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A forgotten father of Permaculture: Channing Cope

 
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Location: near Athens, GA
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Chances are you've never hear of Channing Cope.... but 100 years ago, if you lived in the American South, you would have.... and you would have been very familiar with his vision of "a Permanent Agriculture".  He had a popular radio show and wrote a popular gardening column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  At the time, it was said that the wealth of the South… it soil, was washing away.  The South was the agricultural heart of all America.  This was the pre-dust bowl.  Kudzu had been introduced as an ornamental to America in Philadelphia, in 1876.  A Florida gentleman promoted it to prevent soil erosion.  Cope saw the soil washing away and came up with a system of rotational grazing of cattle, based on kudzu and native grassed.  Kudzu is a leguminous nitrogen fixer.  It grows like crazy in the my climate...."the vine that ate the South."  Unfortunately, the Army Corp of Engineers settled on it merely for the prevention of erosion... left ungrazed or used by humans (it is nutritious, edible, medicinal and a useful fiber) it will overwhelm the landscape... in some places, some folks say it grows a yard a day....  I think it high time kudzu got the respect it deserves and is used as a useful part of Permaculture systems.  I've been working on that for years and it will likely be my main contribution to Permaculture.... if it works out.  Imagine, one container grown vine that could provide protein rich, spinach like leave that could feed an entire family through 3 seasons... or make hay for an entire flock... or produce a nearly constant supply of mulch, while fixing nitrogen int he soil... plus medicine, fiber and material for baskets... even fishing lines... oh, and you can make wine and jelly from the flowers... starch... who knows all the uses?  Well, here is Channing Cope's signature work.  He is much maligned... remembered as a kook and a drunk.  He deserved a whole lot better.  He should be mentioned in sentences with Yeomans and Fukuoka.  ENJOY  (and yes, I have mentioned this before, but THIS matters!  If 100 or 1,000 people were experimenting with kudzu, my vision may come to fruition).  Imagine Cope's vision.... much like Salatin in rotational grazing... but he dreamed of  the farmer could sit on his front porch, watching the cattle graze, as the kudzu grew to feed them... with the soil getting deeper and more fertile every day.... The Front Porch Farmer. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924003340340;view=1up;seq=1
 
Wj Carroll
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Oops, wrong link earlier.... though a lucky few followed it to some classic Jack Teagarden!
 
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Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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Apologies for being the bearer of bad news - don't shoot the messenger! For every positive there is a negative and a rebuttal:


Mr Channing Cope: Paradise Misfire


Kudzu is a declared noxious weed here and many other places. However, I do take the point that, like running bamboo, if it is kept in-check by the 'farmer' then it has potential to be a good pioneer plant to stabilise land and feed stock. Though, as we all know, humans will be humans and let things slide - that's where it goes from being a useful plant to being a problem. So, kudzu and other running vines/grasses (Bermuda/Couch Grass) needs more attention that Mr Cope's 'Front Porch Farming' technique.

 
Wj Carroll
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I don't think anyone one would dispute Kudzu's almost unparalleled ability to spread, get out of control and take over in the right environments - the right environment being hot and humid but not too wet.  Kudzu is extremely sensitive to frost and wet feet.  I have been working on breeding a less vigorous variety.  It is also almost impossible to spread by seeds - it spreads by vining and root crowns.  Out of hundreds of seed trials, I've only had two sprout, and both died within days being so sensitive to conditions.  Cope certainly never advocated allowing it to spread unchecked - he was quite explicit about this in his book.  I would tell anyone who would not be willing to take the necessary steps in preventing its spread to simply not even consider growing it.  It can be controlled with heavy grazing (especially by goats), but I would recommend only planting it in containers and trellising it - pruning/harvesting regularly to prevent it spreading unintentionally by long cines touching the ground.  The way it was used, indiscriminately, for erosion control was irresponsible - but, I can almost guarantee that had vining wisteria been used in similar fashion, wisteria would be considered a contemptable "noxious" weed and not a valuable ornamental.  I have, at least, a yearly battle on a small property owned by may aunt, with a wisteria vine.... the thick, tough, rope-like vines run hundreds of yards, under leaves and mulch, rooting as they go and climbing everything.  Compared to the native Virginia Creeper and the "invasive" kudzu, the "ornamental" wisteria is an inedible, allergy inducing, tree and shrub, choking monster!  Nor is kudzu a match for the ornamental English Ivy that has killed several large pine trees on the property.  Being unwilling to use Round Up, I fight those vines essentially tooth and nail, with weed blades and a machete!  Oh, and poison oak seems particularly fond of growing in and among ivy and wisteria.... that combination is my green monster.
 
