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Chop N' Drop Mulch

 
Trevor Newman
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There are several  dynamic accumulators and nitrogen fixers whose foliage can be chopped for mulch around the primary element of a guild, whether it be a fruit tree, nut tree, shrub, etc.

I have much experience using Comfrey for this function, it grows very fast and can be chopped down 4-5 times throughout the growing season(in MI). A wide range of nutrients are deposited in the leaves- being particularly high in nitrates and potash. The leaves decompose rapidly forming a rich humus and make a great foliar tea.

Nettles grows wild all around us..they are produced in abundance..are rich in silica and make a wonderful mulch/fertelizer.

Mints seem to also be useful for this purpose, as they grow very fast and probably accumulate a wide scope of nutrients. I have been using lemon balm for mulch and it regrows quite fast.

I grow Rhubarb near my peach tree and whenever I need to harvest the stems I leave the large leaves right in place. Burdock also produce large leaves that would be good for mulch.

As to nitrogen fixers, you could use either woody or herbaceous plants...Siberian Pea Shrubs and Goumi/Autumn Olive would be nice woodies.. Any fast growing herbaceous legume would be good...Astragalus spp., Baptisia spp., Senna, etc. Many of these would also serve as insectary plants and some even edible/or medicinals.

I would love to hear what others are doing. Any ideas are greatly appreciated! Happy Gardening!
 
Burra Maluca
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I love the idea of chop 'n drop, but in my set up it hasn't worked out yet! 

Apart from the wild grasses and flowers, the only thing that we've managed to grow to any reasonable height has been the fruit trees that we buy and plant.  We tried growing beans for mulch but it's taken us three years to get enough of the bacteria in the soil for them to grow, so that didn't work out.  We tried uprooting acacias to transplant in amongst the fruit trees but they didn't like being transplanted and all died.  We have a few little tiny ones grown from seed but they are nowhere near ready for chopping and it's not legal to sell acacia plants in Portugal so we can't buy bigger ones.

Last year we managed to buy in enough straw to mulch a few areas, and those areas have grown a much better grass cover this year which is almost enough to form it's own mulch when we cut it.  All grass here is cut back for the summer because of the fire risk and since the locals have found out we have a cutter, we have had loads of offers of free grass 'for the donkey' so long as we cut it and carry it asap, so we should have loads of mulch this year.  But it's still a far cry from chop 'n drop. 

We're working on it though!  I have some tagasaste seeds planted, and a baby siberian pea tree to plant out, and even the leaves from the young fruit trees which fall in the autumn are starting to make a difference.  Maybe in another ten years we'll be self sufficient.  Not sure what the neighbours will do about their grass cutting then though...
 
Trevor Newman
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That's very interesting Burra. I am not to familiar with the climate over in Portugal, but if you could get your hands on some Comfrey root cuttings that would be a surefire way to have some success! Good deal with the grass cuttings..thats nice to hear your utilizing the local resources! 
 
Brenda Groth
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i just finished reading about this in Gaia's Garden and it gave me a lot of ideas of things i can begin to use for mulch in this manner..hadn't really thought about the fact that a lot of plants will just grow right back after you cut them..but it makes total sense..This was one of the things I am so glad I have learned from the book..

As I have said before I knew a lot of what the book taught, either by reading other books, by experience or by just instinct, but there are so many new things i'm learning from this book that wasn't in the other books i've read.

I have a lot of work ahead of me..getting some mulch on my gardens..mulch is very difficult to find in this area right now..or expensive..so i'm glad that i read that and now realize i can cut down a lot of my stuff as it will grow back..heading out later today with my pruners and scissors..etc..
 
Trevor Newman
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Good Brenda, I am glad to hear that you're excited about growing your own mulch. In the long run it just seems way more logical, who wants to import mulch year after year? Obviously it won't be a total substitute for things like woodchip mulch which I use for a lot of my paths and around some shrubs. Thats where I am trying to figure out how to design a closed loop system..woodchippers use a lot of energy and importing woodchips does too. Perhaps after a certain point they won't be neccessary anymore...once everything reaches it maturity. Either way, growing some of your own mulch is definately a good way to make your garden more self sustaining.
 
