Above, planted thickly, sunn hemp (crotalaria juncea), makes an ideal green manure crop and weed suppressor.
The Earth is full of seed and you can take advantage of the plants that just come up on their own. All you need to do is remove the unwanted weeds to use as mulch and leave the helpful ones that emerge of their own accord. There is a garden in the Earth just waiting for you to look after it and you can do it just with selective weeding.
Not all weeds are plants that need to be removed, and in fact they can be your first choice of plants to use for ground covers, living mulch and green manure. That is, they can fulfill many of the tasks attributed to mulch, such as protecting the soil surface from wind, sun and rain, preventing unnecessary evaporation and erosion. This cover allows the roots of garden plants to grow closer to the soil surface and therefore have greater access to oxygen and water. This alone is reason enough to consider weeds as companion to your garden plants. However their influence goes further, by spreading their roots out through the soil, they encourage the spread of bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi that live in symbiosis with all plant roots, helping to improve the uptake of soluble nutrients in the soil. Weeds encourage worms and beetles to take up residence in the soil and also soak up excess water when there is too much. They also help pull oxygen into the soil. Roots also provide pathways for water to follow through the soil, helping to improve the availability of water to other plants. Some weeds behave as companion plants and exude organic compounds through their roots that encourage the growth of other plants and even enhance the desirable qualities of those plants.
For those weeds you wish to remove, some will need to be dug out while others can be pulled out and others still need only be cut off at ground level. Their roots will decay and feed worms and bacteria, enriching the garden soil. If weeds regrow from their roots, just cut them down again. Consider them a harvest for making mulch for your garden. Once you get to know the weeds, you will know which ones to pull out, which ones to dig out, which ones to cut, where to cut them and which ones to leave.
Aggressive weeds and large infestations can be controlled but whichever method of weed control you use it will require a consistent management campaign. In other words you have to follow through and make sure that each new generation of weeds is removed before they set seed. The number of weeds to be removed then will be reduced with each season.
Most weeds pulled, dug or cut from the garden should be mulched straight back into the garden to return their nutrient content that they have taken from the soil. If they start regrowing roots, they only need be pulled up once more and they will die.
Remove aggressive weeds before they flower and set seed.
It’s easier to remove bigger older weed in the dry season when they are dying back. Weeds are most easily removed when young, get to know what they look like when they germinate. The beginning of the rainy season is the time to be looking for the new generation of problem weeds. You will possibly find some of the worst weeds growing back in big banks of seedlings. Mimosa diplotricha is good at doing that the first decent rain after a fire. Pull the weeds, get in a goat or goose or any grazer you can manage, chip with a hoe or mulch over while still young and easy to work with.
Allow preferred weeds and wild plants to set seed before cutting them for mulch. Collect some of their seed and spread around the garden. As broadcasting requires a lot of seed for success, if you have any less common plants on your land you wish to encourage, then maybe collect some of the seed and grow it in pots in your nursery and plant out later.
The best times to do weeding are in dry weather and during barren phases of the moon to help kill the weeds that you are removing. You may however wish to remove the weeds during a fertile sign if you wish to encourage the growth of the plants that are left behind. Weed in the mornings so the removed weeds have to face the harsh sun of the day. If you are having wet weather, perhaps the weeds can be put aside in a dry place till they are dead and can be put back in the garden as hay mulch.
There are weeds, like spiderworts (tradescantia), tropical chickweed (drymaria cordata) and singapore daisy (sphagneticola trilobata) that grow like succulents, holding water for a long time making them hard to kill. They are brittle and break up making them hard to pull out and every part of them grows back easily and can quickly choke a garden.
Singapore daisy has a poor root system and can loosely grow up and over itself and other plants, and is one of the few plants that can promote soil erosion. Weeds like these should be removed altogether. When removed they may be left on a road or path in the sun to be walked on or driven over. This will quickly kill them; they can then be mulched back on the garden. This can also be done with bulbs, corms, crowns, nuts, rhizomes, runners and tubers that are always difficult to kill. Spiderworts are said to be eaten by ducks and geese.
Alternatively, tough weeds like these can be composted separately by putting them in a large plastic bag like a 45l - 10 gal planter bag. Leave somewhere in the garden where worms can get into it from the bottom. You can fill the bag and water occasionally and the weeds will quickly sink down. Keep filling the bag for a couple of months then cover the bag for a few weeks. When you empty it out you will find it is a beautiful, rich soil full of worms. Any plants still alive just put back in the bag for the next load. Depending on what sort of weeds are in it, do not spread this compost around as it may contain seed. If it has seed in it, use in singular places in the ground where it will be covered over, or in pots so seeds that emerge can be checked.
Grasses produce phenolic acids that inhibit plant growth. Cut grass however makes excellent mulch. Try to reduce the incidence of grasses by removing them, particularly the large ones and those with deep corms, crowns, rhizomes and runners, in favor of smaller broad leaved flowering plants. There are a few gentle grasses though that are welcome in the garden for ground cover and mulch. There are also of course, many grasses that are important crops like bamboo, citronella grass, lemon grass, sugar cane and thatching and weaving grasses to name a few.
If an area is infested with nut grass (cyperus rotundus) or an equally invasive weed, a layer of 15 to 30cm - 6 to 12 in's of wood chip may be the only solution. If nut grass is removed manually it can be left somewhere to dry for a month to kill it and it will be good to use as mulch. With only a small amount, nut grass nut's can be dug up and crushed and then they can be used as mulch.
If it’s not a huge area, weed mat may be used on nutgrass. Weed mat is porous and allows water and air through it. This convinces plants to keep growing but they can’t get through the weed mat and they are starved of light which weakens and kills them. Just hold it down with rocks or branches. If any leaves should poke through the mat just lift it up and put it back. Once it has done its job the weed mat can be moved on. This process actually works quicker in the wet season. It can take a couple of months but is a lot easier and does a better job at getting all the weeds than any other method.
In larger areas that are heavily infested with weeds that are very difficult to control, the only way to control them may be to plant tall, fast growing annuals or trees that will shade them out like sun hemp, hemp and trees like luceana, all thickly planted. These plants have fixed flowering seasons which makes them easy to control and they like growing close together. A weed control crop is usually planted very closely to thoroughly shade out the weeds. With serious infestations successive crops may be necessary to bring problem weeds under control.
Hemp creates a lot of leaf litter ideal for worm fodder; luceana is a legume tree that fixes nitrogen in the soil and is an excellent fodder crop for grazing animals. Plant many trees close together, if possible on contour lines, every few meter's up the slope, which is a good way to exploit the space being managed. Manual slashing or a tractor slasher may then be used in between the rows. Slash back the weeds and mulch them around the trees to help get the trees started.
