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Build abundance with chop-and-drop

 
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What is chop-and-drop?

If you have been following permaculture or homesteading sites online you have likely heard of the term chop-and-drop. Are you familiar with what this term means? What about when is the best time of year to do chop-and-drop?

In the most basic terms, chop-and-drop refers to the practice of cutting either dead or living plant material and letting the cutting fall to the ground in the same area. This might be when you are trimming plants throughout the year or when you are cleaning up your garden in the fall/winter.

I love chop-and-drop because it makes it easy to add mulch on my beds and keeps the nutrients onsite.

In my blog post Chop-and-Drop: A Quick and Easy Way to Abundance I provide an overview of how you can use chop-and-drop to build next year's abundance.

I mentioned a couple of the benefits of chop-and-drop up above but here are 5 great benefits of chop-and-drop.

5 Benefits of Chop-And-Drop

- Supports soil life.
- Leaves the roots of the plants in the soil, which adds organic material deep in the soil as the roots decompose.
- Reduces water loss from evaporation.
- Slowly releases nutrients back into your soil.
- Saves you time and energy by eliminating the need to compost or haul the plant material away.

Can you think of any other benefits of chop-and-drop? Please leave a comment with your thoughts on the benefits of chop-and-drop.

I'm going to discuss chop-and-drop a bit more in this thread but please make sure to check out my blog post if you are interested in learning more about chop-and-drop.

Variations of Chop-And-Drop


I use a hori hori knife for most of my chop-and-drop work. I find it to be a very useful tool for my homesteading and gardening tasks.

I hinted at this subject a couple times in my blog post but I really did not dive into it but I thought it would be a nice addition to this post and good for a permies thread.

In my blog post I focused on chop-and-drop as part of the process for cleaning up your garden in the fall or winter. Basically, you got all these dead plants so what do you do with them? My view is that it is great to just chop and drop them all.

But there are other ways to chop and drop.

Sometimes I just pull up weeds and leave them on the ground to form mulch. Is this really chop-and-drop? I guess it depends on if you think leaving the roots in place is a required part of chop-and-drop. With other weeds I do just chop-and-drop when I'm not worried about them sticking around - I do this a lot with dandelions and plantains. My view is that pulling the weeds is not as beneficial as regular chop-and-drop but still provides some free mulch.

You can also chop-and-drop living plants that need to be trimmed or pruned. This works great for woody plants in addition to our regular non-woody plants. When you are using chop-and-drop in this way it is best to do it when the plants are not stressed for moisture. But some trimming in the hot time of the year is fine.

Comfrey is often talked about as a great chop-and-drop plant since it can be cut multiple times a year and produces a lot of biomass. I have been experimenting with native lupines to see if they can serve as a great chop-and-drop plant. Lupines are nitrogen fixers and still have big taproots and riverbank lupine so far is handling chop-and-drop well.

Another type of chop-and-drop is to plant a bunch of plants like red clover or others and then come through and cut them all at once creating a large volume of mulch. This type of chop-and-drop is often called green mulch but really is just the same as chop-and-drop but at a larger scale.

How do you practice chop-and-drop? Do you grow plants specifically for chop-and-drop?

What Do You Think?


A short video from One Yard Revolution on chop-and-drop

I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment in this thread and don't forget to check out my blog post that this thread was based on. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

What do you think of chop-and-drop? Do you use it as a regular part of your homesteading and gardening activities?

Thank you!
 
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There are some specific instances where I will compost my dead plants rather than chop-and-drop.

If, for instance, I am cleaning up dead plant material that may harbour pests that I want to get rid of, that will go into a nice hot compost. Likewise if there were any plant contagion I want to be rid of, especially if I am planting plants of the same family in that space.

I really like the idea of intentional chop-and-drop with green manures, especially in conjunction with a well-timed seeding, such that quick-growing green manures out-compete non-crop plants. You get the first flush of "weeds" choked out, and a quick-growing green manure guild gets living root zones in the soil, supporting microbial life and getting the whole soil life bioreactor thing kickstarted.

-CK
 
Daron Williams
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Chris Kott wrote:There are some specific instances where I will compost my dead plants rather than chop-and-drop.

If, for instance, I am cleaning up dead plant material that may harbour pests that I want to get rid of, that will go into a nice hot compost. Likewise if there were any plant contagion I want to be rid of, especially if I am planting plants of the same family in that space.