Brenda Groth
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I woke up at 4 am this morning..and couldn't sleep..so my mind was racing about all the things i read in Gaia's garden

I was running through myu head wondering what i can go out (now that we've had rain) and CHOP

and what is the best way to go about chopping (pruners, shears, weedwhacker, scythe, etc.) I'm new to this chop and drop thing but i need mulch very badly.

i will try the comfrey and some of the excess rhubarb leaves..today, and there was some tall grass i spotted in an area near the garden that doesn't have seeds on it yet..so that will come down..and then of course there is the dead frost killed blossoms on my lilac bushes out front..they'll make a mulch

our wood chipper was laid up for about 3 years, cause my husband (head injury) took it apart to sharpen the blades and couldn't figure out how to reassemble it..my son got it reassembled just before winter last fall, so now maybe i can do my own..i'll try to get that running sometime this summer too, and get the brush pile chipped up..and i have tons of aspen trees that could use some pruning as well as the bottom branches on some evergreens and a whoel lot of overgrown junipers..so..well i gotta get busy

 
Trevor Newman
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Brenda,
I was fortunate enough to meet Toby and hear his excellent presentation last night...it was amazing! Sometimes I chop stuff by hand, comfrey for instance. Pruners are good for certain things..like more woody plants. I have a tool similar to a scythe, except it is smaller and resembles a hockey stick...I will use this for areas where I can get pretty aggressive and don't have to worry about delicate plants nearby. However the ideal tool for almost all circumstances is a machete..being strong, durable and able to chop pretty much anything down.  After all this rain would be the ideal time to lay some mulch..thanks for reminding me!

P.S. do you have any Comfrey growing on your property??
 
Brenda Groth
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yes I have one large comfrey plant, but didn't realize until this week i could take bits of root from it to plant..it is HUGE..and i've been looking at it with an evil eye, knowing i want to cut it to bits !!!

yes i just got back in from running around the paths and yard around my food forest in the making, and i managed in less than an hour, to pull up enough weeds on steroids in my paths and lawn to mulch 3 apples trees, 2 sweet cherry trees and 3 pear trees.

I don't know what this weed is, I've never been able to identify  it in any weed book, or plant book..it has grey felty leaves that are on branches that come out from the center of the plant, and it gets these compound white flowery things..not pretty..on the top of it..

this grows pretty wild here and has a white tap root that divides ..it pulls fairly easily if you can get your hands around it and get a good grip..there was enough of that and a few other weeds that had gone steroid on the rain overnight and now they are laying roots in the air around my fruit trees...Hallelujah..about 6 to 8 " deep and about 2' circles..

we have a week of 90 degree and no rain weather coming up this starting tomorrow til Friday night..and i really have eto get some mulch on this garden while it is wet...but the skeeters chased me back in the house..seems they like this wet weather too
 
Trevor Newman
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The only thing I can think of is Lambs Ear...although what you describe sounds a little different. I would love to see some pictures of your young food forest!
 
Brenda Groth
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no nothing like lambs ears..they have rough branches that come out about 6 to 12 inches around the base, and the small leaves are all up and down the branches..maybe about 3/4 Inch long leaves by about 3/8 inch wide, oval..

lambs ears are much prettier..

and no it isn't lychnis either..much coarser and uglier..

less grey..more of a greygreen compared with both of those..more green than grey..and not soft felty..but coarse and ugly felty or hairyish
 
Brenda Groth
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photos of the mystery weed..not in bloom



here is a photo of it growing and





here is a photo of it piled up around the base of a baby pear tree



it isn't in flower yet..thank God

 
Trevor Newman
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AHH!! I have this growing around here and I have yet to identify it! It has little white flowers right?? Just got done chopping some comfrey back..video to come soon!
 
Rob Sigg
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This will be my first year experimenting with chop and drop. I love the idea and it makes a lot of sense. Here are some areas of use:


Vegetable garden-I planted alfalfa and chamomile in the middle of my raised bed, so I plan on chopping it down and only reaching a few feet to put it around my vegetables.
Strawberries-I planted oats in the middle of the rows so when they get large enough I will cut them down and use as a straw mulch.
Fruit Tree Guilds-Ive got garlic/chives for IPM, alfalfa for chopping and nitrogen fixing, chamomile for chop n drop, and I also planted radish and carrots around the trees. Since my ground is very compact clay, I am going to let the radish and carrots grow/ decompose so they open the ground up.
General soil building-I have tons of weeds that grow between my property and the farmers field behind us. I just weed whack that down and use it mixed in with leaves.


Hopefully all will go well with this system!