Once the control trees have done their job, fruit and timber trees can be planted amongst them and later the original weed control trees may be cut down and used for mulch around the economic trees or elsewhere in the garden.
Domestic animals, when not properly managed, also spread and encourage aggressive weeds. Animals will generally graze on softer, choice plants leaving behind less tasty and thorny weeds. Seeds from these weeds can also get stuck in their coats and be spread around. However, well managed, domestic animals can be used to reduce and even eliminate problem weeds. Goats will eat almost anything and even prefer to eat the worst weeds like creeping sensitive weed (mimosa diplotricha). But goats will only eat the tips and then move on. If chained or penned in one spot a goat will eat everything it can reach. Then the animal can be moved to another spot and a whole area can be mowed down. Ducks are known to eat khaki burr (alternanthera pungens).
All grazing animals can be managed with this method, chickens and even guinea pigs are happily raised in an animal tractor. If there are weeds that grow deep in the ground, the chickens may need to be left there for a long time, or pigs might be used to remove them. A small, strong pen that can be moved can hold a pig or two in one spot while they dig up the ground and eat all the, bulbs, corms, crowns, rhizomes, roots, runners, stems and tubers growing in that site. Move the pig tractor to the next spot and repeat the procedure. This is a very effective way of feeding the animal and keeping it happy while it does a valuable job digging, weeding and fertilizing the garden.
One nice method is to have a number pens and move the animals from one to the next then make a veggie garden in the pen they just left. Once the veggies have been picked and it’s time to clean up the beds just let the animals back in and start a again.
Which weeds to remove? Simply, remove the ones that actually cause problems for you and the garden. For example, the prickly ones, and the ones that grow at an extremely rapid rate and take over the garden, like singapore daisy, spiderworts (tradescantia) and some grass weeds, and the ones that reproduce at an equally rapid pace and also take over. Also remove weeds like spanish needles (bidens pilosa) and chick weed that produce seeds that stick to hair and clothing. Some weeds produce hairs that, when the plant is mature and dry, become prickly and highly irritating. Some undesirable weeds will be difficult to remove because they grow from bulbs, corms, crowns, rhizomes, runners and tubers that they put down deep in the ground. Every effort should be made to remove them properly before starting a garden.
Khaki burr or bindi eye (alternanthera pungens), and creeping sensitive weed (mimosa diplotricha) are two extreme examples of prickly weeds that should be removed. However both these weeds are encouraged by the use of indiscriminate cultivation, burning off and poisoning. Remove manually if possible and if they have seeds, bury them in a single place or make a layer of them and cover this with a deep layer of sheet mulch.
Also remove weeds that flower from an early age and then grow big, producing seed all the while no matter what season it is.
Where to start weeding? Answer, close to home. Start near the house and spread out from there. Also weed around plants in the garden that you like and want to encourage like any naturally occurring ground covers you have found. Mulch the weeds that you remove back in around the plants you wish to encourage.
Which weeds to use as ground covers and green manure? Plants that produce lots of foliage like soft, broad leafed annuals like thick head, (crassocephalum crepidioides) and puha, (sonchus oleraceus) also known as milk thistle or sow thistle because it was traditionally given to cow’s and sow’s to improve their milk quality and yield when they had calves and piglets to feed. It’s also said to give chickens darker egg yolks. Definitely a green for mothers. Puha is a nutritious salad and cooking green.
Wild amaranth (celosia argentea) and the crotalaria family are also good ground covers and companions. There are many good weeds and native plants which have large flowers and will attract nectar and pollen feeding, and therefore pollinating, insects like bee's, beatles, butterflies, hover-flies and wasps. Wasps also take grazing caterpillars to feed their young. A healthy floral ecology will feed a community of insects which will in turn attract insect predators like ladybirds, hoverflies, dragonflies, damselflies, lace wings, praying mantis, spiders, lizards, frogs, birds and bats to the garden. They will keep grazing insect numbers low and leave behind their droppings to enrich the garden soil.
Leave short lived annual weeds, and weeds that flower in a specific season because this makes them easy to control.
To encourage preferred weeds and wild plants, just leave the good weeds be when you cut or pull out, and mulch in the weeds that you would prefer not to have in the garden. This might be called replacement weeding, cultivating some weeds, by tolerating them and allowing them to replace the ones that are removed.
Good weeds for using as ground covers and green manure crops may be legumes or will have a lot of foliage. They may be soft and hairy and may also be aromatic. Some weeds may even be oily and resinous to the touch, such plants make good mulch but may be distasteful and even toxic to livestock. And they can really stink so you’ll only want to keep the ones that smell nice. When cut down, the plant part cut back will die and mulch in easily. The roots left in the ground may die or regrow for harvest for mulch.
Some good weeds will have little foliage, this is an advantage as they will be able to grow next to your vegetables without casting a shadow over them, and the garden will then have the benefit of the presence of their flowers and binding roots in the soil.
There are many native plants that people do not grow because they grow wild and they do not see other people growing them. They consider these plants weeds even though they may not grow in vast numbers. Native plants are ideal green manure and living mulch as they are adapted to your local conditions and attract local pollinating insects. They will also live in harmony with your garden plants.
If collecting native plants for your garden here are some points you might consider. Do they grow fast? Do they have attractive flowers or foliage? Do they have a single season for flowering and producing seed? This will make them easier to control. Do they have seeds you can collect and scatter in your garden? Only take a portion of the seeds you find on the plant so that it may reproduce successfully.
Don't dig up wild growing plants to transplant into your garden as they usually have very deep tap roots and it will be very difficult to get the whole plant without killing it. Take a few seeds when you see them on the plant or perhaps a cutting if the plant can grow that way.
You will not know the habits of some plants till you grow them, so you'll have to watch them through their life cycle till they set seed and die. It may not be till they are completely dead dry that those fluffy hairs become prickly and irritating or the seeds turn out to be sticky or prickly.
In a healthy garden with good soil and plenty of water, the only thing your chosen living mulch weeds will compete for is the sun. When these welcome weeds begin to over shadow your garden plants it is time to cut them down and mulch them in or just bend or squash them down to the ground or just mulch over them while also removing or mulching over any unwanted plants. The same can be done when it's time to make space to plant something new in the garden.
By removing undesirable weeds and allowing the desirable weeds to grow, you can create a ground cover of plants that will shade out and discourage aggressive weeds from germinating in the garden. Weed management then becomes much simpler.
