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Dryland covercrop?

 
pollinator
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Hi permies,
I live in southern Mexico. We get pretty much all our rain from June to October and plant milpa (corn beans squash +wild greens) that is only watered by rain. It goes in in June, and as we leave most of the corn and beans to dry in the field and the squash to mature it's harvested in December.  
Our soil is very degraded and I'm interested in using a cover crop, but is that even possible? We occasionally get a bit of rain around the first of the year, and February is our "mad month" so we occasionally get a shower or two during that month, but it's possible that we could get literally no rain some years from October to May or June.
Are there cover crops I could put in that could handle no water?
Are there cover crops that could go in with the milpa--and just hang out covering the ground after harvest?
Or is just no-till and mulching our only options?
 
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I am not sure

Oats perhaps?
Winter Wheat?

Both can be cover crops or harvested and grow in semi-arid conditions?
 
master steward
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I live where there is poor soil and very little rain.  I have yellow woodsorrel which will grow here.

Yellow wood looks like clover though it has tiny yellow flowers.

All parts of the plant are edible,[4] with a distinct tangy flavor (common to all plants in the genus Oxalis). However, it should only be eaten in small quantities, since oxalic acid is an antinutrient and can inhibit the body's absorption supply of calcium.



The leaves can be used to make a flavored drink that is similar in taste to lemonade,[4] and the whole plant can be brewed as herbal tea that has an aroma somewhat like that of cooked green beans.



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxalis_stricta

I have also read legumes make good cover crops. This one is native to Mexico and was recommended as a cover crop, Round-leaf cassia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamaecrista_rotundifolia
 
pollinator
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Grains like Steve suggested might be good. They only need surface moisture to get going. Then they quickly grow extensive root systems to make use of the ground moisture, and finish off by drying down once things get really dry.

Grain can handle really poor soil conditions, especially if you're just using it as a cover crop and don't expect to get food off it. I have some areas that are so compacted that my rye only gets a couple feet tall. That same rye planted in loose soil gets well over six feet tall. Same terrible soil, just not compacted.

What weeds grow there already? Some of them might be improving the soil. Then you can just encourage those ones over others.
 
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I don't have any particular knowledge to share, but maybe look into California native plants?  It's dry here for most of the summer so, uh, they are adapted to that.
 
Melissa Ferrin
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Thank you the Chamaecrista rotundifolia (Round leaf cassia) and rye seem very promising. At this point the motivation of the cover crop would be purely soil health, it would be cool if some point in the future some rye could be harvested as rye bread is fairly hard to come by around there (my Mexican in-laws didn't like it when they tried it, but there's a expat population nearby so I could likely sell some of it.)
 
gardener
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Hi Melissa, your conditions are very difficult, have you tried landrace seeds from indigenous tribes? They're naturally more diverse and resilient than industrial seeds. I've heard people in dry conditions say they look for plants that will grow in high desserts to make sure they'll grow where they are.
I've done a lot of road side collection of plants. Every time i passed flowering plants or trees or shrubs i didn't know i stopped, took a bit, or photos, just looked it up, there's apps now that can help. Then i brought back some seeds or cut lose a bit of the plant and moddycoddled it in the garden.
The benefits are numerous. Insects will come and take refuge in your garden, they often surpress other populations of insects, so a balance gets in place. Because of the insects more birds came, leaving fertilizer with droppings in which sometimes seeds are as well. If i brought soil i brought underground soil life, insects again, but more so bacteria and fungi that cooperate in ways modern science is only starting to discover.
After a while people started helping with bringing in diversity. I dug a pond.
Then one day a farmer came up and proposed we do a project together, because he loved the biodiversity.
 
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Do you have any water catchment?  Swales or water tanks for irrigation?  Do you average 30” (750mm) of rain per year?  So thats semi-arid subtropical?  Do you compost?

From what I’ve studied online I get the impression that several months without water is very stressful on plants.  Most seem to go dormant or go to seed unless it is a very deep rooted desert/pioneer tree species.

https://permies.com/t/24361/Geoff-Lawton-list-pioneer-plant

Maybe a few tree species that can be pruned/pollarded before the monsoon season for sun, mulch/chop-and-drop/fodder/compost.
 
