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recognizing plants (& trying to cover topsoil)

 
Prahlad Genung
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
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I've idealized farming, read about many methods through college and the few years since, and finally have some land to tinker with (although not my own yet, so limited tinkering). I'm finding that my ability to identify plants is severely lacking... any recommendations for how to jump start my growth there? I'm learning from people here and there as I've the chance, and was thinking to see if the local community college offered any bio classes which might encourage such knowledge.

Also, in my readings I hadn't come across permaculture until a few weeks after I started tinkering here. So I've backpedaled, trying to add beneficials (already'd mixed species somewhat in the tiny plot, maybe 130 square feet of ground space, but started it at the beginning of the season with the sadly traditional clear-the-soil mentality) and other species in order to recover and not let the sun hit as much earth directly. Any recommendations for additional plant types for that purpose?

Hope all's well, and that the sun shines strong on your plants!
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1239
Location: Maine (zone 5)
63
forest garden hugelkultur
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Starting to do plant ID can seem like daunting task due to the scope of variety in the plant kingdom. I started out by getting a field guild specific to my location so that I could ID what was already growing here. One guide for trees, one for wild edibles, one for mushrooms and one for flowering plants. I take them when I go out for walks on my land and try to ID the things of interest first. It was helpful to know the trees first because then I could narrow down other species of plants by what trees they grow near. Making sure to get out frequently throughout the year and through ALL seasons will make it easier because you see everything at ALL stages of growth. I overlooked a beaked hazelnut hedge row for 2 years until I noticed the nuts just this spring. Then it was easy to ID. Up til then it was just more scrubby junk that needed thinning out. Knowing what grows naturally will help you know what to plant. As I'm sure you'll find out here on Permies, people take weeds seriously, and for good reason. They can tell you all sorts of things about your soil and microclimates. Let them grow and watch them. As an added note, a lot of "weeds" are edible and some make good ground cover for shading soil.
The only other thing I can say is that it takes time to get to know the plant kingdom, so don't be discouraged. I'm no expert but I think I could ID a couple hundred species at least by common name so that's a good start. My 3 year old son can ID about fifty so theres some proof that it's not difficult. Start broadly and then work in from there.

As far as ground covers for the garden, I use a lot of hay wood shaving for mulch around plants. I've also tried densely planting things and thinning them out as the season goes on.
Example: I plant beets at 1/2in spacing and then harvest every other one as baby/micro greens. After a few more weeks I take out every 3rd one for a salad mix or braising greens. A few weeks later than that, I pull baby beets for salads and pickling. Finally, I pull the large beets as I need them.
I do something similar with potatoes. Planted in rows with increased density as you go down the row. So at one end they are 8 inches apart and at the other end they are 18 inches apart. That way I can harvest from the densely planted side towards the thin side as the season progresses. I get new/baby potatoes first from the dense side and as the weeks roll by the thinly planted side uses up more room to grow large storage potatoes. I've also tried planting quick growing things like greens and lettuces between the thinly planted potatoes so that I can use that space while the potatoes are filling out. By the time the potato needs the space, the greens are harvested.

Ground covers that fix nitrogen help too, so maybe low growing things like clovers and the like would be a nice living mulch if you plant it after other crops have established themselves.

Hope some of that helps.
 
garrett lacey
Posts: 72
Location: Edmonton Alberta
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You should pick up a guide on some of your native plant material. That and perhaps enlisting the help of of someone in your area who might know the plants, (master gardeners, landscapers maybe, horticulturists, farmers). Look for a list detailing 'Invasive species and noxious weeds' one with pictures. I took a 8 month horticulture program in my hometown that also helped.

As far as getting the soil covered, just let things grow in like chickweed. If there's a feed store around they may sell cover crops by the pound such as red/white clover, fall rye.. etc.

