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Roots are self-burrying organic matter - what best to plant?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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The logic is obvious: when plants grow, they send roots into the soil, and when they die, they let this organic matter there. When we prune branches, the tree prunes part of its roots and balance underground with above ground. The branches stay in the air, the roots rot in the ground.

If you have tried to burry organic matter, like sunken hugel, you know what a job it is! So I want to grow what gives as much root as possible. This let a few differrent questions arise....

- Are there plants that grow more root mass than others? Are trees the only ones that can do a good job at it?
Is the speed of growth a good enough criteria to know what will put the maximum root matter in the ground?

- How can we choose the type or organic matter we want down there?
Legumes are prefered because they fix nitrogen, but are they enough? I cannot think about one type of plant being what nature prefers. Should we use cereals for example? I am almost sure some have an extensive root system. Which ones would be the best if I don't mind about harvesting grains?
 
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I like Daikon radish, Rape, Carrot, Turnip and beet for growing to just let rot if the animals don't pull them up to eat, the deer love to clip off the tops and for most of these that means they aren't going to grow anymore but decompose into humus.

Legumes are great too, I like to make up a mix of root veg and clover, peas, grasses and  spread that over the soil, pressing the seeds in with a roller gives the soil contact needed for good germination and I'm done.
I don't water, instead I plan the seeding for when our rainy season comes (two times a year).
 
pollinator
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:
- Are there plants that grow more root mass than others?



If I'm not mistaken the Canary Islands may play host to a number of wild Beta species, including Beta vulgaris subspecies maritima.   Beta (beet/chard crops) maritima is the wild progenitor to the cultivated beet-type crops and as its name implies is generally to be found around saline estuaries.  The Canarys also have Beta procumbens which grows more prostrate and probably has a more fibrous root system.  Both may be useful at providing below-ground biomass but you may wish to pay a visit to some wild stands of each where you can do some digging to examine their root systems.  Good luck!
 
 
Xisca Nicolas
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What would you think of patches of sorgum for summer? I have wild oat all winter, and it makes good straw for summer. I also have some wild sorts of legume, including one that would cover the trees! I collect it for the guinea pigs/cuys.

I have read that carrots have 2 meters deep roots! I have a local long pink radish instead of daikon, and rewildered parsnips. I was worried to be allowing too many root eating bugs feast and reproduce too much with root veggies... So you do not think it is a problem? Part of the root is outside and very accessible. Yes about animals.... after finishing oranges, rats start to dig ...carrots. So I go there in the morning and get the still fresh leaves for the cuys! Of course they love beetroots too.

Here my favorite root crop that I don't dig is SWEAT POTATO. The advantage are:
- tubers grow deeper than patatoes would.
- Also it spreads through natural airlayering. 
- Leaves are edible and loved by cuys.
- no problem to have them growing under trees = green mulch.
- quite drough resistant.

And I was wondering if some trees are produciing more roots than others....
 
Xisca Nicolas
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John, I am at 500m high, not near the sea, but I will see... and thanks, I had not realized we had this familly well represented!
http://www.floradecanarias.com/beta_macrocarpa.html
http://www.floradecanarias.com/beta_maritima.html

and we also have naturalized tetragon, the new-zealand spinach. and crithmum maritimum.
My best wild root plant now that I think more about it, is ....fennel!

We have other chenopodiaceae than beta, like http://www.floradecanarias.com/atriplex_semibaccata.html australian rewildered!
and chenopodium, salsola... But most of this family is not in the island where I live, and mostly nearer to the sea.

A tough wild legume, grows everywhere naturally here, very nice honey smell when in white flower: http://www.floradecanarias.com/retama_rhodorhizoides.html
I also use this one, that I introduced: http://www.floradecanarias.com/artemisia_thuscula.html
 
Bryant RedHawk
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You can determine the root mass by observing the branch mass and spread of a tree, those that grow in an umbrella shape or with very tall trunks will the have the most root mass.

Sorghum is a great plant for summers it has a good root mass, shades the soil and provides food for many bird species as well as food for humans (sorghum seed can be popped like popcorn and eaten, stalks can be pressed for sorghum molasses)

We dig and eat our sweet potatoes (planted in large containers) since they will last us all winter once they have been cured. We also cook and eat the leaves.
I love to plant these along the edge of our forest then I just bury the vines as they grow along, makes a lot of sweet potatoes (these I leave in the soil)
Parsnip is almost the same (soil health wise) as daikon radish.

Carrots, when left in the ground, produce seeds the second year, this allows us to get a crop and then get seeds for planting in later years.

I much prefer to have as many different species and families growing together as possible.
It makes for better diversity both plant wise and soil organism wise.
 
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Xisca Nicolas wrote:
And I was wondering if some trees are producing more roots than others....



Why yes: cassava. Same logic as sweet potatoes, only MORE drought resistant and roots just as easily. I put it everywhere.

But really, why trees? Perennial grasses produce FOUR TIMES the root volume than trees for their above-ground mass. Just sayin'.
 
