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Using legumes to increase the garden's fertility

Three sisters: corn, beans, squashDue to their nitrogen-fixing bacteria, legumes are a great way to break your garden out of the nitrogen cycle.  It's almost like printing your own money, this ability to create your own usable nitrogen out of thin air.  So how do you put your newfound knowledge to use?

The first thing to understand is that your legumes are holding onto every bit of nitrogen they can.  Planting beans beside corn plants and hoping that the beans will feed the corn is mostly just wishful thinking --- the beans are going to feed the beans.  However, when nitrogen-fixing plants die, the nitrogen in their bodies will end up back in the soil, so the next crop will benefit.  Take advantage of this bit of biology by planting spring peas, then follow them with summer corn.

Legumes also shake off their nitrogen-fixing nodules when they are stressed by drought, shade, defoliation, or grazing.  Robert Kourik suggested planting a row of corn between rows of clover, mowing the clover, and watching the corn take up the off-loaded nitrogen and increase its Mowing strips of clover between corn plants to add nitrogen to the soil.growth.  In fact, for those of you (like me) who are a bit leery of clover taking over in Fukuoka's do-nothing clover/grain permaculture, you might get the best of both worlds by interspersing rows of clover with rows of grain.

Of course, the most common method of using legumes to increase a garden's stores of nitrogen is green manuring.  You plant a legume as a cover crop, then till it into the soil when it is just about to flower (the stage at which the plant contains the most nitrogen.)  This method, although widespread, is difficult in a no-till garden.



This post is part of our Nitrogen Fixing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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I tried without any luck to post this in the clover thread.

You might want to try red clover for a cover crop. I did fall before last with these results. The clover came up small in the fall, then grew large in early spring, which I then tilled under as green manure. last summer, not a sign of it, but this fall and winter it came back and now is much larger than it was the first fall (when it got planted late). So it is not a weed during growing season but seeds itself for another year.

Comment by Errol Sun Feb 14 15:05:46 2010

(I moved this comment over for you.)

Interesting! I'll have to keep red clover in mind and start experimenting!

Comment by anna Sun Feb 14 15:07:44 2010

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime