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cover crops in late winter in PNW?  RSS feed

 
christine shepherd
Posts: 12
Location: Portland, OR
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hello everybody!  i'm relatively new here, been lurking a bit.  just last year got a .67 acre plot near portland in the pacific northwest of the u.s. and have dove into this permaculture business.  i have a question about overseeding cover crops.  i spread some mustard and some clover seeds around the yard last fall and the mustard did ok but the clover did not happen.  i do not want to till the yard, i am interested in building up the thin soil, moving away from lawn into something with more benefit.  what would be a good cover crop to plant right now?  any overseeding tips?  just scatter, or rake it in?  i think my main issue is the yard is mostly shaded by mature pines that we can't remove becasue of a city ordinance.

attached is a photo of the yard from the second floor of the house looking east.  on the south side in the distance you can see a beehive and a sheet mulch bed i just prepared for spring planting in the one are that sees sun (by the blue tarp).  chicken/duck coop and run will eventually go in the south east corner past the bees.  leaving the northwest corner wild.

thanks!
~christine
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Vern Life
Posts: 15
Location: Cascadia
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HA! First thing I did when we closed on the house was climb up on the roof and do that exact same thing!! 

Looks like it's going to be acidic, eh? It's almost spring, why cover crop? Under our fir we went with blueberries. There are natives V. Ovatum, and Evergreen Huckleberry does great and Kinnikinick for ground cover. All three are edible and the Kinnikinick leave makes a medicinal tea. Some borage for the bees (and the tea)? Try some beans and get some nitrogen fixing going on. You have One Green Planet near you and Territorial Seed just south, they have just about everything you could need. Also, I use Chipdrop for connecting to local arborists and have taken four or five truckloads of free mulch. We had the Great Ivy War last year and covered everything with 8 inches of woodchips. The soil is already loosening up and the worms are increasing. Looks like your about to have a go with the foe, eh?
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 191
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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I think gaia's garden is a perfect book for you. The late author toby hemenway lived in Portland and much of the content is perfectly applicable to your region and situation. It also contains numerous plant lists including cover crops that are broken down in every which way you could want (wet-dry, sun shade, n-fixing, beneficial insect attractant, etc.). I concur with Vern about the blueberries though, as you live in a great place for them (the Cascades-Olympics have 9 native varieties of vaccinum!). I'd also do thimbleberries, wild blackberries and raspberries with that acidic partial shade. I wish you well in you battle to come with ivy, I just pulled some vines as thick as my calf off of my neighbour's redwood stump that were spreading into my yard. I like to think of myself as a landscaping Scarface, "You pay me to kill blackberries, I kill blackberries. You pay me to kill scotch broom, I kill scotch broom. You want me to kill English Ivy? I kill English Ivy for fucking free."
 
christine shepherd
Posts: 12
Location: Portland, OR
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Ha!  Gaia's Garden is what got me started on this crazy train.  I looked over the cover crop charts and they are pretty much only for planting in fall or spring/summer.  Wondering what's OK in February here.  My interest in cover cropping now is seeding something that will compete with the useless grass and eventually take over, and to cover any bare patches.  Something I can mow and leave in place every few months that might also provide nitogen, or ease soil compaction, or act as an insectary...

I had a permaculture consultant come out here when I first moved in who told me about chip drop, and I got a bunch of chips I am spreading around in the muddy areas.  You can see them along the ivy lines.  She had also commented that my soil level was very low and thin, almost worn-away looking, and I would need to do a lot of soil building, hence the chips, and the interest in cover cropping everything.  Additionally, she advised that in terms of plants, something is better than nothing, as bare earth is the worst, so the ivy stays until it can be slowly replaced.  English ivy is also one of the only source of food for bees in the winter and cutting it back creates an excess of biomass, so if controlled it's not completely terrible.

I had thought blueberries needed lots of sun?  The only part of the yard that gets any sun is that sheet mulch over by the blue tarp on the south side.  There are giant pine trees behind me to the west and south west casting everything else in deep shade.  I had asked Toby Hemenway if there were any permaculture plants that I could utilize in these deep shade areas and his response was "Uh...no....not really.  Shade is no good for food production."