Prostrate weeds are particularly useful and can fill an important niche. There are many low growing plants that can make a fine lawn and can also act as companion plants and living mulch amongst vegetables and crops and lawn grass.
The desmodium family, also known as trefoils, offer a number of excellent prostrate, leguminous ground covers. Tick clover (desmodium triflorum), Spanish clover (d. heterophyllum) and also alyce clover (alysocarpus) are legumes that improve lawn and pasture for livestock and should work well as living mulch in no-till crops in the tropics.
Sour grass or yellow wood sorrel (oxalis corniculata) is edible and can come up naturally in any garden.
By encouraging plants like these we can end up with low maintenance ground covers, living mulch and lawns that are practical, attractive and comfortable to live and work with.
And if the earth is too full of weeds for you to manage, you might use it for another purpose like building on or with. Mix with subsoil and use it to raise the land to build on, or build with by making mud bricks.
13. Ground Covers
The terms companion plants, cover crops, green manure, ground cover, living mulch and smother crops basically all mean much the same thing. To make new top soil and prevent it from being blown or washed away it is essential to have plants of all kinds, covering all the Earth, at all times. Ground covers offer many benefits; they shade the ground from sun and wind, which helps to keep the Earth cool and damp, and an interlocking mat of roots protects soil from erosion during high rainfall and irrigation.
Ground covers prevent weeds from being a problem by reducing the available space where weeds could take up residence. A land without any plants is an open invitation for the first seed that comes along to settle down and make the most of it. And it could be something prickly or poisonous so take advantage of open space and introduce friendly and potentially useful ground covers that will inhibit the growth of uninvited plants.
Ground covers may provide fodder for livestock. The plant matter provided by ground covers also feeds worms, beetles, fungi and bacteria. Ground cover plants also provide shelter and habitat for beetles, worms and lizards which gives them a chance against predators like cats, dogs and chickens.
A collection of wild plants spread throughout the garden will support a diverse ecology that prevents population explosions of potentially problem plants and animals.
Small animals, like beetle and cicada nymphs, are important to have in the soil because they dig deep holes that allow air and water to penetrate deep down. Worms also drag leaf litter and organic matter deep into the Earth and eat it. Their carbon rich waste is loaded with bacteria inoculating the soil with microbes essential to plant root growth.
Roots can penetrate deep and break open hard Earth allowing pathways for water to seep along.
Roots are grazed by the life in the soil and contribute to the soils organic content.
Roots die and decay and add their carbon to the Earth and make food and space for worms, beetles and microbes to live in and for water to follow.
It is essential to keep a ground cover, from small annuals to shrubs and trees that helps to open up the soils and allows rains to soak in and fill the water table which feed springs, creeks and rivers. This slows down the movement of water through the environment by filtering it through the Earth. Flowing water is cleaner and if topsoil is not washed into the waterways every time it rains, then creeks and rivers can be prevented from silting up. Rivers today are full of silt and sediment that has resulted from modern deforestation, forest fires, tillage farming, road building, mining and urban development. Because rivers have no deep pools in them anymore, when the high rainfalls come, they are no longer able to cope with the extra water so the water spreads out causing flooding in the lower regions of the catchment area.
The point to all this information is that it is absolutely essential to good land and water management to keep the Earth covered with plants.
14. Companion Plants
Any plants which can be controlled and do not grow aggressively and swallow your garden may be used to protect soil and moisture and add nitrogen and organic matter, however there are a few plants that can do a little more for the garden.
All plants exude chemicals into the soil and the air; some will have an effect on some of the plants nearby. Some can suppress other plants and cause them to decline in health. Some can be good for the surrounding plants and encourage good growth in them. Legumes can be good at this, they’re adding nitrogen to begin with and they can also produce chemicals that suppress weeds while helping your herbs and veggies. This is called allelopathy. Many herbs and vegetables are known to do this for each other and can be planted together to take advantage of this. This kind of gardening is known as companion planting or intercropping.
Different crops are grown in a single garden at once for the benefit of having multiple harvests from the garden. This extra diversity turns the garden into a complex maze of plants that insect pests have to work a bit harder to find a meal in, reducing losses.
Plants in such a garden are matched by their growth habits, how fast they grow and their final size and the size and shape of their root systems. They can be different sizes if the shorter plants don’t mind some shade like corn, beans and squash.
The properties of most vegetables as companions are already known and can be determined with a companion planting guide. An intercropped garden may be built around a main crop which is surrounded by supporting companion plants as this table demonstrates. You can add even more plants to this by consulting a more detailed companion chart.
Main Plant Companion Plants
Tomatoes -Onions, Parsley, or Cucumbers
Squash -Corn or Marigold
Strawberries -Spinach, Lettuce, or Bush Beans
Potatoes -Horseradish or Cabbage
Asparagus -Parsley or Basil
Onion Family -Carrots or Lettuce
Carrots -Radishes or Tomatoes
Eggplant -Beans or Peppers
Pumpkins -Beans, Peas
Garlic -Lettuce, Cucumbers, or Peas
Yarrow (achillea millefolium) and stinging nettle (urtica dioica) are two good companion plants because they produce organic compounds that improve the oil contents and medicinal properties of the herbs that they grow with. Yarrow can improve the oil content of peppermint and when grown in dairy pasture can improve the cream content and milk yield of the cattle.
Stinging nettle is a hard plant to work with for obvious reasons. You may wish to harvest some and mulch it around your garden plants. Use gloves and be careful. Dry nettle leaves do not sting. You might also clear an area of stinging nettle for the purpose of planting your garden there. Stinging nettle is an excellent soil conditioner and the Earth under an old nettle patch should be a very good place to make a garden. A boundary of nettle will also discourage inquisitive animals. You might also make a tea of nettle and spray it on your plants as a foliar fertilizer, or pour it on the garden. The same can be done with yarrow but yarrow plants are much easier to manage and can be planted direct into the garden. Yarrow can also be used to make a lawn. Just mow or walk on and it will grow in a prostrate form.
There are many plants that can be used as companions, look at companion planting guides. Alfalfa and white clover are good plants that fix nitrogen into the soil. Plant thickhead seed (crassocephallum crepidioides), when planting vegetable seed, so that they come up together. Seedlings in pots will grow faster when accompanied by thickhead.
Companion plants and weeds can also behave as decoy plants, that is, some insects will prefer to feed on them rather than attacking the vegetables.
Flowering weeds and companion plants also attract bees and other pollinating insects to the garden.
Aromatic herbs like lemon basil and lemon grass also make good companions and may lend their flavors to other herbs.
Comfrey is also a good companion plant and is known as a compost activator.