I really like the idea of intentional chop-and-drop with green manures, especially in conjunction with a well-timed seeding, such that quick-growing green manures out-compete non-crop plants. You get the first flush of "weeds" choked out, and a quick-growing green manure guild gets living root zones in the soil, supporting microbial life and getting the whole soil life bioreactor thing kickstarted.

-CK



All good points! Thanks for the comment - I'm careful with some plant contagions too though sometimes I just move the chop-and-drop material over to areas with different plants. Depends on what I'm dealing with. I'm working on planting more plants specifically for chop-and-drop. Lupine seems to be a good one at my place but I'm looking at others too.
 
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We have so much red clay, I have been wanting to try this hoping it would help break things up without bringing in a ton of amendments. We have had slow gradual improvement, but I really want to see faster results as we are increasing the garden size this year.  Starting over with a new red clay section will be challenging.

I set aside one section of the garden to test.  I mixed together some leftover greens seeds and planted pretty thickly. I clipped down some of the plants because I got greedy for some fresh greens, but left the plant base in place instrad of just pulling the whole plant. I'm hoping for two things: that the plant matter will help to break up the clay and to get some super early greens.  

I have never tried this before, so am looking forward to experimenting with something new. I'm not really sure if it even counts as chop and drop, so I'm sorry if this shouldn't be posted here.
 
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Great post on chop and drop Daron, chris brought up some of the caveats.

Tina, to speed up the process you would want to add one or more of these; wood chips, straw bedding from stables or chicken coops, compost, composted manures. This would need to be worked into the soil at least 6 inches for a startup garden space.
Good additions would be compost tea (aerated for at least 24 hours but not more than 48 hours), mushroom slurries, the two of these work in unison to help 1. break down the organic material into humic matter and 2. build the bacteria/ fungi microbiome that creates great soil.

Try 10 sq. foot areas for experimental purposes, I've found this about as small a space you can use for repeatable results.
lasagna bed, layered compost, straw, wood chip, mix of the last three, compost tea only, mushroom slurry only, compost tea/ mushroom slurry.
Those are some of the experiments I've run and found that all work fairly well, trials such as these are how you find what works best in your areas.

Redhawk
 
Tina Hillel
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Thanks Dr. Redhawk. The area I tried seeding is about 9 foot square where it fit in behind my water barrels.  We do work in the compost material from the coop. Two years ago, my husband added a huge amount of manure from some local stables and the garden has acted weird since then. I think it was way too fresh and it "burned" the plants.  I found it done when I got home from work as a surprise...

This year we are debating two separate garden beds to see who wins with our different methods😀  We figure as long as something grows, we both win!
 
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This would need to be worked into the soil at least 6 inches for a startup garden space.



Dr Redhawk, I am in the same soil type with heavy clay. I did a test site a little larger than you recommended when I started getting wood chips two years ago. The soil looks good and dark, but struggles to support anything, thankfully including bermuda. It's just now getting colonized by clover, which suggests to me that high clay and tilled chips make it anoxic for long periods of time, and consequently does not get to the point where the chips are not withdrawing nitrogen from the root zone. I think it may have been different with straw or even ramial chips (its been two years and I don't recall the composition of the chips), but I have avoided tilling chips since then. In one year I can top dress a heavy amount of chips (at least 12"), let them decay in place for at least 3-4 warm months, and then plant squash/melons and beans. The squash family seems to do well in the chips, I think due to the root structure because they get feeders at a couple levels of chips, some for nitrogen and some deeper for other nutrients but I am not sure. The second year basically I am ready for Back to Eden, the squash rapidly degrade the chips by growing in them, which I think is due to the shading they provide to maintain fungal growth in the summer.

I guess I don't care as much about rapidly building soil depth due to the wood chip cover holding moisture, I actually like having a well-defined soil interface because the tubers are all in one plane! Ask me again when we get a borer problem.

Would I have benefited from tilling (actually discing in my case) to reintroduce oxygen to deeper layers? My anticipation is that that would just remove the carbon through combustion like any other tilling or discing.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hua kola Tj. When you disk or till in wood chips, ramial or not, it really helps for there to be aged or composted manures added at the same time.
The other really good addition at that time is fungi, that helps break down everything but the lignin and that brings some nitrogen to the party.
I love wood chips on the surface both for moisture retention and for soil conditioning which comes from the rain seeping through the woodchips and leaching small amounts of nutrients each time.
Squashes do exactly as you have surmised, the upper roots gather in the water soluble nutrients like N, P, K and Ca, the deeper roots bring up other minerals brought to the roots via bacteria interactions.