Cheers,
Christine
 
Hans Quistorff
pollinator
Posts: 763
Location: Longbranch, WA
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I have found high bush blueberries in the deep shade in the Olympic rainforest.  They were tall and sparse with only a few berries but they tasted so good on a summer hike.
Find a native plant nursery or rescue. Oregon grape is a great plant and Washington holly is similar but taller with sowy blooms and tart berries.  These plants complement the wood chip mulch and feed the fungal network.
Be cautious with salal because it spreads by roots under the mulch and takes over the area.
The clover seed my surprise you and come up later.
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 191
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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Shade could be great for mushroom production on wood that is readily available like alder or doug fir. I agree about the high bush blueberries of the Olympics where I was a backcountry ranger for 3 summers. I have had good luck with brassicas breaking up clay, especially daikon radish.
 
Judith McDonald
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Sun is really at a premium here, as is often the case in your area. I would take out the smaller trees and vegetation to the left of the garden site and intentionally replant it with a lower story of fruit/nut trees. There are many, many plants that will grown in dappled sun, part day shade. Additionally you can plant things that will grow up the trees -- curcubits are particularly good at this and might even like the back with the diseased arbovitae. Once you get a food forest there, you could work back to the area with the deep shade (conifers) where you could grow a NW forest area with huckleberries, mushrooms, etc. As for cover crops, my fav is always peas. Tons of green manure and great eating. they go in as soon as the ground thaws and will be done in time to plant a warm weather crop. You an cut down the vines to use as mulch or mow them down, dry a few days and work them in.

I'm trying to rehab an area in the flood plain and while I do want conifers down there, I also know that they can only be there b/c the water table is high. They are not very deep rooted compared to their stature and therefore have many many feeder roots sucking nutrients closer to the surface. Take a few hikes. You will see that the area around these trees needs to be covered with shrubs that make leaves and do not have competing root systems: dogwood, rhodies, azelea, huckle-salmon-gooseberries and currents on the sunny side of the tree. I've lived with these guys -- first in the redwood forest and then in a yard with two full grown  fir trees-- it's hard working with them in a small space, too expensive to remove them.

Also, native plants may be available from your area conservation district.
 
christine shepherd
Posts: 12
Location: Portland, OR
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Thanks for your thoughts.  Was just cleaning out the computer and found a plan I did for a permaculture design class I took.  Do you mean clearing out the vegetation on the southeast corner, where the chicken run will be going?

It may be hard to clear becuase of Portland's new tree ordinance - you can't cut down any tree with a diameter at breast height 20" or greater.
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Nicole Alderman
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A cover crop you can plant now is daikon radishes, also sometimes called "tillage radish". I planted some last year at this time with good success. Mine were purchased from High Mowing: https://www.highmowingseeds.com/organic-non-gmo-tillage-radish.html. It says to sew in the fall, but I found they grow fine this time of the year, too. You just might not get good roots before they bolt. An another advantage to the radish is that pests really don't seem to like eating them--neither slugs nor ducks nor chickens ate any of them on my propety. I never tried growing them in that degree of shade, though (mine were getting 3-6 hours of sun). You might also be able to plant peas, too, as a cover crop. But, I don't know how "field peas" (usually used as a cover crop) would do, but I know snow and snap peas do well when planted now. 

As for sewing the seeds, daikons--and buckwheet, but it's too early for buckwheet--will do great if you sprinkle them down and either rake them in or cover with more mulch. I once planted buckwheet by throwing down the seeds, mowing the lawn without the bag so the clippings fell over the seeds, and then sprinkling duck bedding over the area. They did great, and they were over a year old seeds at that time, too!

As for perennials growing in the shade, looking at your picture, you're shade doesn't look like "deep shade." On my property, in similar areas, I've seen salmonberries, blackberries, thimbleberries, nettles, oregon grape, red huckleberries (these do great in the shade!) and salal. For an edible ground cover, you could try miner's lettuce, Siberian miner's lettuce (doesn't taste as good as the other miner's lettuce), alpine strawberries and violets. Now, off course, these will produce better in the brighter areas, and not much will grow right at the roots of those trees except maybe red huckleberry and sword fern (supposedly the tubers are edible...I haven't tried that yet). You might also be able to grow licorice fern there, too, but I usually see that growing on/under maples. Other edibles that are said to grow in the open shade are hostas, bunchberry, and--I think--serviceberry. Blackcap raspberries, aronia, currants and gooseberries might also do well--I've got stink currants growing in that type of shade (they taste like pine and aren't very yummy), and my aronia is growing in about that much shade, too, but it hasn't born berries yet.