 
Trevor Newman
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Glad to see everyone's enthusiasm towards this low-tech mulching method..here is a link to a current video I made on the topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTArX5DCYwo
 
                                                    
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    I live in a semi-urban suburban city in Oklahoma, so most of the land i work with has been disturbed many times over.  One tree that is very prominent is some sort of Mimosa species, i'm not sure which it is, there are overThere is this "trash tree" that I have been experimenting with, it is either a mimosa species or a silk tree (Albizia julibrissin). Either way it grows increadably fast and fixes nitrogen in the soil.  The flowers also attract benificals, and has about a 2 month bloom time.  I picked up a new client recently.  She has a 2 year tree in the middle of her veggie garden but won't take it out because she loves the blooms.  What I am doing is heavily pruning it to keep it low growing.  The shade it creates makes for a good micro climate for plants that don't like the hot.  The leaves i use as mulch on the garden bed. 
  The urban farm I volenteer at accidently imported a lot of Curly and Yellow Dock seed in some horse manure. I pull the leaves off and lay it down directly on the soil.  I also use Borage.  It is a great plant for attracting pollinators, the flowers are edible, and is aslo a dynamic accumulator.
       
 
Brenda Groth
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got an I D on the weed, it is Hoary  Alyssum..here is a link

http://www.pestid.msu.edu/WeedsPlantIdentification/Hoaryalyssum/tabid/139/Default.aspx
 
gary gregory
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Oregano is easy to grow here with little effort or water.    The slugs and snails don't touch it so I'm wondering if it were chopped and dropped around other plants if it would keep the slugs and snails away.
 
paul wheaton
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Great video!

I especially like the part where the comfrey is growing next to the compost heap.

The only thing I would do different is to not lay any green stuff that close to a plant (the goumi).

 
Rob Sigg
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Nice Video. Im curious why you made a specific reference to the comfrey being on the north and south side, does that have some significance?
 
Brenda Groth
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i have had to dig out a lot of oregano, it is invasive here, and it really doesn't DROP well as it doesn't get very high..at least the stuff that is wild here, it is more of a ground hugger.

where i dug it out it doesn't want to stay dug out either.. i would be happy to give anyone that wants any some, it grows mad as a hatter here
 
Trevor Newman
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Paul: thanks for the input, I am curious why you say that..is it to prevent root rot or what??

Rob: There is really no significance to that, although I was cutting the south side to let some more light into the peach tree and the other plants surrounding it...the comfrey really takes up a lot of space when it's full grown-so cutting it helps to increase light/ air flow.
 
                              
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My garden is about 8 years old now, I just started with the forest gardening structure last year, and this pic if from last year before the pole beans got up on all those poles. Anyways, the beds are the basic rectangle beds spaced far enough apart to get a mower through. But now I cut the grass/weeds(not many) down short with scissors(yes I sit out there aren do this, it's very pleasant and gives me time to think and listen, better than tv.)and put the stuff on for mulch. the grass quits growing somewhere in July so there's not much to cut after that, but what comes off the grassy areas provides a lot of mulch. I think it works pretty good.

THe one weed I have that comes up everywhere and is fleshy-leafy(shaped like lamb's quarter, but it's a tiny yellow aster), I think it is nipplewort. I'll be looking it up to see if it sucks any particular nutrient. It makes great composty/mulchy stuff, texturally at least.

I'm working on planting some sort of tree in each bed.  I have a pear tree in the bed off the right of the picture, and indian plums/osoberry in 3-4 other beds.

I LOVE cabbage!!! I think they are absolutely gorgeous!!!
 
                              
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oops, for got to add that I've added some more little beds, I made some bump outs on the ends of the beds, and letting strawberries spread and I put down some step stones/log rounds. I'll just let the boards rot away and not replace them. I do delineate new beds with rocks or rotten logs tho, rocks to experiment with holding heat(and I just have an unlimited supply), and the rotten logs--cuz they're rotten logs and I just think they're pretty. Been collecting rotten stuff from the woods and throwing it in with the mulch as well.
 
                              
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ha, whaddya know, I'm mulching with "lettuce".

Nipplewort
http://www.arthurleej.com/a-nipplewort.html

Good to know I can eat it...it grows like a...WEED!
 
Robert Ray
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I planted 5 dwarf apple trees last spring and just for expedience planted fava beans for the initial understory and chopped and dropped them just before the first snow fall this year.
They grow extremely well here and one of the few things the deer don't seem to like or like as much as some of my other crops.
 
Travis Philp
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Currently I'm coming up with production sized forest garden plans and am trying to wrap my head around geoff lawton's recommendation that something like 90% of your plants should be soil improvers/chop n drop sources in the beginning, slowly tapering to lower percentages once the food producers come to maturity.