Some plants are anti-companions. Rue, fennel and gotu kola are anti-companions to some plants. Gotu kola is fine growing around the bananas and taro.
All you need to do to manage companion plants is bend them over and away from your vegetables and clip them down when they start getting too big. Mulch in the clippings which means scatter them under the plants left behind.
Perhaps the best way of growing a garden of herbs and vegetables would be in a large, diverse and chaotic garden mixed with wild plants and ornamentals.
When plants in the garden mature and die, there is no need to remove them. For example dead marigolds or basil plants may be simply broken down or squashed down flat. They may be mulched over or new seedlings may simply be planted among them or seed dropped by the old plants may be allowed to grow up through the old plants remains.
There is plenty of information about companion planting on the Internet. But in the end it is not necessary to know specifically which plants are companions for which plants. Plants just like company.
15. Green Manure
When plants are grown specifically for the purpose of making as much bio-mass as possible for use as mulch, it is known as a green manure crop. Legumes are often used as green manure for their ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. Some plants add nitrogen by producing large amounts of nitrogen rich leaf litter. Good green manure plants will have lots of foliage and short life spans, one season generally and all flowering at the same time. Many plants can be used as green manure crops. Herb and vegetable seed such as alfalfa, basil, beans, corn, perilla, peas, hemp, sunflowers, sun hemp, wheat and also wild plants, especially legumes like the crotalaria family, and many others can be used.
Seed like those for cooking and sprouting, can be purchased cheaply from health food shops and the like. Gather as much seed as possible and scatter everywhere in the garden. You may use Fukuoka's method of making seed balls by rolling seeds into clay balls. You can see him doing this on YouTube. Clay around the seeds protects them from rats, birds and sun and also helps plant the seeds in the Earth while they wait for rain.
To take advantage of its nitrogen fixing abilities, a green manure legume crop is harvested when it begins to flower. This is when the plant has the most stored energy and nitrogen in its roots and it’s about to spend it on its flower and seed production. Slashing will release that stored carbon and nitrogen into the Earth.
Green manure crops may consist of many different kinds of plants used for different places and for different reasons. For example:- Alfalfa, sends roots deep to bring nutrients to the surface. Buckwheat (fagopyrum esculentum), is a rapidly growing green manure in temperate regions, tyfon is a brassica known for a strong tap root that breaks up heavy soils. Velvet bean (mucuna pruriens), common in the southern US during the early part of the 20th century, before being replaced by soybeans, is popular today in most tropical countries, especially in central America where it is the main green manure used in slash and mulch farming practices. Ferns of the genus azolla have been used as a green manure in Southeast Asia.
Alsike clover (trifolium hybridum), crimson clover (trifolium incarnatum), fava beans, fenugreek, hemp (cannabis sativa), lupins, mustard, oats (avena sativa), rapeseed (brassica napus), soybeans (glycine max), sudan grass (sorghum vulgare var. sudanense), sunflowers, sun hemp (crotalaria juncea), tick beans, wheat, white sweetclover (melilotus alba), winter field beans, winter tares (vetches) such as hairy vetch (vicia villosa), winter rye (secale cereale) may all be used as green manure crops.
Heliconia’s and ginger’s can produce a harvest of flowers and edible roots and shoots as well as a lot of mulch. There are many big leaf ornamentals in the tropics like heliconia’s that like water and produce a lot of soft leaf and stem matter ideal for mulch. Just make sure to choose clumping varieties over running types. Clumpers allow you more control of their growth habits. Runners can get away and come up anywhere becoming a nuisance. The same is true of bamboo.
Different kinds of green manure crops may be used in different climates and seasons for particular purposes such as-
a. Summer green manure crop
A summer green manure crop occupies the land for a portion of the summer growing season. These warm-season cover crops can be used to fill a niche in crop rotations, to improve the conditions of poor soils, or to prepare land for a perennial crop. Legumes such as alfalfa, cowpeas, soybeans, sweet clover, sesbania, guar, crotalaria, or velvet beans may be grown as summer green manure crops to add nitrogen along with organic matter. Non-legumes such as sorghum-sudan grass, millet, forage sorghum, or buckwheat are grown to provide biomass, smother weeds, and improve the soil.
b. Winter cover crop
A winter cover crop is planted in late summer or fall to provide soil cover during the winter. Often a legume is chosen for the added benefit of nitrogen fixation. In northern U.S. states, the plant selected needs to possess enough cold tolerance to survive hard winters. Hairy vetch and rye are among the few plants that meet this need.
Many more winter cover crops are adapted to the southern U.S. These cool-season legumes include clovers, vetches, medics, and field peas. They are sometimes planted in a mix with winter cereal grains such as oats, rye, or wheat. Winter cover crops such as oats or rye have long been used as green manures. Winter cover crops can be established by aerial seeding into maturing cash crops in the fall, as well as by drilling or broadcasting seed immediately following harvest.
c. Catch crop
A catch crop is a cover crop established after harvesting the main crop and is used primarily to reduce nutrient leaching from the soil profile. For example, planting cereal rye following corn harvest helps to scavenge residual nitrogen, reducing the possibility of groundwater contamination. In this instance, the rye catch crop also functions as a winter cover crop. Short-term cover crops that fill a niche within a crop rotation are also commonly known as catch crops.
d. Forage crop
Short rotation forage crops function both as cover crops when they occupy land for pasturage or haying, and as green manures when they are eventually cut for a no-till mulch. Examples include legume sods of alfalfa, sweet clover, trefoil, red clover, and white clover, as well as grass-legume sods like fescue-clover pastures. For maximum soil-improving benefits, the forage should not be grazed or cut for hay during its last growth period, to allow time for biomass to accumulate prior to slashing.
e. Living mulch
Living mulch is a cover crop that is inter-planted with an annual or perennial crop. Living mulches suppress weeds, reduce soil erosion, enhance soil fertility, and improve water infiltration. Examples of living mulches in annual cropping systems include over-seeding hairy vetch into corn, no-till planting of vegetables into sub-clover, annual rye grass broadcast into vegetables and sweet clover in small grains. This is the heart of “One Straw”, Fukuoka grew rice and clover together. Living mulches in perennial cropping systems are also grasses or legumes planted in the alleyways between rows in orchards, vineyards, christmas trees, berries, windbreaks, and field nursery trees to control erosion and provide traction for farm vehicles.
f. Green Manure Planting Guide
Desmodium - tick clover. Wet tropics. World wide. 400 species.
Alysicarpus - Alyce clover. Wet tropics. Africa, Asia, Aus. 30 species.
Indigofera - indigo. Tropics, temperate. World wide. 700 species.
