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companion plants and reviving dead soil

 
Matthew McCoul
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Location: Southeast Michigan
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I'm looking for some input, suggestions, additions.

I'm designing a polyculture mix of companion plants to enhance and restore soils while still providing a food source to eat or sell.
This is with my dense clay and zone 5/6 in mind.

It began by thinking up what to cover my new hugelkultur bed with. Now I've split it into two mixes

1. For the relatively shallow soil of a new hugelkultur
-bush beans/black eyed peas (nitrogen)
-herbs: tarragon, sage, thyme, savory, borage (pest control and selling)
-strawberry (for eating and selling)

2. For general terrain, no wood
-bush beans
-alfalfa
-comfrey
-herbs: as above
-Strawberry

I'm not sure about how the comfrey and alfalfa will play with the others. Antagonistic? Positive?

Any ideas on either are greatly welcome.
 
Dave Burton
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I think the comfrey will play nicely, but one thing you need to keep in mind about comfrey that once you put down, it is hard to remove. It does spread slowly. Comfrey is wonderful as a chop n' drop mulch, and it has a large taproot that can break up the soil and mine minerals. There is a good post about this in the Should I Be Afraid of Comfrey? thread, and further information about comfrey can be found at the value of comfrey thread.

Since you have clayey soil. I think rootcrops will be of value in your ployculture. They will help to loosen and aerate the soil. Then, if you decide not to harvest the rootcrops and let the plants decompose in the soil, they will help you cultivate the soil life. Here are some rootcrops to considr:
-carrots
-onions
-beets
-radishs
-potatoes
-turnips
-garlic
-sunchokes (treat this as a permanent structure if planted, highly productive, hard to get rid of)

To find more plants, the Plants For a Future Database will be very useful.
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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As ever, so much depends. Comfrey will become a fairly large plant with broad leavs, meaning it is going to shade out and push aside others that are too close. Alfalfa can produce massive quantities of roots, reaching deep, but can also be hard on neighbors. Something about alleopathy with. alfalfa too, I seem to recall.
Any particular reason you don't have dill on your herb list? It is on mine

Bush beans in with comfrey and alfalfa - I don't see the beans fairng well with that competition. Both of the others will grow taller and shade out the beans.
I might recommend looking into cover crop mixes, where some of the research is suggesting mixes of ten or more varieties.

It also matters what scale you are planning for. Is this for acreage, or for garden beds? Different choices make sense on different scales.
 
Matthew McCoul
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Location: Southeast Michigan
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David, I have heard negative things about beets and some bean varietie. Something about soil boron? And general negative things about onions relatives with beans.

May add sunchokes or another type.
do you know if the other root vegetables are heavy nitrogen eaters? I'll want to be leaving some nitrogen in the soil, especially in the hugel.
 
Dave Burton
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Ok, this is what I found after a little more research:

Beets and onions are friends.

Pole and Bush beans are mortal enemies with onions.

Bush Beans and beets are friends.

Pole beans and beets are enemies.

These are some good resources for checking companion planting:
Mother Earth News Companion Planting Guide
this cool chart
Happy Together by Paul Rodman
Burpee guide

 
Matthew McCoul
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Location: Southeast Michigan
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Peter, may skip the alfalfa then.
Dills not on my list because I've read it antagonizes sage and vice versa. I do have dill in other areas.

This will be for garden beds, Or rather as a pioneer setup to new beds. After they've broken up the soil, the plan is to cut and mulch.

I may space the comfrey out more then. The bush beans can handle some shade.
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