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I use the xeriscape wildflower mix from great basin seeds. https://greatbasinseeds.com/product/xeriscape-wildflower-mix/

Pretty good results, I just go out the night or morning of the first (and sometimes only) spring rain and seed.
 
pollinator
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Very hard to find in the US, but may be able to import into Mexico.  Velvet Bean   aka Mucuna pruriens

velvet bean

find a variety from India they use as forage that is "low itch"  may have to test a few potted pants to see how bad they are when germinated.  This plant in its worst form is what itching powder is made from, the stuff sold to kids as a gag gift.  There are varieties that have little of the compound and cows graze it.  No personal experience, since we cannot get it in the US.  Would love to try some someday to see if how livestock tolerate it.

There are etsy shops and other vendor whom sell the bean as a "diet suppliment" as it is supposed to have beneficial properties.  Researchers also claim it to be mildly toxic to humans.  Do your own research if you want to try it yourself.  But due to these two things it is regulated.  

It can be 'invasive' in areas where there is no frost to kill it before going to seed.  In your situation, I don't think you have to worry about it actually getting established.  It is reported that once established it can survive on an inch of rainfall.  Very robust root system to add organic matter and break up compaction.  It does better when grown with a milpa type garden as it does better if it can climb.  

 
pollinator
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Maybe try some syntropic methods starting first with whatever can grow, then later move on to what you want to grow. This series of videos is pretty awesome for dry tropical https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMw-CGR3QZwoLM4JuQPM9FPitIjODddmX
 
Posts: 152
Location: Southern Colorado, 6300', zone 6a, 16" precipitation
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Sorghum or sudan grass for sure. They grow in Sudan and make lots of biomass as well as edible seed. The chickens love the seed. It can be sown on the ground and germinate with even the lightest cover of soil. The best part is that they are available in bird seed mixes. At my place I can get them for around 30 cents a pound. Another would be sunflower.

Also, you should look into Hopi, Zuni, or Navajo corn which can grow in the desert without irrigation.
 
Mike Philips
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Abe Coley wrote: This series of videos is pretty awesome for dry tropical



Is there an English translation available?

