden beds at the community garden, and in my home garden, were lush and green until well past Christmas. In the spring, I simply folded the dry oat stalks down and planted bedding plants, and larger seeds such as corn, sun flowers, etc., into small pockets poked right into the beds. Ground covers help your garden look lush and tidy all year round.