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Wild plants clues to polycultures?  RSS feed

 
Sara Harding
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I have observed the weeds in some beds that I grew some Cherokee white flour corn in this year. I was focussing most of my energy this year on my Three Sisters polyculture and just put the extra corn seeds I had presprouted in this bed. (Note: We have a lot of fire ants who love corn in it's starchy state and will leave nothing but the bran of any corn seeds, so I discovered that if I sprouted the seeds to their sugar state, the ants left them alone.) A lot of the space was taken up with volunteer parsley and onions, so I only sowed a few seeds. After the corn had set, and the parsley and onions were in decline, in high summer, lots of wild plants began to take off. They were predominately late summer maturing grasses and Carolina horse nettle, a nightshade relative, plus some buttonweed in one poorly drained corner. These all grew fine together and I expect that even if I didn't pull the 'weeds' out, the onions and parsley would again come up over the cool months while the other plants were in decline. So there were actually 3 seasonal "pulses". The fall/winter/spring slow growing but always available parsley and onions (mostly harvested in the green stage), then the fast growing corn, then the medium growing grasses and nightshade.

So I was thinking...Instead of wild grasses, maybe I could sow hulless oats with or shortly after the corn. And if the soil also supports a few horse nettles, maybe it would support ground cherries, another nightshade relative, but with sweet, edible fruits instead of poisonous ones. I know that the horse nettle's being covered with thorns and being bitter poison helps it grow anywhere, so it's not exactly apples to apples, but there may still be some family resemblance in preferred habitats. Has anyone tried growing ground cherries among grains?
 
Isaac Hill
gardener
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Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
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That's probably a good idea. We encourage ground cherries and black nightshades among our annuals but we haven't had any horse nettle. At Three Sister's Farm there are horse nettles and ground cherries, both grow wild in between the grasses and wild flowers.
 
Eric Toensmeier
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Ground cherries and black nightshade are among the many species that native people cultivated or at least encouraged around their grain crops in eastern North America. You can check out my video on YouTube about the “Eastern agricultural complex” to see how some of our experiments with those techniques have gone here.

I'm excited to see you putting your observations into practice. I am slowly learning to observe wild plant associations and use them as the basis for polycultures. VERY slowly! You can see some of those at www.apiosinstitute.org.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I've been using my state plant database to look at what might grow in association with native trees here: http://tpid.tpwd.state.tx.us/

For instance I can search "Cedar Elm" and see that Elderberry, Common (American) Persimmon, Texas Persimmon, Pecan, Blackberry, Black Cherry, Plum, and Grape are some of the edible native species that grow in association with it. I could plant domestic cultivars of these species with success, perhaps...
 
Eric Toensmeier
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Those kinds of resources are very helpful!
 
Sara Harding
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Eric Toensmeier wrote: Ground cherries and black nightshade are among the many species that native people cultivated or at least encouraged around their grain crops in eastern North America.


That is great news! I am going to try that next year. Very informative video, too. I was surprised to hear that the leaves of the black nightshade are edible as well as the fruits. Does the whole plant have less solanin than other nightshades? Was it cooked with several changes of water? Just curious.

Isaac H., it's good to know that ground cherries can grow where horse nettles do. That answers my question about compatibility.
 
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