Cover Crops The basic idea of cover crops is to keep something living with leaves covering the ground and roots holding the soil to prevent the soil from getting washed away. Stacking functions is the permaculture way of saying kill two birds with one stone or preferably three or four birds! What can cover crops do other than conserve soil?
o Fix nitrogen
o Attract beneficial organisms
o Repel pests
o Add organic matter
o Out compete weeds
Some examples of these multi purpose plants we use are
• Ground Covers are low growing plants that spread out over the ground
o Cow peas and peanuts fix nitrogen as well as provide protein rich food. When planted under cassava they are tilled into the soil when the cassava is harvested.
Cow peas can be harvested multiple times for eating or selling before being let to grow rampant so when the cassava is harvested the leaves are tilled into the soil.
o Sweet Potato and pumpkin out compete most weeds, can grow almost anywhere, can live in compost and help finish the breakdown process, and provide both leafy green vegetables and starchy tubers or fruit.
o Desmodium is a beneficial weed that fixes nitrogen and inhibits the germination of striga seeds. Striga is a parasitic plant that attacks corn. It can take over so it is good to prune it and leave the leaves as mulch.
• Alley Cropping are mid story sized plants that are grown along the curvature of a hill to catch descending water and stabilize a slope. These are often planted on the ridge of a swale. It is convenient to plant an understory of a cover crop.
o Sunn Hemp has root exudes that repel nematodes. It also attracts beneficial insects and soil organisms. It blooms during the dry season giving bees a source of food. The prolific branches can be cut and fed to goats, used for mulch, and fiber for rope.
o Pigeon Peas fix nitrogen and make delicious high protein peas. They flower in the dry season providing food for bees. The prolific branches can be cut for goat food and mulch.
o Moringa is one of the world’s healthiest foods. It is highly medicinal as a topical application for cuts as well as a delicious vegetable. It fixes nitrogen and has high market value. It needs to be coppiced to keep it small and the branches can be used to plant more moringa, feed goats, and even make raised beds.