As you know I do believe in one time tillage/ discing to incorporate organic materials but for simple oxygenation I would go with a sub-soiler since it disturbs with out disrupting the soil layer structure.
When we are adding organics, we are also introducing new bacterial and fungal life so turning the soil over will be counteracted by our additions, especially if we get a good cover crop going right after our intentional disturbance (disruption).
Using the Sub-soiler we are literally dragging a blade through the soil and this blade also lifts from the bottom (it forms a wave within the soil which can show as a bulge if the implement has large enough "wings" at just above the tip.

I use mostly straw since I rarely have downed trees that don't go for fire wood and I am now leaving the decomposing trees where they fall because I found that some of our wild animals use them or the soil under them for homes.
Straw is cheap here and plentiful, we use it for animal bedding and then it gets cycled into soil amendments either as compost for teas, mulching or directly incorporated into a new garden bed.

Clovers are telling you that the soil is good enough to benefit from some nitrogen fixers and it tells you that the soil is beginning to get crumbly in the top few inches.
Chop and drop or turning the clovers under are both good ways to keep the improvements moving along. (I much prefer the chop and drop but if you turn it under some will regrow fast, chop and drop and some of the roots will bring forth new plants too)
 
Tj Jefferson
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Thanks for the reply. I think the drainage and infiltration potential are my limiting factor in this particular area, it stays pretty damp. Interestingly, the same soil near the chip delivery area (which gets driven over and disturbed several times a year) is incredible. I think my drive to disturb only once has limited the potential. Fortunately this was purely a test area that I was using to create lots of silt to seal a rice paddy, but I was trying to see if I could have my cake and eat it too. Maybe I still can! There should be a massive fungal input already, there is a large chip pile immediately uphill that leaches into the area and physically connects to it along its entire length.

I thank you for providing this valuable input, because it corrects a misjudgment between the two priorities of low disturbance and biological introduction, one I wish I had internalized earlier. I guess I need to borrow a subsoiler.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Tina Hillel wrote:Thanks Dr. Redhawk. The area I tried seeding is about 9 foot square where it fit in behind my water barrels.  We do work in the compost material from the coop. Two years ago, my husband added a huge amount of manure from some local stables and the garden has acted weird since then. I think it was way too fresh and it "burned" the plants.  I found it done when I got home from work as a surprise...

This year we are debating two separate garden beds to see who wins with our different methods😀  We figure as long as something grows, we both win!



I suspect that the manure was from digested, treated hay that can produce the effects you mentioned and indeed, fresh or any manure not at least 1 year aged will burn plant roots (lots of nitrogen content).
The best way to remediate this glut of N is to get some mycelium growing in that soil, if the manure can be had with straw bedding it will compost nicely and that will reduce the high N and at the same time buffer all the nutrients as it heats up in the initial stages of composting.
Pure manure can be simply piled up into a heap and left alone for at least 4 months, if it was fresh you will probably notice mushrooms popping up after rains, that is a good thing since that means mycelium are running through that heap of manure.

Good luck and if you have any questions, ask, I'm happy to be of help.

Redhawk
 
Daron Williams
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Thanks all and great conversation! Sorry I have not been around to engage in this - I was doing some repair/improvement work on my “DIY Beaver Dam”. Lots of great advice from Dr. Redhawk.

My soils are also mostly clay – I have been focusing on adding organic material to the top of my soil but I’m getting more interested in one-time-tilling. But I’m also considering preparing sites in stages using plants like daikon radishes and other tap-root species that I would chop and drop or just let die with the frost and rot in place.

Basic idea would be to prepare the area with animals first, then get a crop of plants established to chop-and-drop and let rot in place. In the fall I would add a bunch of leaves and then potentially plant perennials into it to be core plants for the area.

I like trying to include as many perennial vegetables and other edible perennials as possible. This includes some native edible vegetables (miners lettuce, Pacific water leaf, and some others soon). I find these types of plants seem to do better in the clay than the annual vegetables. Plus, they come with other great benefits.