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Location: South Tenerife, Canary Islands (Spain)
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Corn and peas are a great mix, or corn and beans if the peas are struggling with the heat. They both grow quick and you don't need to let the corn grow to harvest, you can trample it any time you like, the roots are fantastic for submulching the soil and the trampled (but not severed from roots) stems are fantastic above ground mulch. Give me a tonne of water and a handful of corn seeds rather than a tonne of mulch. The tree tobacco that grows wild in the canaries is one of the quickest growing things I have ever seen, I have one that popped up and I transplanted it when it fit in my fist and grew to 2 metres tall within 3 mths. They sprout up from each others root systems and also from seed, need some irrigation to survive the summer in the first year and can be a big problem to keep under control if you're not careful, plus they are poisonous so would need to have a think if there are livestock/children about.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Yes I have animals and dont want poisonous plants...
Corn needs more water than sorgum I think, thus my choice  of sorgum, that is also more pest free. I might go to corn again when I have hens.

Nathanael Szobody wrote:

Xisca Nicolas wrote:
And I was wondering if some trees are producing more roots than others....



Why yes: cassava. Same logic as sweet potatoes, only MORE drought resistant and roots just as easily. I put it everywhere.

But really, why trees? Perennial grasses produce FOUR TIMES the root volume than trees for their above-ground mass. Just sayin'.



I have always read that cassava is drough tolerant, but then why it does not grow that well here? Maybe it is too cold for them... the roots are not at all worth eating as they come out fibrous. Here they look dead until may, then it is warm enough.... until the end of the year. So they grow 6 months and dont thrive! Then grow hardly to 1 meter...

What perenial grass? I have wild oats in winter as I mentionned and then sorgum in summer. I also have vetiver. I also know a perenial grass, but the rhizome is very deep, and when you have it, it is forever, and it spreads....

So what you are saying is that for the same mass above ground, which would be a small tree, I get 4 times more organic matter underground. So only when a tree is 4 times bigger than grass it produces more roots unerground... Not easy to compare when you see the size of grass and of a trunk!

So it makes me think about another plant with very long roots! Vine...
And I also have another root, the Texas gourd. And chayota.
 
Xisca Nicolas
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One of my best local plant, also medicinal/antibiotic, and animal fodder : Vinagrera.
Very easy to break by hand, I don't know how far go the roots though. Able to grow in rocks and near the sea.

Plants unatended vs pruned for animals... All mine have grown alone.
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Xisca Nicolas
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In summer the soil is covered by dry nasturtium. Also vine and the strong fennel resists very well and provide bees in summer. This place there is not watered either.
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Xisca Nicolas
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This place is a mount of stone that was thrown from digging the water tank in rock 70 years ago! It is naturally green only in winter. Almost no soil.
I could plants a japanese nispero on top, and it has been giving some fruits for 2 years.
Then there is a neem that grew well and already tall.
Still small, 2 local wild pistachio and 3 carrob.
I could manage vetiver under the trees, as it is very steep.

It is watered. Here I think I did quite a good job in planting very soon. For sure I was never going to move anything there and it was going to take time to grow.

Behind the loquat and neem, you can see some wild cherries that grow on the other side of the valley.
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Xisca Nicolas
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I still cannot plant this terrasse more than on the border, as I need the machine to repair walls using the stones that have fallen down! I mean big unmovable rocks...

Here is a legume I sew from a gift, I duno what it is, just that it has no spines, you can eat the young srouts and also the inside of the pod is like liquorice.
Then rosmary, pigeon pea that does not manage well here, and a big local artemisia that gives a lot of dry matter! I can prune ir all the time...

Then, the same line taken from the other side... Pomegranate, rosemary, artichoke.
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Xisca Nicolas
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cucurbita foetidissima... the Texas watermelon... I think it is very good for fixing carbon! But invasive and in some places I think it is going to bother me... well, the planting!
Grows quick when settled which can take more than a year. big root, so burries matter. but does it die!?!?!?!!! Dormant in winter.

Also, it is less food than planned, as you need to extract the starch, and the root isn't edible. the seeds are, but they do not tell you they are small.

Super great cover anyway... And you can see it hanging from the wall into the way. The stems also do root!
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Xisca Nicolas
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In good soil here, guandul and a climbing plant with heart shaped leaves that also has a big root!

I am not sure the pigeon pea here fixes nitrogen, because it is so much nicer in a good soil that I doubt having the right "root nodules"
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Xisca Nicolas
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Sweet potato, asparagus, pantana (very long cucurb that travels and roots), guandul, strawberry guava, chayamansa.
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Xisca Nicolas
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About trees, I have been so pleased with the growth of this lemon eucalyptus i did from a tiny tiny seed! I am just amazed... I just cannot prune such a tree, and it is maybe 6 or 7 years! It is light yellow-green on the right , just behind a sort of papaya of very small fruit, easy to do from seed. It needs a lot of water but grows quick and has this sort of not real trunk/not real wood like papaya.

On the left: 2 legumes. First you see the pigeon pea. The tree behind is a store bought guama, aka inga edulis but I think they sold another inga because the inside of the pod was not sweet. (They also sold me the so called neem and I think they sold a common local similar but not the real neem...)