Hope that is some help.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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not sure of the name but there are aps that you can get where you just photograph the leaf against a white background and it will id it for you..but they are not totally correct either..

generally when I was starting out I used books or observation or asked someone who was older and had been farming for a long time..that is the most helpful.

also there are lots of people online willling to give a shot at it if you have a good photo...but I have had people online argue with me about plants I had that I knew what they were and they insisted they were something else..so don't give 100 % credence to any online ID....although most of the time it will prove helpful.

when you get a possible ID..then start doing research of the plant itself and make sure you have the proper ID...esp if you are going to eat the plant.

as for covering the soil..your best bet is to start with seeds, divisions or cuttings or actual plants that you know the identity of..esp if you are going for food plants, and best to use things you like to eat...or that your animals will like to eat...rather than things that you don't really care for..why plant say tomatoes if you don't like tomatoes..??
 
Prahlad Genung
Posts: 7
Location: Upstate NY
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Thanks for the ideas! Yes, it is a daunting task, Craig. But I've got to start somewhere. That's a good idea, to get guides specific to this area. That harvesting method sounds good. I'm really in the learning mode right now, i.e. make mistakes and learn from them haha next year I will have a better grasp on succession sowing. I like the idea of differing distance between potatoes (or which ever plant) in a row. I'd just added some clover types and other plants to attract beneficial insects, as well as some lettuce, alfalfa, chard, and others, attempting to prevent so much of the earth from being hit by the sun directly.

I don't know much about chickweed, Garret, I'll have to look it up.

I can't believe they have an app for that, Brenda! I am a bit too frugal and am not willing to pay for internet on my cell. That's amazing, though. The 21st century, geez. Maybe I will ask some peoples for help id'ing plants on here, if they're willing. That's a good idea, too, to research the plant in order to absolutely verify it, to check. Thanks all.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Warning: I'm going to geek out here a bit and this isn't everyone's thing..
I find a bit of basic botanical Latin is really handy.
If plants are flowering, it's often possible to ID their family.
For eg, if a plant has 'pea' looking flowers, it's pretty definitely a nitrogen-fixing legume.
The cabbage (brassica) family have four-petalled, cross-like flowers (hence brassica's old Latin family name cruciferae, meaning 'cross-bearing')
Daisy-like flowers? Probably asteraceae. It's a massive tribe! Artichokes, lettuce, wormwood...
As for mulch plants, can you grow buckwheat? I'd also try to lay my hands on as many dead plants as I could and just try and get something organic on the soil to regulate temperature and protect plants and soil.
 
Craig Dobbelyu
pollinator
Posts: 1239
Location: Maine (zone 5)
63
forest garden hugelkultur
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Try calling around to local landscapers and tree trimmers, they may be willing to drop debris off for you to use as mulch. Just specify that you're only interested in things that haven't been treated chemically. Even the local DOT might be willing to drop stuff if you aren't too far out of the way. They clear tons of debris from roadsides and after storms. Also, picking through the debris at the local transfer station or municipal waste facility could be helpful. This year I'll be going out after xmas to pick up discarded evergreen trees. They make good mulch for acid loving plants like blueberries and cranberry. I just picked up a 50 pound bag of buckwheat cheap at the hardware store because it was ripped and they couldn't sell it for full price. You can usually stock up on mulch, seeds, plants and soil ammendments at the end of the season because stores want to make room for fall and winter inventory. Make friends with the staff and you'll usually get a lot of it free.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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yeah my nephew the computer geek has the ap..i don't..but he just bought property and is id'ing the plants on his land too.

 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1321
Location: northern California
42
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Books are great, but sometimes seeing the real plant identified is what kicks your mind in gear. Maybe there is a botanical garden or arboretum nearby where you can peruse a bunch of (hopefully accurately!) labelled plants? Even a good nursery, especially one featuring native plants, might be a good thing to tour for this purpose. I don't know about app's for other plants but there is at least one out there about mushrooms which is so bad it could poison people!!
 
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