Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Around here, dandelions grow tall in moist shady places, and hug the ground in sunny dry places. My fields are all in full sunlight.
Shane Kaser wrote:I keep a shaker of collected seed that I sprinkle on every bare patch of dirt.
Shane Kaser wrote:I know you said it's not all about the nitrogen-fixer, but really it should be the foundation of any ground-cover in disturbed sites (annual vegetable beds). I know you said White Clover is too aggressive for you, but you really have to give it a chance. It is everything you wanted in your list of worthy attributes. Much less aggressive than mint, but still resilient. I haven't had much trouble with it overtaking my plants, but I'm also wandering around with a hoe and clippers most evenings of the growing season...
Shane Kaser wrote:And I don't expect too much from any given foot of bed; they should actually be categorized somewhere between vegetable and herb beds... Herbs are much more at home in this kind of situation, so don't be shy with kitchen herbs; they are the best bang for your DIY-buck compared to supermarket prices.
Shane Kaser wrote: Sometimes, for a little extra care, I cut a slot to a hole in the center of a piece of cardboard (1-2' square), and slide that onto the crown of a plant - pretty quick and easy root-zone weed-barrier mulch. To get big, juicy vegetables takes a more active disturbance regime of soil amending and irrigation. But the ones that had to fight the ground-cover and search deeply for water, they may be smaller and blemished, but I wager they carry at least as much (and probably much more) flavor/nutrition as the equivalent big-juicy (water-filled) specimens.
Sue Ba wrote:plus the chocolate mint spread into the pineapple beds and established itself there.
Landon Sunrich wrote:On a total of about 30 acres we where farming 3/4 of the land without irrigation. This included all of our potatoes, onions, and head lettuce.
Both of these sites had natural subsoil irrigation. I would be happy to comment more and I could probably answer further questions if you have any for me.
Su Ba wrote:Personally I haven't seen that my annual veggies will thrive in close competition, be it with themselves, weeds, or any other plants. The more competition, the worse they produce.
Sally Munoz wrote:Last year, I scraped a patch out and planted cress and cauliflower just to see how it would do and they both grew fine. Strawberries don't have a tap root so are super easy to pull out and just plunk down somewhere else or add to the mulch.They spread like crazy here in zone 7. I didn't mean for them to be a living mulch but in that area of the garden, that's what they've become and they are doing a great job. In another area, I water the strawberries a little and keep them a little more under control and they get a lot taller and are way more productive, but the ones that are more of a ground cover stay shorter (maybe because they are so crowded?) and don't produce a huge amount, which is fine because they are doing a different service in that area.
We will be experimenting with permanent ground covers in our vegetable beds – specifically planting and allowing perennial plants interspersed with our vegetable crops. The purpose of this is to keep essentially a living mulch to help conserve water, suppress weeds, and to keep the ground covered with leaves engaging in photosynthesis. This will ensure that the life in the soil is being continually fed by root exudates.
I’ll be writing a post later about the biology of the soil that will give much more context to this. 🙂
One important note is that I’m not leaning on these crops to fix nitrogen, a role commonly given to cover crops, although they will certainly help to make nutrients available to the plant by maintaining a vibrant soil food web.
I want to see what it is like to disturb the soil as little as physically possible: sowing or transplanting into fully intact ground covers. No strip tilling, no mowing even. For this reason, they need to be short. I’d love to include dutch clover as a nitrogen fixer, but in most of the annual beds it simply grows too tall. Doing this with crops grown as annuals (like spinach, broccoli, or carrots) is pretty far out. I don’t know how well it will work – this is most definitely experimental.
I made a list of plants starting from Elaine Ingham’s list of perennial cover plants, then finding ones that seemed like they were a good fit for my climate and market farm context. I was looking for plants that:
- Are tolerant of foot traffic
- Are easy and inexpensive to establish but not too aggressive
- Are pretty short, because I’ll be growing these among annuals
- Are not woody, so that if I need to, I can cut or rake them away from the soil easily, and seeding / transplanting tools don’t get gummed up.
- Tolerate wet / moist areas. We get a lot of winter rain, and I will likely be irrigating at least some in the summer – this needs to not kill the plants.
- Tolerate dryness / drought. This is a little at odds with the previous point, but I’m looking for a mix of plants. We have dry summers, and I want to be able to get away with as little irrigation as I can to grow the crops.
- Dense growth habit. I’m looking for plants that will grow densely and cover the soil to protect it from rain compaction, evaporation, and excessive weed seed germination.