I tried to translate the first video…

——-
after this work that we did there, you know, opening the ditches with a tractor, etc., And there we accumulated a lot of knowledge, but we also accumulated, for our happiness, a lot of mistakes, right, a lot of experience, so these mistakes were fundamental for us to evolve, create a new experience here in this Another area, right? This other area here has a steeper slope, it must be more or less 8 thousand meters and here it was also a “capoeira” [hen house or fowl run] as the entire area that we cut, the capoeira made windrows and also the hard soil is compacted, work was done here with with a pickaxe also means any air impacted place in the Caatinga [(white forest) refers to the sparse shrub land and thorny vegetation of the arid interior of northeastern Brazil]
only a pickaxe works if you want to work here but here we did the following it was opened on a contour line not exactly with Rigor of the contour line the ditches around a depth of 20 to 30 cm without regularity, so in these ditches we planted what would be the planting line, right? So in these ditches we planted the Palma in the land downstream of the ditch, that is, the land that dried up and was thrown out, so we planted the palm and inside the ditch we planted the sisal piteira aloe and the trees, right, so here is our tree line.  the idea is that when it rains the water from between the lines drains and settles in the ditch therefore hydrating the system, right, so beauty working, etc. But then we realized something that the between the lines was becoming, we discovered how we have that desire, you know, to see everything planted green, so I started searching for a solution here. What to do with the area between the lines. So I planted it between the rows, as seen here, it's a typical Palm here in the region, the palm tree has some thorns, it's very difficult and it's going to work here, I took it like my grass, my grass to form this keep the green. So it is a very rustic Palm. it grows on the rocks in Lajedo with good biomass But what it is like that also taught us. In other words, the root helps its acids and searches for minerals in the stone itself, so there is no need to be surprised because this plant growing in the stone there is a good place because from there it is taking minerals which are what makes up the soil, right? So this experience here is in development, my intention here is to plant grain productive species, it is within this Palm that I want to see its behavior so there are some pieces that are reserved there for us to do this experiment to cover so because the idea the concept the search is that there is not a single centimeter of exposed soil so I'm looking for this it's not easy but we will get there there, but as we move on from the development of the system, we observe that the lines meet, so that anxiety that I think has to be cultivated, the aspect that we have to cover, I don't want to abandon this idea, but the biomass produced the growth of the plants let's say, doing that coverage that I wanted to do with live planting, I don't want to abandon or despise this experiment in any way because this also applies to us accumulating knowledge and this development reaches a point, for example, here in this line are the species that I grew it here so we have it here, it's clear to see the volume of biomass, there's a space there because the plant, in the case of Aveloz [Pencil cactus], the agave that we produced a lot of, this biomass, it failed, right, it didn't develop the size, etc., but it's a sample of what we can do to cover the soil, so the soil that has this characteristic here, in other words, how come we don't do this work, look at the conditions of this soil, right, in other words, just the fact of this coverage, so we have to plant here a series of plants that People say it has no value here in the region. It has no prestige anymore. You're planting wood and that's it, but it's this material that will offer me the conditions for me to grow corn, beans, pumpkin, watermelon, which was like our soil used to be, but ours great-grandparents, right before the concept of the so-called green revolution of monoculture, you cultivated wonderful soil, there wasn't this model of monoculture, cultivated intensely and diversified, this line here, for example, is more composed, right, because here I had the Piteiras [agave] , as we can see the size das Piteiras and I had the Aveloz [Pencil cactus] here, for example, what did I do here with this Aveloz to fully power it, he left only the part to form a canopy and power the agave , so I have the agave leaves here measuring almost two meters, a third one, this here was planted with a bulb, which is the floral emission from the agave, which is something like 2 cm, right, and it resulted in a wonder of this nature here, right, there is also cotton grown here. So this cotton was pruned and today it is here like this, right? pruned and it is producing the biomass necessary for me to recover the soil and carry out the agronomic cultivation here that interests me, so today there is no doubt that we need to plant the species that apparently have no economic value because they are species that will fertilize my soil and instead of buying fertilizer I plant quickly instead of buying fertilizer I plant with cotton so much agave I didn't need it with the resource itself here with the advantage beyond the financial of introducing into the subsoil the organic matter that plants can do, which is through the root system and as science already knows, this is what the development of the root system favors the development of soil fauna, particularly fungi, right? they communicate between the plants they seek in the space far from that plant the nutrients that the plant needs and offers it and the plant offers it the nutrients that the fungus needs So this symbiotic relationship causes the general development of the system as a whole, we say process agriculture So I need this system to work, you know, diversity and not just what I say that gives me economic value because Aveloz [Pencil cactus] gives me a huge return here as my disbursement for fertilizer is zero, it is a plant of African origin right, it's an ephobia of African origin, right, resistant, fully resistant to our conditions, super acceptable, pruning with the risk, right, we need to be very careful, protecting the skin of the eyes [causes temporary blindness], even breathing in a little bit that it releases, we have to be careful because there is no study on this business, so if the person has difficulty, they may not even plant it, but there are other alternatives that produce, such as the agave, right?
I always want to remember.
Note that we are in the Caatinga without irrigation, with gigantic biomass production, which is what interests me. carbon biomass protection only we go to the entire cycle of the Agriculture construction process that produces food and animal fodder in abundance.
 
Mike Philips
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To summarize or keep it simple it boils down to:

Soil health principles

1) “Armor on the soil” Mulch cover

2) (after initial earthworks)
minimize soil disturbance

3) plant diversity

4) keep a living root
Grow plants continuously
(no fallow period)

5) livestock integration
 
Abe Coley
pollinator
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Mike Philips wrote:
Is there an English translation available?



i just used the closed captions and selected the translate from portuguese to english
 
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