This is another segment on how to restore depleted soil on your homestead. Search our blog for numerous related stories. It’s a big topic because most soil now is depleted of nutrients, and of course, plants are only as nutritious as the soil they’re grown in. The cost of depleted farmland is typically far below the cost of rich bottom land, so this soil building technique can save many thousands of dollars when buying land.
About 1-2 years ago I read a story about someone who let mimosa weed (‘shy plant’) take over a patch of land. In two years or so they said the soil was super rich – the best soil in their garden. Mimosa is a noxious, thorny, invasive weed that’s usually removed from gardens because the thorns are so prickly. At the time I brushed off the idea thinking most people don’t want to wait two years. Being a little older and hopefully a little wiser now after spending many hundreds of hours building up our garden soil with hard labor the idea of using weeds and soil building trees like leucaena is sounding better and better. Although rather slow, the process is very efficient – it’s free and requires almost no labor. Weeds and weed trees like leucaena grow profusely with no tending whatsoever.
So here’s one way to use weeds and nitrogen fixing weed trees to start a forest garden. Scatter seeds (readily available for free) during the rainy season. After the weeds and weed trees have taken over for at least two years and the soil is black and rich, put goats, pigs, chickens and ducks on the land to clear the brush and weeds. Then plant your garden.
Here’s another strategy: do an incremental approach. Plant fruit and nut trees one section at a time as weeds and weed trees continue building soil on other parts of your land. A extra few years may be needed on particularly troublesome, heavily compacted clay soil. Start by planting fast, easy to grow trees such as bananas and papayas. (Use what grows best in your area obviously.) These plants and trees will soon shade out weeds that prefer lots of sunlight. Cover the soil at all times with thick mulch to hold moisture, encourage proliferation of beneficial soil organisms such as earthworms, and prevent weeds. You could even cut excess weeds and green boughs from other parts of your land and add to your garden as green mulch, or use this organic matter to make compost.
Another option is to start your garden in an area that’s already overgrown with weeds and brush where the soil is already prepared. This would enable you to start your garden right away. Note how you can leave some weed trees in the forest garden like we’ve done to provide an ongoing source of free biomass. They help shade new trees and can be trimmed back when the fruit trees get big.