Crotalaria - rattlepod. Tropics, temperate. World wide. 600 species.
Mimosa - Tropics, temperate. America, Asia, Aus. 400 species.
Medicago - medic, burr clover, alfalfa, lucerne. Sub-tropics, temperate - Mediterranean, Africa, America’s, Aus. 80 species.
Lotononis - yellow clover. Sub-tropics, temperate. Africa, Aus. 40 species.
Melilotus - sweet clover. Temperate, Europe, Asia, America’s. 20 species.
Lupinus - Lupin. Temperate. Southern Europe, Northern Africa, America. 200 species.
Vicia - vetch. Temperate. North hemisphere. 140 species.
Astragalus - milk vetch. Temperate. Northern hemisphere. 3000 species.
Lotus - yellow clover. Temperate. Europe, America. 150 species.
Trifolium - common clover, white clover, red clover, sub-clover. Temperate. World wide.
Clovers are also known as trefoil’s which simply means three leaves and usually small. While the triflolium family is what you might call true clover, there are many other plants that fit that description and that is reflected in their common names. Other families listed here can have any number of leaves, usually in odd numbers but also in evens, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 or more. Many of these plants could be called clovers by virtue of giving the same general benefits of staying low while fixing nitrogen and providing high protein fodder and protecting top soil from erosion.
These families of plants are very widespread and diverse, containing many species and will undoubtedly be found outside these regions and climate zones. They have travelled around the world either as opportunistic weeds or were deliberately introduced as pasture fodder for livestock. Crotalaria were introduced in some places as a green manure for improving pasture but proved unpalatable to livestock. It is moderately toxic to them but they avoid it if they have plenty to eat. Crotalaria are of greatest benefit in the orchard. Chipilin, longbeak rattlebox (c. longirostrata) is one edible crotalaria traditionally eaten in Central America and is non-toxic to livestock. Trefoil rattlepod (c. medicagenia) is a prostrate crotalaria that is safe for livestock.
All these families of plants are legumes, fixing nitrogen from the air. They contain species of all shapes and sizes but there are a lot of short and spreading plants represented here. These plants are usually very tasty to grazing animals and they respond by staying low. Being short is a defense against grazing. They are trying to keep out of the way of the animals that would eat them. This makes them very versatile. They are easy to manage and can fit into any garden and farm design; some make good lawns and many fit between veggies, herbs, trees and crops so they are made for pasture cropping. They are the carpet that adds the finishing touch; they cover every last space so that no Earth need be exposed. Clovers also produce many flowers and are a very productive source of nectar for honey bees, except the sub-clovers which are tops for grazers but low in nectar yield.
The mimosa family is very tasty as well but many plants in this family respond to grazers by growing thorns or spines. This layer of protection allows them to grow upright and take their chances with the cattle and goats. Even the prostrate sensitive weed (m. pudica) is very prickly. It’s much less prickly when growing in the shade.
There are many families of legumes so keep an eye out for anything that looks useful, these are some of the more widespread families of prostrate or low growing legumes you are likely to come across, depending on where you are and they give you an idea of what to look for. If you can, check google images for pictures of them.
Most of these families are predominantly prostrate or low growing but have a few erect species as well.
Some of these families are predominantly erect (crotalaria, indigofera, lupinus, mimosa) but they have a few prostrate species. Some can be bushy little plants that respond to grazing or mowing by growing very flat.
If you are collecting wild seeds for your garden, look in environments like the one you wish to introduce plants to. Is the soil sandy or clay? Is the aspect shady or sunny? Wet or dry? Matching plants to your needs gives them a better chance of success.
Legumes are able to grow in poor soils as they can provide their own nitrogen. They will often be found in recently cleared land where soils have been removed or disturbed and poor base soils have been exposed. Look at where the Earth has been scraped from the side of the road and you will find them.
These plants are mostly annuals or biennials and are quite tough and not all have characteristics you will want in your garden or farm. Apart from thorns, one of the major irritations some of these plants have adopted is to have hairy pods that become very sticky when they ripen and dry. When a person or animal walks by and touches them, hundreds of seed pods can get attached to fur, hair and clothing. This can be degrading to an animal’s health and a nuisance generally, not good for wool producing sheep.
These sorts of plants can be spread by people and animals very quickly and this may be considered an advantage for fodder or erosion control but choosing plants that spread slowly and are best spread by hand sowing gives the farmer more control over where plants grow. It is also more considerate to the neighbors.
So while there are many species in these families that are in the good weed category, there are a few that are in the bad weed list, and they can be closely related and hard to tell apart, except for how the pod is designed. So it is important to get to know how a plant behaves before introducing it on a large scale or condemning it as a nuisance. Desmodium is one such family that has innocuous smooth seed pods on some plants, yet hairy, sticky pods on very similar related species. Tick clover a desmodium is one of the flattest and most common legumes in the wet tropics. It is slow to get going and a bit sensitive to excessive traffic but very attractive as a lawn and fits well with many other plants.
Many of these plants produce chemicals which can affect the growth of surrounding plants; they can suppress the growth of some weeds and may also encourage the growth of herbs and vegetables. They can also discourage some insects. This is called allelopathy. These abilities can also serve to make some of these plants an invasive pest in the wrong place as they can smother the local flora which is a consideration if you wish to encourage native plants. You may wish to do some background research on your local plants and on plants you might be thinking of introducing.
Sometimes the short comings of plants are over looked as in the case of the medics, burr clovers (medicago). They bare their seeds in a prickly coiled pod that is very irritating, however it is a high quality fodder and very tough and is grown in tough Mediterranean regions where there is little else for sheep to eat. Not all the medics produce a burr, alfalfa or Lucerne is one; commercially available spineless burr medic (medicago polymorpha var. brevispina) is another.
Over grazing on a single legume, like Lucerne may lead to bloat, a healthy pasture will contain many different species of grasses, legumes and other herbs avoiding this problem. Alysicarpus does not cause bloat.
If you are looking for low growing legumes you will find something growing near you all ready and it’s possibly a member of one of these families but there are many more. If you want to grow your own ground covers and green manures it is good practice to introduce new helpful plants but it is also a good idea to take a close look at your local environment and see what you have already got. It makes it easier on you and local plants are less likely to create an imbalance and it helps to protect your local diversity because bio-diversity really is enormous and everyone has a different version of something in their back yard and you are its keeper.
