EcoOasis is one of the best forest gardens in the world. They have excellent videos on YouTube that show their farming/gardening system. Be sure to check out their site if you’re into gardening.
“Chop and Drop management is an important part of any food forest or Agroforestry system. There are many benefits to planting a large number of leguminous plants in your system. One of the amazing things about this is you are growing your own fertilizer in place…then all you need to do is walk through your food forest…chop and then drop it right onto your plants and trees.
Leguminous trees, AKA nitrogen fixers, provide great fertilizer for your system and will actually fix nitrogen into the soil in the area where they are growing. They are also very fast growing so provide quick shade. This helps to keep weeds at bay and also encourages “later succession” plants and groundcovers to emerge. One of the main concepts in Food Forestry is to mimic a natural forest as much as possible but to also help speed up succession in these human planted systems. This encourages a more mature forest like system in a shorter period of time.
The other basic function that is achieved in chop and drop is mulching of your trees. Mulching is integral for maximum tree health. It protects the root zone around the tree from the elements, which will quickly turn soil hard if it is left bare. It also creates a home space for microorganisms and other beneficial insects to live. The symbiotic relationship that is formed between the microbiology and our mulch creates nutrition for our trees and continues to build soil. Studies have actually shown that fruit trees that are mulched will often bear fruit in half the time as non mulched trees. There is a huge variety of leguminous trees and a little research will help you figure out what will work best in your area.”
Leguminous plants they’re using:
– flamingia macrophylla http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flemingia_macrophylla
– leucaena leucocephala http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leucaena_leucocephala
– calliandra http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calliandra
Their homemade compost contains: rice hulls, rice hull ash (biochar), shredded bamboo (they grow easy to shred multiplex bamboo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bambusa_multiplex), manure (cow, horse, chicken or goat manure), rock powder, then mix and inoculate with beneficial microorganisms (EM).
Source: Learn more about Eco Developments in Costa Rica.
This is the system I would use next time if I make another forest garden. See the previous blog post about restoring degraded land with Transition Forest Gardens.
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Note how he doesn’t just plant a nitrogen fixing plant here and there. Actually, the fruit trees are in a sea of nitrogen fixing plants that crowd out weeds, vines, slow erosion and, of course, build top quality soil. We’re in the process of doing this on our forest garden.