In the general view taken from near the loquat, you can see the guama and eucalyptus on the left, all the rest I have put the previous pics.

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Xisca Nicolas
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This photo is easier to comment when seeing it above… It makes me notice that the hour was perfect to show that it is shady in the afternoon. The avocaods and mangos are more down into the sun. All the dry place has been cut for 2 reasons: harvest of organic matter for compost + removing dry stuff in case of fire.

Trees: first on the left is the inga, and the eucalyptus behind. In the center are pigeon peas and 2 guavas. Then there is madroño, strawberry tree. The chayas and others are harldy visible.

The first plane, dry, is about 2 meters above, there is a wall. There on the right you can see the tea-tree. On the total right are orange trees and then avocados behind.

I am still looking for better and new plants, but this thread made me realize I did more job than what I thought! And indeed I can start to call this a forest!
 
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(This is an edit, apologies for the previous post that for some reason came out as only the letter 'h')


Xisca, can you tell us more about the legume that climbs trees? Is it something unusual?
 
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Xisca, I love the idea of letting the plants do the work for you! I have an entirely accidental planting of sweetthorn (acacia), fennel and spinach, all of which selfseeds, so I shall watch it curiously to see how the combination goes. The discussion lets me think I should throw some cereal there, maybe sorghum?

I don't mind the work for a sunken hugel, though, labour here is cheap (probably not a good thing) and with unemployment high one tries to create as many jobs as possible. Once the dam was dug I refused any more machinery on my heavy clay, and had all the remaining work done by hand. So the overflow dam was dug one summer when there was not quite enough work for the two men I then employed. It is about two meters wide and twenty meters long. Well, I stopped working full time and the climate dried up,  we started throwing garden refuse, tree prunings and what-have-you into that big hole. Seven years later it is still called the tree graveyard.  The place will make a fine field one day if I can just get time to top it with horse manure. The nasturtium  is naturalizing and the sweet thorn can't wait to throw its seeds there. Your post makes me think there is nothing to lose by maybe just letting it be while the plants create more biomass :)

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Xisca Nicolas
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Ben Waimata wrote:Xisca, can you tell us more about the legume that climbs trees? Is it something unusual?


It is the reverse, the tree legume is the support for the climbing plants! Very good idea also for passionfruits.

I do this for all climbers: air potato, basella, cucurbs like bitter melon and achoa or cucumbers....

I prefer a wall or rock for vine and chayota, as they are too big for the poor support! Passion fruit needs a big tree so I also put a piece of fencing for them. I had one in a mango, and the mango could hardly produce! (this year with no passion vine, it seems to be the most charged in fruits!)
 
Xisca Nicolas
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Natasha, we might have a quite similar climate, maybe yours is  hotter, as we are very oceanic here. You also seem to have more grass so more rain then me...
Maybe "sunken bed" would be better, in reference to raised bed? Because I am a lot about words, and hugel means something like "mount" in German! So even if we mean we tranformed the hugel kultur concept, at the level of having wood under some soil..... no hump no hugel!!! 

Natasha Abrahams wrote:Xisca, I love the idea of letting the plants do the work for you! I have an entirely accidental planting of sweetthorn (acacia), fennel and spinach, all of which selfseeds, so I shall watch it curiously to see how the combination goes. The discussion lets me think I should throw some cereal there, maybe sorghum?

I don't mind the work for a sunken hugel, though, labour here is cheap (probably not a good thing) and with unemployment high one tries to create as many jobs as possible. Once the dam was dug I refused any more machinery on my heavy clay, and had all the remaining work done by hand. So the overflow dam was dug one summer when there was not quite enough work for the two men I then employed. It is about two meters wide and twenty meters long. Well, I stopped working full time and the climate dried up,  we started throwing garden refuse, tree prunings and what-have-you into that big hole. Seven years later it is still called the tree graveyard.  The place will make a fine field one day if I can just get time to top it with horse manure. The nasturtium  is naturalizing and the sweet thorn can't wait to throw its seeds there. Your post makes me think there is nothing to lose by maybe just letting it be while the plants create more biomass :)



I dont have clay but artificial terrasses with stones under, thus also air! I loose water etc. I need the machine to remove big stones, very big. And replace with organic matter. I cannot compost branches, they just dry! I want to burry.

We have to work before we can let the plants do the job... It is not just let be, but when it is started, yes you just wait for the biomass to be created. I think we have to plant plant plant, and not be afraid of death. But I would not spoil bought plants, because all investment of man's work and of transport, plastic pot etc, is about spoiling the earth resources.
 
Natasha Abrahams
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This coast has often been called Mediterranean, although of course we say the Mediterranean has a Cape climate :) It is my winter now, from October to May there is usually no rain, although with climate change I have noticed that despite the decrease in overall rainfall (30 %), it falls more evenly throughout the year. As the ocean heats up it gives off more humidity, if we get lucky with an onshore wind in summer  we might have a few drops  once a week up to December.

I laughed at your sunken hugel observation. It is not my term but one used in the Hugel thread. As for the mangle we make of German, well I guess they forgive us only because of the respect we show to their methods :) 
 
I think I'll just lie down here for a second. And ponder this tiny ad:
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