I think that ideally what I'll do is let nature do most of the soil improver plantings in the herbaceous layer, since she knows what the soil needs. Ideally I'll leave everything to grow except grasses, and chop many of the plants back for mulch if they are types that'll regrow, in order to speed succession up. I will plant a nitrogen fixing tree in between each fruit tree to use as mulch sources, and maybe even a full row of nitrogen fixing trees and bushes between each fruit tree row, though that may be overkill. I'm wondering if this will hurt the pollination of my fruit trees though, since there'll be a non-pollinator tree between each one. Anybody know?

 
Travis Philp
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Also, I'm considering living mulches (eg. white dutch clover in paths) which could also be mowed, raked, and tossed into adjacent growing areas.
 
tel jetson
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Travis Philp wrote:
I will plant a nitrogen fixing tree in between each fruit tree to use as mulch sources, and maybe even a full row of nitrogen fixing trees and bushes between each fruit tree row, though that may be overkill. I'm wondering if this will hurt the pollination of my fruit trees though, since there'll be a non-pollinator tree between each one. Anybody know?


I don't think it'll be a problem.  if you're really worried about it, choose a smaller tree or shrub, like a goumi, as your nitrogen source.

there is also the option of planting a nitrogen-fixer in the same hole as your other fruit trees as a nurse plant.  if, at some point in the future, your fruit tree hasn't shaded out the nitrogen tree and you feel like the one is holding the other back, cut it down.
 
Travis Philp
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Tel:

I looked up Goumi, and it seems like a great plant. Unfortunately it is only hardy to zone 7, two zones warmer than me. Maybe its possible to grow it here next to some water and rock mulch?

This idea about planting a nitrogen fixer in the same hole...are you talking about a tree, a bush, or herbaceous plant? Would the distance between the two literally be a foot apart, or less? 
 
tel jetson
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Travis Philp wrote:
Tel:

I looked up Goumi, and it seems like a great plant. Unfortunately it is only hardy to zone 7, two zones warmer than me. Maybe its possible to grow it here next to some water and rock mulch?

This idea about planting a nitrogen fixer in the same hole...are you talking about a tree, a bush, or herbaceous plant? Would the distance between the two literally be a foot apart, or less? 


if goumi won't work, look into some of the other species of the Elaeagnaceae.  there are a few that should be hardy enough for you in the Elaeagnus genus, like silverberry (E. commutata), Autumn olive (E. umbellata), and oleaster (E. angustifolia).  also in that family, but a different genus, are the sea buckthorns.  Hippophae rhamnoides will probably be the easiest to find, but there are others that would work just as well.

these are medium to large shrubs that I'm suggesting you plant with your fruit trees.  and yes, very close to them.  the idea is that their roots be all mixed up with each other from the get go.  the nice thing about the Elaeagnaceae is that a lot of them have exceptionally nutritious fruit, and some (not all) are really tasty, so you're getting more bang for your nitrogen-fixing buck.  they're also decent insectary plants, and most don't grow very large, so you don't have to worry about them over-topping the trees you plant them to nurse.

the one caveat I would mention is that some of the Elaeagnaceae can spread pretty rapidly in some parts of the world.  where I'm at, they're all pretty safe, but I don't know much about your region.  if any are listed as noxious weeds, take that into consideration.  if they're listed, but already widespread, I would go ahead and plant them.

I'm not good with picking favorites, but the Elaeagnaceae is right up there as far as I'm concerned.
 
Pat Black
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Tel, the white dutch clover (with inoculant if needed) will give you plenty of nitrogen without the need for any N-fixing trees or shrubs between your fruit trees. In fact, eventually the clover will put too much N in the soil for the fruit trees. That's what happened at the ag research station near me. I don't know how they fixed that issue.
 
tel jetson
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NM Grower wrote:
Tel, the white dutch clover (with inoculant if needed) will give you plenty of nitrogen without the need for any N-fixing trees or shrubs between your fruit trees. In fact, eventually the clover will put too much N in the soil for the fruit trees. That's what happened at the ag research station near me. I don't know how they fixed that issue.


if it had been a tree instead of clover, they could have just cut it down.

anyhow, I like clover, too.  but clover won't nurse a less hardy young shrub or tree and clover doesn't make tasty fruit.  the Elaeagnaceae might also be easier to establish than clover in many situations.  they've both got roles to play.

silverberry fruit, by the way, sets in Fall and ripens in Spring.  not the most delicious fruit I've ever tasted, but not bad either, especially during a season when fresh fruit isn't so easy to come by.
 
                                    
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I looked up Goumi, and it seems like a great plant. Unfortunately it is only hardy to zone 7, two zones warmer than me. Maybe its possible to grow it here next to some water and rock mulch?


everything i read says goumi go to zone 4.  if not i'll be wanting a refund next spring!
 
Travis Philp
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NM Grower wrote:
Tel, the white dutch clover (with inoculant if needed) will give you plenty of nitrogen without the need for any N-fixing trees or shrubs between your fruit trees. In fact, eventually the clover will put too much N in the soil for the fruit trees. That's what happened at the ag research station near me. I don't know how they fixed that issue.



Hmm, crap. Could you post contact info for the ag station you're referring to please? I could see remedying the problem by laying a thick layer of mulch on top of the clover you want to kill. It may take a few applications.
 
Travis Philp
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Some species I've used in the garden here (sorry if they've been mentioned)

burdock aka gobo- blood cleanser, edible roots that some chefs will go for if given samples first, large broad leaves

yellow dock aka curly dock- large broad edible leaves, medicinal for iron deficiency

horseradish- root can be harvested, some interest from chefs, large broad leaves

dogwood-woody stemmed bush that spreads well. calcium accumulator

alfalfa-grows tall, nitrogen fixer, deep rooted nutrient accumulator, perennial

They can be a bit invasive once established though
 
Travis Philp
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christhamrin wrote:
everything i read says goumi go to zone 4.  if not i'll be wanting a refund next spring!


Weird, I swear I read it was only hardy to zone 7. Hmmm, I just checked PFAF.org which says its hardy to zone 6. Maybe it was this that I read cuz I know I've looked up Goumi on that site. Zone 6 in the UK is probably not the same temp ranges. *Egg on face*
 
Brenda Groth
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some places say Goumi is hardy here and some say no, 3 of my 4 seedlings died so we'll see in the spring if they made it.

as for chop and drop the horseradish is one thing i did start to use this past summer and it did work out quite well for me..

i was glad I learned about the chop and drop mulch idea this spring as it really made a difference in my garden this year..now if my hubby would leave things alone..(he "harvested" my going to see on purpose plants today)
 
Travis Philp
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A list of the best dynamic-accumulator plants currently known, according to Edible Forest Gardens by David Jacke. Most of these would make suitable chop n drop candidates. I'll put the common names and what they accumulate. I don't think the latin names are really necessary cuz these are pretty well known species for the most part, cept for maybe black birch which is Betula lenta. Here's a link to a periodic table if you wanna look up what each symbol means: http://www.google.ca/imgres?imgurl=http://www.click4chill.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/periodic_table.gif&imgrefurl=http://www.click4chill.com/elements-of-the-periodic-table/&h=736&w=1087&sz=321&tbnid=owzVqIHVydI_oM:&tbnh=102&tbnw=150&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dperiodic%2Btable&zoom=1&q=periodic+table&usg=__uv4HVRnS1KNvJfQzfB1u7Agz4c4=&sa=X&ei=z4sJTYOtPIOclget19WMAg&ved=0CCgQ9QEwAg

black birch Ca K P

shagbark hickory Ca K P

German chamomile Ca K P

flowering dogwood Ca K P

Black Walnut Ca K P

watercress Ca K P Mg Fe Na S

sorrels and docks Ca K P Fe Na

comfreys Ca K P Fe Mg Si

dandelion Ca K P Cu Fe Mg Si

nettles Ca K S Cu Fe Na N

 
Pat Black
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Travis Philp wrote:
Hmm, crap. Could you post contact info for the ag station you're referring to please? I could see remedying the problem by laying a thick layer of mulch on top of the clover you want to kill. It may take a few applications.


Thick mulch might work, or even simple mowing, or tilling up strips. I'll check further. I mused that maybe you could interplant/underplant spring flowering bulbs for a cut flower crop that would take up some of the nitrogen. It would look really beautful to see tulips or daffodils flowering beneath apple blossoms.

This was at the New Mexico State Sustainable Agriculture Research Station in Alcalde, NM, USA. The main researcher on that project has since retired, but I will try to follow up with him and let know you what I find out. He was the smartest fruit guy around, and we were all begging him not to retire!

 
Jason Long
Posts: 153
Location: Davie, Fl
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but clover won't nurse a less hardy young shrub or tree and clover doesn't make tasty fruit.


One of my favorite wild flowers to eat is red clover. These flowers absolutely amazing. Each bite reminds me of sweet honey nectar bursting into my mouth.


mmmmm...
 
2016 Appropriate Technology Course at Wheaton Labs http://richsoil.com/pdc
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