As for what to plant when, I love Erica Strauss's monthly gardening chore guide (http://www.nwedible.com/topics/monthly-garden-chore-lists/). I also like Seattle Tilth's Maritime Northwest Garden Guide (http://www.seattletilth.org/get-involved/gardenstore)
 
christine shepherd
Posts: 12
Location: Portland, OR
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Fabulous!  I have been looking for vegetation that chickens will leave alone for years!  Mine even went after the jade plants!
 
Nicole Alderman
pollinator
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I can't guarantee that your chickens won't go for the radishes. but mine sure weren't interested in any part of it (I sewed buckwheet, peas and radishes together...my ducks and chicken ate the others but left the radish entirely alone). But, then, they're supposed to eat comfrey and mine won't touch it. Every animal is different, but it's definitely worth a try!
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 191
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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I also don't know how long you have lived in Portland but being along the Columbia it has far greater extremes in hot/cold than the rest of the NW. This can make the protection of evergreens beneficial as they moderate the temperature throughout the year. Pine needles are also good mulch and do not acidify your soil contrary to popular myth. Where you do have sun you can do tomatoes, peppers and other  things that need heat to get ripe better than most of the NW. This would also lead me to look to ultra local genetic sources or ones that can handle Portland's microclimate.
 
Julia Winter
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Posts: 2020
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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You can't cut down big trees, but you can remove the lower limbs, which will let in more light, especially the angled light of morning, late afternoon, and winter.
 
John Rickenbacker
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Sweet woodruff (Gallium odoratum) is a pretty cool plant to grow, will accept direct sun or complete shade but is happiest in dappled shade.  It will not establish quickly, alas, but once established it will give you lots of stuffing for your tick, said to be very aromatic.  A cool thing about woodruff is it seems to release antifungal substances comparable to potatoes.

For something producing fruit in shade, a really fun thing to grow is kiwi.  Actinidia kolomikta for us in zone 5, but you have some other options.  Studies show that photosynthesis tops out at 25% sun (that's three quarters shade)!  But I'm not positive that it will yield fruit maximally in the shade.  Then again, these plants have huge yields under ideal conditions.  It would look awfully cool on a line stretched between your pine trees about 8' off the ground, female vine growing from one end, male (very colorful) from the other.
 
Shane Kaser
Posts: 17
Location: Portland, United States
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I second Nicole Alderman's post.

I vote for

thimbleberry
evergreen huckleberry
salmonberry
salal
oregon grape
sword fern
fringecup
woodruff
strawberry
wood violet (viola adunca)
woodland aster
bear's breech
cornus ('kelseyii' is a 2-3' dwarf version of the native shrubby dogwood)
rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low' (non-poisonous poison-oak doppleganger)

You won't get much human-food from tree-shade, so focus on building the soil/plant community for the bugs/birds/etc.  Think nurse logs, stumps, wood chips, storm-water.

If you can, strategically thinning-prune the trees to allow more sun through.

Cover crop is whatever you and nature allow.

Good luck.


 
Vern Life
Posts: 15
Location: Cascadia
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This may be a little late to the discussion but I have been looking into my own plant list for this years (YEAR 3) round of additions. Looking into Native PNW, Nitrogen Fixers, Bioaccumulators, fruit bearing, and or pollinator attractors I found some where that Lupine is a nitrogen fixer.  I forgot to note the reference so I can't say if it is for sure or not but if it is it could be good for your bees and building up the soil. I guess I was just thinking if maybe you could do a wildflower type cover crop?
 
christine shepherd
Posts: 12
Location: Portland, OR
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thanks shane, that's a wonderful list of plants!  i have quite a few oregon grape in the front yard that need to be moved, also just got quite a few black currant cuttings i'm starting.

love lupine, will definitely look into that as well!  thanks!
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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