17. Pasture Cropping
Pasture cropping is when the seed of a crop is sown directly into pasture without the use of tillage plowing. The grasses and weeds present are not mowed or plowed in. Rather than competing with the crop, the grasses protect the soil from sun and wind. This unplowed and protected soil will have a higher moisture content and the life cycles of the worms, beetles, bacteria and fungi are not disrupted. All leaf litter and organic matter dropped by the pasture grasses and the crop will be quickly cycled back into the soil by the living things within it maintaining a high humus content and therefore high carbon content.
Being unbroken and tightly held by a diverse mat of roots, the soil is far less prone to erosion by rain and irrigation runoff water. This will have a huge impact on the health of streams and rivers as they will not fill up with top soil so reducing the severity of flooding.
Weeds are also less of a problem as fast sprouting and growing plants are not advantaged by the cultivation of all other plants.
The farmer also has a lot less work to do as he no-longer has to prepare the ground in advance. And the field can be returned to forage pasture immediately it is harvested.
All around, pasture cropping greatly reduces the farmer’s expenses and labor requirements and increases the productive use and the returns on that land.
Pasture cropping may be assisted by introducing low growing ground cover plants, such as legumes like clovers, to fix nitrogen and increase plant diversity in the field. Clovers also improve protein uptake by livestock.
If the farmer also takes time to plant the crop in contoured lines as in Keyline pattern plowing (a detailed description can be found in ‘Water for every farm’ and other books of ‘Keyline’ by P.A. Yeomans) the water and humus absorbing properties of the land will be further enhanced. The farmer pegs out the contour line and then follows that line on the slope above with either chisel plow or seed planter for two or three widths of the tractor and then marks out the contour line again and then repeats the process. This is done because the angle of the slope varies from the valley to the ridge. If following the keyline above the slope, (above parallel contour plowing) the blade on the upslope side of the plow will drop as it travels from the valley to the ridge. This will then encourage water to gently drift from the valley, the wettest shape in the land, to the ridge, the driest shape in the land.
Water that runs into the chisel furrows can sit there and soak into the ground. The furrows also allow oxygen into the soil and organic matter that falls in can sit there. The furrow and the leaf litter in it provide habitat and food for bacteria, fungi, beetles and worms, which work to convert leaf litter into humus and dig it into the soil. Seed that falls into these furrows will have a better chance of germination.
More than a billion hectares of land is plowed for crop farming and pasture cropping will prove to have a more significant impact on the environment than any other single change we could make to our approach to land management.
18. Pests and Diseases
In a diverse organic garden, pests and diseases are not an issue. Just like weeds, pests and diseases are caused by clearing, monoculture, tillage, poisons, fire and neglect and are carried around the world by our high speed transportation system.
A diversity of herbs, vegetables, companion plants and ground covers will attract and support a healthy population of nectar and pollen feeding and grazing insects and other animals in which no one species is able to dominate and be a problem.
The most important factor in supporting a healthy insect and animal population that will assist the garden is the presence of flowers. The floral ecology attracts and supports pollinating insects and animals like bees, beetles, butterflies, flies, wasps, birds and even tiny bats and other small mammals, which will assist the garden in bearing fruit and will in also attract predators like lady birds, hoverflies, centipedes, praying mantis, lace wings, damselflies, dragonflies, spiders, wasps, lizards, frogs, birds, bats and more. All these creatures will feed, excrete, die and decay in the garden, becoming a part of the endless cycle of life and death and carbon and the creation of the topsoil that keeps it all going.
Sweet alyssum, calendula, chives, cosmos, dandelion, dill, feverfew, marigold, wild mustard, statice and yarrow are good flowers for attracting lady birds, which in turn eat aphids. It also attracts nectar feeding wasps that remove caterpillars from the garden to feed their young. Yarrow also repels some insects that graze on herbs and vegetables.
Introducing ladybirds to a garden infested with aphids can be too late as the lady birds can take a week to find the aphids. It is better to always have a small population of aphids present to encourage lady birds to live permanently in the garden. This would make it difficult for aphids to expand rapidly in numbers. Sow thistle (sonchus oleraceus) is a host for aphids and so is a decoy plant. It attracts the aphids away from the crop and as a result, attracts aphid predators like the lady birds.
Mulch like leaf litter, twigs and branches will also feed the kinds of wood boring insects, beetles and worms that feed on dead plant matter. These insect and animals too will attract predators like centipedes, frogs, lizards and birds to the garden.
Birds can be invited into the garden with bird blocks, seed, honey water, fruit hung in trees, bird baths and posts for birds to sit on.
Shaped like a walking stick with a handle but upside down, a bird post for a small bird to perch on, placed in the veggie patch, will also help to add bird droppings to a garden bed while the bird is watching for insects to pick off the veggies.
Mirrors can also attract birds but they can drive some birds crazy when they are trying to defend their territory.
Nectar bearing flowers and seed bearing plants like sunflowers, millet and other grains and grasses will also attract birds.
Fruit bearing bushes like chilies are much loved by some birds, like chickens.
Nesting boxes can bring birds, bats and gliding possums to gardens and farms. The right box for each species you wish to attract is placed at the right height in a tree or on a post. A metal guard is nailed around the base to stop cats, rats, snakes and other predators getting to the nest. A family of owls eats eight to twelve rats a night.
Mosquito’s are a difficult problem as it seems there is no one predator that predominantly feeds on adult mosquitoes or their larval stage, the wriggler. The best approach with mosquito’s is an all round healthy environment that fosters every kind of insect and animal that feed on them and in one case a plant. Bladderworts (utricularia) are small carnivorous plants that live in water. The bladder refers to the small green sacks on the plant that have an amazing ability to suck in their prey when small hairs on the plant are triggered by the small creature as it swims past.
Nymphs of dragonflies and damselflies prey on wrigglers while the adult’s feed on the adult mosquitoes. Salamanders and newts prey on wrigglers but are not found in Australia. There are also carnivorous tadpoles but only a couple of uncommon ones in Australia. Small fish are good wriggler predators. Look for local fish to stock ponds with for mosquito control, exotic fish can cause problems. Dragonflies will find the garden if an undisturbed environment is left for them. Dragonflies especially like rice paddies. An organic rice paddy will have a great cloud of dragonflies flying over it in summer.
There is even a giant mosquito (toxorhynchites) that preys on mosquito wrigglers during its larval stage and only feeds on fruit as an adult.
In very wet areas mosquitoes can breed on the ground, it may be necessary to dig drainage ditches that drain excess seasonal water into ponds or dams that can be stocked with wriggler predators. This is called OWMM (Open Water Marsh Management).
Keeping water moving also prevents mosquitoes from laying their eggs. Water features like fountains, waterfalls and aerators can discourage mosquitoes from laying their eggs.