Tina and TJ – have either of you tried focusing more on perennial vegetables or other edible perennials?
 
Tina Hillel
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I have just started with learning about the idea of perennials as far as vegetables other than asparagus.  We do have fruit bushes and and an herb bed. Some of what I'm trying, I'm not sure is consdered perennial vegetables.

This may sound odd, but I have a section of garden that I am encouraging plantain and lambsquarter to grow.  I like it cooked and I figure the deep roots may help break up the ground.  I also just started a section where I let some chard and kale go to seed.  I realize they are biennial, but I have had volunteers especially with the chard so I'm hoping to get results from a deliberate patch lft alone.  

I started last year with letting lettuce go to seed and got a bunch of early seedlings that seeded themselves.  We also like bolted lettuce cooked so the results of all the extra greenery is welcomed.

I also let cilantro reseed and go crazy. The bees love it, I get free plants and we eat a ton of it.

The radishes did great two years ago reseeding themselves, but not this year. That one was an accident anyway.

This year was 4th wettest on record and I kept having to replant drowned plant life so hard to compare with last year when I was just barely getting my toes wet with this.
 
Daron Williams
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Sounds great letting plantain and lambs quarter grow - I agree that both can be good for eating. I especially like lambs quarter and I want to try growing a cultivated variety that has some nice pink coloring at the base of each leaf. Just looks nice :)

I really like plants that self-seed - well at least most. I did have arugula just go crazy with self-seeding to the point that I had to thin it fairly heavily. It was literally a carpet of arugula!

I have not tried cooking lettuce - I will give that a try next year. That sounds like a good use of lettuce that starts to bolt.

Wet conditions and clay is hard... I struggle with that at my place too. Especially since I want to retain water to get through the summer droughts we always seem to have here but I need to be able to plant in the spring when things are still wet... I have been relying on raised beds for most of my vegetables as a way to get the plants a bit out of the water.  Do you use raised beds Tina?



 
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I chop and drop all my deadheaded flowers!  and flower stems, cuttings, etc.  Except for a very that tend to harbor bad stuff - roses and tomatoes mostly.

Love this and am going to go check out the blog post!

Sandy
 
Daron Williams
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Thank you Sandy! I hope you enjoy the blog post!
 
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I use a variation on chop and drop. I call it chop and rotate.  

It addresses some of Chris' earlier concerns about diseases.  I have a food forest. When I chop something from my apple tree, I don't leave it under the apple tree. I'll throw it near, say a paw paw tree.  If I have leaves, rotten fruit or wood from the paw paw tree, I'll throw it near the pear tree.  Then pear stuff near the persimmon tree, etc.  I am rotating the organic material from the plant I pruned to an unrelated tree.  I don't always know if the material has some microbes that are disease causing, but I do know that I am furthering the diversity of my yard, and I know that apple diseases and pests don't attack my pawpaw tree.  It lets what Rachel Carson called "the balance of nature" take care of the problem.  With my perennial vegetables, I do the same: artichoke leaves can go under a fruit tree or asparagus, Alexander's , black salsify, or curly mallow.  Herbs follow the same process.  My food forest is mature enough that I don't need to bring in more organic material.  I also have clay, but it has turned from the worst clay ever to pretty nice soil after a few years.  I have added wood chips most years.  

I did bring in plantain to eat, as medicine, and as diversity.  I also brought in some other edible weeds, and spread leeks, oregano, and rosemary for that reason.

John S
PDX OR
 
Tina Hillel
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Daron, I have done raised beds in the past.  We pulled them out three years ago for several reasons.  I am clumsy and tripped over the boards more than I care to admit 😏. Using the boards as a tightrope to avoid compacting dirt didn't help.
We also started getting infestations of black widow spiders (twitching just typing that) that wanted to nest in the boards. The chickens helped take care of that, but at that point I wanted them gone.  I also found it a pain to use the hoe to get the weeds without knocking it against the boards.

To add further insult, the area of garden without beds produced better!  No more raised beds except a small side one for herbs that oregano took over.  I am apparently the only person I know who can't keep mint alive.

As far as the bolted lettuce, some types are pretty bitter. We happen to like them for the variety of flavors and grow extra to bolt on purpose. Sautéed in a little bacon grease, salt and pepper - yum! An arugula carpet, I will have to plan for that, great idea!
 
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