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Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
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Well, I'm one who never heard of Channing Cope, but since I now live smack-dap in the middle of Kudzu country, I'm interested in his methods. My goats adore kudzu, and we have one or two areas that we allow them to go in and eat it down to keep it from taking over. Nutritionally, kudzu on par with alfalfa, so I harvest it for hay to feed in winter. The goats fight over it. It's human edible too, although we've never tried it. Shoots can be steamed and buttered, roots can be used as a thickener, and flowers can be used to make jelly. Wj Carroll, thanks for the heads up on his book. I, too, am working toward year-around grazing and his sounds like a book I need to read.
 
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I don't live in kudzu country and have no experience with it. That said, no less esteemed an individual in my mind than Hugh Lovell is a big fan of it as a potential permacultural input. And his reasoning really resonates with me. It revolves around the idea that we are so quick to label and fight "invasives" without thought for their right to move and seek prosperity just the same as us (this applies equally to plant, fungi, animal or fellow space monkey). Kudzu may irritate us, it may seem detrimental to certain of our local ecological friends, and it may be exotic and unusable to our common understanding. But ultimately it is more invasive or noxious on this (north american) continent than humans of European or Asian descent or cows. So unless you support the eradication of those other invasive species it seems silly to vilify this one. Especially when it has so many apparent uses.
We can certainly learn from the folly of spreading kudzu widely into the landscape without declaring it public enemy
 
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Kudzu is one of the most amazing plants on the planet. You can use it as a green manure, use it for forage, rabbits, goats, chickens etc all love it. The plant is loaded with bioflavenoids and is highly medicinal. I use it in my Champion juicer in place of wheat grass. It is amazing when you drink it with some orange juice.

I am going to use it to make rope and to feed my animals. Additionally it will fertilize my soil and keep my soil from eroding as bad. You can plant rows of corn or other plants between rows of kudzu. The kudzu fixes nitrogen like soybeans and also will drop leaf litter that composts down very good. If you take a sample of soil from an old patch it will be black dirt and grow food for free. Not having to pay for fertilizer is my key to bring more inputs to my homestead.

I currently have a 55 gallon drum outside filled with kudzu that I weighted down with some bricks and covered in water to ret it. I am going to extract the fibers, the inner core is translucent and very strong. Channing Cope talked about using rotational farming with kudzu, alfalfa, kentucky fescue 31 and lespedezia. They had a rotation schedule. The only reason I would say they did not just do all kudzu is because it grows until frost and dies so about 1/2 of the year. You can bale it, needs to be cut low with a sickle mower and baled high. I am still experimenting with mine.

Also to get the seeds to sprout in Japan they use 6-7 needles in a bunch and scarify the seeds repeatedly. I would not recommend seeds if  you want it a crown works very good and layering vines as they mature will ensure more root growth and vigorous growth.

https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Book_of_Kudzu/jSQzR6_h9yEC?hl=en&gbpv=1&pg=PP1&printsec=frontcover&fbclid=IwAR19k6zbfLt87weXKAtxOqrrOudASlScvxu7t-GzeG4hNPSC5kfMzuuJj_M
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