Adult mosquitoes are also eaten by some small birds like swallows and swifts as well as small bats and lizards.
You can also help reduce the mosquito population by removing any rubbish like empty containers and plastic debris that can hold water, turn unused containers upside down. Empty water out of old tire’s and cover, fill with dirt or remove them to prevent them filling up again. Wells and disused septic tanks can be very bad breeding grounds for mosquitoes and should be either covered properly or filled in. Hollow trees can hold water and breed mosquitoes.
If your new seedlings disappear, it's probably grasshoppers. Just sprinkle some clean fire ash or commercially available ground rock powder on the survivors and the grasshoppers won't touch them. It's like eating a salad full of sand. The dust may reduce the plants ability to absorb sunlight however this is preferable to grasshopper destruction. Once the plants are a little bigger they shouldn't need any more help from ash or rock dust which are also a wholesome addition to the organic garden and easily washed off the veggies. Even dust off the road can be used this way however the ash and rock dust are sure to be bacteria free.
Caterpillars are also discouraged by ash and rock dust. But some things like broccoli and cabbage may have caterpillars eating right through them where the ash or rock dust may not get to them. A culture of bacteria called bacillus thuringiensis (BT) may be the answer; it is commercially available as a powder, called Dipel in Australia and Thuricide in the USA. (This is the same BT whose genes have been spliced into corn and other crops. That’s when BT is not so good).
BT is mixed with water and sprayed on the plants. It is caterpillar specific and has zero toxicity to other creatures and is suitable for organic gardens. The first indication that you may have a problem coming is when you see little white or pale yellow butterflies hanging around. Or you may first see tiny caterpillars and half eaten leaves on the plants. Or you may first see their droppings, little round balls, on leaves. BT should be applied as soon as you notice any trace of caterpillar activity.
There are a number of species specific organic recipes for dealing with some pests. These usually involve some active ingredient like garlic, onion, tobacco, aloe or oil, being mixed with soap and water. The purpose of the soap is to dissolve the active ingredient and help the mixture stick on the plant. Fukuoka sprayed with machine oil for scale in the citrus orchard. Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice, vinegar and wood vinegar can also be useful. A solution of 20% milk to water can be sprayed on pumpkins and other plants to control powdery mildew. Some helpful sites with recipes are listed in the back of the book.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a consultancy group that recommends reducing pesticide use and encourage the use of predatory insects to manage insect pests. They recommend attracting predatory species of insects to a crop by planting islands of their host plants around the borders of the crop. By surrounding a crop with native plants aimed at hosting predatory insects and attracting predatory birds, reliance on pesticides can be greatly reduced by farmers normally dependant on them. Reduced pesticide use also allows predatory species to feed more safely on insect pests.
Native bees make excellent pollinators and attract insect eating birds. Native bees are usually solitary or live in small groups in holes in wood left by other insects. They can be encouraged to live in the garden with untreated wooden posts and wood hanging from trees that has lots of holes drilled in it 2 to 3 mm in diameter and 5cm deep. Planting native flowers, like crotalaria’s is always a good way to invite bees to the garden. A bank of crotalaria trichotoma brings hundreds of different bees to the garden.
Honey bee’s keep elephants away. They don’t like to get bee’s in their noses.
Just as for plants; bacteria, fungi, viruses and all microbes are best kept under control by encouraging diversity. The use of mulch and compost and a diversity of plants and the leaf litter that rains down from them will support a diverse ecology of micro-organisms in which no one species can multiply unchecked and cause harm in the garden. A diverse and balanced environment like this is clean and healthy and a joy to behold.
So if there is a problem with fruit-fly in the banana patch, then mulch them and plant all manner of flowering herbs, wild flowers and ornamentals amongst them.
19. Crop Rotation
When planting beds with singular crops, pests and diseases specific to the different vegetables may build up in the soil over successive seasons. Crop rotation can reduce the chance of pests and diseases in your veggie patch. Crop rotation is effective because diseases and pests specific to certain plants, cannot establish in the soil due to the constant movement of different crops from bed to bed.
Different vegetables prefer different soil conditions; which means that when rotating the vegetables, the soil needs to be treated to suit the new crop. Onions like alkaline soil, whereas tomatoes like it acidic. So when planting onions in a bed that was previously occupied by tomatoes, the soil needs to be limed.
The following season the old onion bed will be used for legumes (peas and beans) because they like sweet soil too. The legumes fill the soil with nitrogen, so they can be followed by leaf veggies like cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuces and silver beet.
Root crops like carrots, parsnips and beetroot can be planted next and don't need much compost.
Following that the bed can be planted with tender veg like sweet corn, pumpkin, cucumber and zucchini. By this time the soil will have started to turn acidic again, which is good for tomatoes and capsicums.
Spread some lime and plant with onions' again.
The debris may be composted, or just mulched back into the garden where it came from.
20. Seedling Trees V Grafted Trees
There are advantages and disadvantages in planting fruit trees either from seed or from grafted stock.
Seedling trees can take longer to bear fruit than grafted trees. However they generally will only take a year or two longer than a grafted tree.
It is also possible that a seedling tree may not bear true to its parent. This is most likely with hybridized F1 varieties bred for commercial purposes. A selected seedling variety will bear true to type and may also bear as soon as grafted varieties. The florigan mango is noted for being an excellent seedling tree that is capable of producing superior seedling offspring. It is also wind and rain resistant when flowering.
Seedling trees are superior in the respect that they are undamaged. A grafted tree is a wounded tree right from the start. The wound made by the graft will contain bacteria that may one day become a handicap for the tree. In poor conditions, and/or, high winds, the tree may break off at the graft.
A grafted tree is in fact not a tree but a branch. As such it will not grow as large as a seedling tree. This has advantages for the commercial grower. A shorter grafted, bushier tree will bear its fruit closer to the ground and will be easier to harvest.
Seedling trees will all be genetically unique, offering the grower diversity and the opportunity to discover new and superior trees.
Genetically diverse tree crops offer pests and diseases the challenge of having to adapt to each new potential host tree.
Grafted trees are genetically identical and in effect clones of the parent tree. By grafting from superior trees the grower can be sure of having higher yielding trees bearing superior fruit. However being clones, when pests and diseases threaten grafted trees, the entire crop is vulnerable to attack. This is more of a problem when there are hundreds of identical trees in an orchard. Individual grafted trees in back yards are not going to cause the same problems with feeding armies of pests.
Seedling and grafted trees both offer the grower advantages and disadvantages. A compromise might offer the best of both worlds. Perhaps plant a majority of seedling trees and a few grafted trees. The grafted trees offer an earlier crop and an assured quality of product. The seedling trees offer strong growth and potential new varieties.
