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! The Five Cousins, a NEW Soil Building Plant Guild!!

 
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What plant guilds are you relying upon to build soil in spring & summer?

The 5 Cousins are...

Amaranth - a C3/C4 fast-growing, pollinator-friendly powerhouse!
Cowpeas - the fastest biomass accumulating nitrogen fixer of them all! & it's low in phytic acids!
Buckwheat - these are considered "phosphorous" pumps, but they also steal nitrogen from the cowpeas causing them to increase their nitrogen fixation production.
Daikon Radish - phosphorous accumulators and nitrogen scroungers, these incredible biological-tillage plants are increasingly a cover crop that is found everywhere!
Sorghum - one of the best C4 grasses, the sugars literally drip down the stalk it is taking in so much carbon!! More resilient and less needy than corn, sorghum grows almost anywhere, brings in the bees by the masses, and makes so much biomass.

Are you growing the Five Cousins already? Did you know the above about them?
What guilds are you relying upon? For what purposes?
Thank you for sharing!!

-Matt Powers
 
pollinator
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These, along with field peas swapped out for cowpeas, are my cover-crop-to-feed-the-rabbits standbys! When I have a garden bed that needs a rest, I sow it with these (generally mixed) and let it grow til I have something new to plant there, then I cut it for the beasts.
 
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Oooooh! I love it! I may have to try this for a guerrilla garden/chick feed field for the abandon lot behind my house... Deer may ruin it but it could be worth a shot!  
 
Matt Powers
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Deer will not eat sorghum, so lean towards that on the edges and you'll have a living fence. The greens for sorghum are toxic so deer don't eat them. We, humans, juice the stalks for sugary sap and we eat the seeds only. It's part of my living fence system always!
 
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How are each of them placed in relation to one another?
 
Matt Powers
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These are heavily broadcast - "throw sow"
 
Elizabeth Geller
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So all 5 mixed together?  I thought it looked different in the video, but I’m such a noob I wouldn’t know a daikon if it poked me in the foot.
 
master pollinator
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Are you claiming that cow peas hold some kind of record for biomass accumulation and nitrogen fixation? I would have thought a tree in the pea family and azolla or blue green alga would hold top spots.

No opinion on the guild. Just wondering.

Edit - Fastest, as in very short life cycle? Sounds right.
 
pioneer
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This is really interesting.  Thanks for posting it, I have just the place to try it.
 
Matt Powers
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Cowpeas - there was a study done with cowpeas and corn and cowpeas in a season provided the most nitrogen fixation and biomass production. Perennial legumes grow fast but retain most of their form each year: the cowpeas are annuals and give up their entire bodies but for seeds each year.

Yes all together they go. I'll make a video sowing them in the spring for folks
 
pollinator
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Matt, they are all in my "starter mix" on new areas, but here daikons will not perform in the summer, but do well fall-planted.

My summer mix is:
birdseed (mostly sorghum/millet and sunflower)
cowpeas
pigweed seeds saved from last year which is a nonculinary amaranth
buckwheat
crabgrass seeds (yes you heard me right)

The good thing is that all these are really cheap around here and produce huge biomass. I tried some boutique stuff and for total biomass this has been my best mix. I follow it with my winter mix:

Daikon and/or turnip
Winterpeas
Crimson clover
Deer food plot mix (mostly wheat or oats with some sprinkles- bought the spring before when its half off)

I only use a year or two before the perennials are kicking in, but per acre those are pretty cheap and have performed well in our mild winters. I'm trialling fava beans this year to see if they perform over the winter.
 
master pollinator
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My mix is:

15 pounds to the acre Timothy
15 pounds to the acre Red Clover
50 pounds to the acre Winter Rye (to act as a weed suppressant)

I really like it, and after 3 years of success, I am looking to swap some more fields to this mixure. It is really pulling nitrogen from the air, I am getting incredble yield, and the crop looks so good I think i would eat it as a salad.


DSCN5173.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSCN5173.JPG]
Success
 
Matt Powers
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But with perennials, you would have to till it right? That would be a loss right there and extra work as well as it messes up the soil food web. With this annual mix, it can be chopped and dropped in place without tillage forming a new layer of organic matter and then soil that has no seeds in it IF you cut before they form OR if you flail mow it while the seeds are still green it will become soil without much of anything sprouting in it next season. It forms a clean slate.
 
pollinator
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Thanks for sharing this Matt, sounds like a great combo. Just reading the list I could immediately see the different actions and nutrients each would provide and how well they would work together. I look forward to watching the video, but the coffee house is closing and watching will have to wait.
 
Dale Hodgins
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This is seems like a good combination to graze down instead of simply using it as a green manure. But I think we'd want to swap the sorghum for corn or something else that doesn't produce cyanide.

Have you ever fenced animals onto a block of this?

 
Travis Johnson
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Matt Powers wrote:But with perennials, you would have to till it right? That would be a loss right there and extra work as well as it messes up the soil food web. With this annual mix, it can be chopped and dropped in place without tillage forming a new layer of organic matter and then soil that has no seeds in it IF you cut before they form OR if you flail mow it while the seeds are still green it will become soil without much of anything sprouting in it next season. It forms a clean slate.



You would have to till it once in order to plant it the first time, but once it is established there is no further need for tillage. That is the whole reason for the two types of grasses listed, one compliments the other, helping to nitrogen fix, and yet get high yield year after year after year.. I should have taken a photo back in June of two different fields. One was dark and lush (this test field), while the other had a yellowish tinge that indicated it needed nitrogen in the worst way. I did not need a soil sample to show the difference, and it was in its third year of being planted.

I have heard that tillage kills the soil food web, but that has not been my experience at all. Again, I only till once to get the mixture established, but if anyone wishes to challenge me on this, I urge them to grab a shovel. The soil here has about 3-5 night crawlers per square foot. The night crawlers are there because they have a lot to feed upon.

This leads into organic matter which increases in any grass-field situation. This is what the night crawlers are feeding upon really, and the number of night crawlers is proportional to the organic matter. Mine is actually nearing the upper threshold, which is between 6 and 8 percent.

I am extremely pleased with this mixture. It is really nitrogen fixing, and yield continues to climb, NPK is being maintained, and I only foresee a need for lime applications every few years to sweeten our acidic soil at this point, I will have to keep an eye on soil compaction as well, but that only tends to be an issue in the seven year mark or so. At that point I have a few options like subsoiling anyway, so I am not overly concerned. I am so impressed with this success that I am going to start converting some other fields into this mixture.

 
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