My main permaculture experience
just north of you in Winston-Salem. A lot of what follows assumes poor soil conditions, have you had your soil tested?
Since it is still free
, I don't see why we shouldn't utilize the service in NC.
to "how do you cover crop and no-till?":
Chop and drop. You can either choose annual or perennial
cover crops- we have a mixture of both. Red, white, and crimson clover have all done very well in our clay soil, as has alfalfa. Our native
nitrogen fixers, Baptisia
spp. Thermopsis caroliniana,
among others, are too young to assess their strength so far. We've planted them in our double dug beds (as well as some sheet mulched ones) and regularly chop them down to their crowns (just about where we see new growth emerging). Now, I had just replaced this chopped material "fresh" and I didn't seem to have any issues. However, you may end up having some problems with smothering so you could set the harvested material aside to dry, then apply to the beds. They grow quickly enough
to cover any ground so the removal of material shouldn't be too much of an issue (except maybe in summer when we have intermittent rain at best).
Our site is much smaller than yours- at about 3/4 of an acre, all of which is not included in our garden. For your situation, I would highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Edible Forest Gardens, both volumes, and starting from there. They talk quite a bit about assessing your site location and devising pathways. Dave Jacke divides pathways into primary, secondary, and tertiary according to use. Pathways and continual cropping (along with mulching) have helped us to avoid soil compaction in all of our beds (not just the double dug ones). Paths are essential in small and larger gardens.
Pathways can be temporary at first, so possible you could devise where you may want your primary pathways that'll give you access to good observation points on your property and seed the rest. Although you could just broadcast the whole area, we found it helpful to place our main pathways first. I see cover cropping more as a successional stage than a round- choosing a mixture of self seeding annual and perennial crops should
allow you to have a hands off approach the first year or so. Our main goal of cover cropping is not only green manure, but the planting of a wide range in native flowering plants to bring in pollinators and beneficials.
The second year, or even the first if you are ambitious, I would plant nitrogen fixing shrubs (such as false indigo bush- Amorpha fruticosa
and black locust Robinia pseudoacacia
) and good native coppicing species (any number of birches for example). This way you will have the hard working trees to begin breaking the soil for your food forest. Not only will you have nitrogen fixing trees
, but the addition of coppicing species will allow you to begin harvesting woody material for hugel
beds in the garden, mulch, logs for habitat, mushrooms
We plan on cover cropping for up to five years, but probably three, depending on how the soil tests come back next year. Only then will we invest in the more desirable species like plums, pomegranates, and other more expensive fruits. Also remember that there is nothing wrong with loosening the soil before digging- as you say- just do it in moderation with a plan.
I've been working on a series of slide shows that depict our garden from November 2010 when we started until June 2012 when I left. I've managed to make six so far and they bring you to December 2011. This coming week I'll begin January 2012 and hopefully get through spring. You can find the video links here on permies at this link
. The upcoming videos will have more about our cover crop since we started in in the Fall of 2011.
Hope that helps some!
(Also let me know in a PM if you are interested in any root cuttings of Russian Comfrey or maybe even some seeds as the years go on- I'll let my family know and they might be able to send you some)