A seedling tree that is weaker and bears a poor quality fruit may be removed entirely. A seedling tree that is strong but bears a poor fruit may be cut back and grafted onto with a superior variety, obtained either from one of the grafted trees or from one of the superior seedling trees. The process is a long one but the end result can be a diverse crop of superior fruit trees.
Above, after the rain the last place where water is left on the path in the bright sun is where the tick clover (desmodium triflorum) is growing. Even this tiny bit of vegetation reduces sun light and wind speed at ground level reducing evaporation.
Above, even on the micro scale the water follows the tick clover (desmodium triflorum) and also a tiny crack in the concrete demonstrating the value of ground covers and contour ditches in distributing and conserving water.
Above, tick clover (desmodium triflorum) and the larger pinto peanut (arachis pintoi) which has four opposing leaves. A vigorous legume, perhaps not for the veggie garden but good for the orchard, large lawns and landscaping. Tick clover is tiny and can fit in anywhere.
Above, alyce clover (alysicarpus vaginalis) produces single leaves and is the flattest of the alysicarpus family; seen here forming a flat lawn where it has been left on its own. Cairns, Australia
Above, alyce clover forming a lawn in a Chiang Mai park, Thailand.
Above, alyce clover (alysocarpus perhaps ovalifolius) in flower on the Cairns Esplanade, Australia. And below another form of alyce clover (perhaps longifolius or bupleurifolius) in North Cairns Australia.
Above, there are many forms of alysicarpus and it can be hard to tell them apart. While their flowers and leaves will be different the leaves can vary in shape from plant to plant and even on the same plant. Some species can be more upright in stature but will adopt a prostrate pose in response to grazing and mowing. Alysicarpus vaginalis is probably the flattest growing of all the Alyce clovers. All prostrate legumes have an important role to play in the non-tillage farm and garden.
Above, a pony makes the most of a lawn with tick clover and alyce clover growing amongst the grass. Alysicarpus can be a dense ground cover half a meter tall but responds to mowing and grazing by taking a prostrate form.
Above, the tick clover (desmodium triflorum) just grows flat how ever you treat it.
Above, crotalaria sagittalis flowers. A tiny rattle pod in Northern Thailand.
Above, curara pea, (crotalaria trichatoma). Excellent for native bees which are superior orchard pollinators. Crotalaria excel in the orchard as a companion to tree crops.
Above, curara pea (c. trichatoma)
Crotalaria are one the few annuals in the fabacea family that are toxic to livestock. This is generally not a problem as they are unpalatable and animals will prefer not to eat them. Livestock only tend to graze such plants when there is a shortage of alternative feed on offer, degrading the animals health but not generally life threatening unless not addressed.
Above, crotalaria pallida.
Above, cassia alata also known as senna alata, common names, 'six o'clock leaf' as the leaves close up like a book in the early evening or golden candle for its beautiful flowers. Also known as 'ringworm bush' as the leaves can be ground up and the juice used on the skin and scalp to control bacterial and fungal skin infections. Has a cooling effect on the skin. Works well. Grows 2m to 3m tall. Doesn't mind a little shade, grows well as an under-story legume in the orchard.
Above, crotalaria pallida, baring lots of seed pods.
Above, flowers and pods of curara pea, (crotalaria trichatoma).
Above, the dry seed pods of a rattlepod or rattlebox (crotalaria) ready to make music.
Above, gota kola, likes damper areas, fine in wet lawns and around bananas and taro.
Above, sour grass, (oxalis corniculata). Edible and delicate. Will not take heavy traffic but will grow on the side of the path, in garden beds and around veggies.
Above, sunn hemp, (crotalaria juncea).
Above, sunn hemp, (crotalaria juncea). It has single leaves rather than the trifoliate leaves of most other rattle pods, below.
Above, an accidental ground cover of ferns, rattlepods and Spanish clover (desmodium heterophyllum) growing well in an oil palm plantation with little topsoil. Malaysia.
Above, when left to themselves the trefoils like this tick clover, (desmodium triflorum) just want to make a beautiful lawn.
Above and below, the trifoliate leaf of Spanish clover gives away its relation to the commonly known clovers (trifolium) of colder climates. They still perform the same functions of holding the soil together and fixing nitrogen and providing fodder for live stock. All in a plant only a few centimeters tall.
Above, gambia pea, (crotalaria goreensis) a tough looking rattle pod growing in an oil palm plantation in Malaysia, also found in tropical Australia.
Above, sensitive weed, (mimosa pudica), growing amongst the Spanish clover. An ideal opportunity for selective weeding. Just pull out the sensitive weed, you may need gloves or a pair of pliers or grasp the plant right at the base where they have less prickles. Just turn the removed plant upside down and leave it on the clover in the sun. It will quickly die and the clover will soon grow over it and swallow it up.
Above and below, christia obcordata a small prostrate creeping legume only a meter across. OK with shade. Could grow amongst the rice or in the orchard. Sold as an ornamental, it makes a nice hanging plant. Found by a shady road in Northern Thailand.
Above, delicate trifoliate legume vine by the road.
Above, the winged rattlepod (crotalaria bialata) has extra flat leaves along its stems. An open sort of plant it can go well amongst the veggies as it will cast only a small shadow. Nth Thailand.
Above, basket grass (oplismenus hirtellus) an attractive little grass in Northern Thailand. It spreads slowly and is easy to pull out by hand when space or mulch is needed. Enjoyed by livestock. Likes shady spots.
Above and below, this appears to be another form of basket grass with a delicate, misty seed head. Likes shady spots.
Above, basket grass (oplismenus), fills in space under the orchard trees. It swallows up all the leaves that fall. It makes it hard for weeds seeds to sprout and reduces evaporation by making shade and slowing the breeze and holding droplets of water.
Above, an odd and attractive little grass (stenotaphrum secundatum) growing by the road through the forest in Northern Thailand. Ornamental ground cover for filling shady gardens.
Above, while most of the leaves on this alyce clover were oval in shape, the leaves near the flower spike were elongated suggesting it is longifolia.
Above, the cylindrical, segmented pods characteristc of the alysicarpus genus.
Above and below, rabbits tail (uraria lagopoides) is a low growing legume that produces a woolly flower head that eventually dries out to look like the seed head below. It holds its seeds and slowly disperses them every time it is knocked by animals, wind or rain. Heavy rain may slam it into the ground where any remaining seeds may grow right out of the seed head. The mother plant provides its offspring with it's own mulch. Many plants can propagate this way.