The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Sunn hemp

Sunn hemp flower

I've noticed by reading back over old posts that I tend to be less than enthralled with just about every cover crop the first time I grow it, so take this with a grain of salt, but...I'm less than enthralled with sunn hemp.  Here are the negatives that jumped out at me this summer:

  • Japanese beetles adore the plants, which meant I either had to extend my beetle-plucking to the cover crop beds (and cover crops are supposed to be no work) or let our beetle population expand.
  • Sunn hemp doesn't cover the ground quickly (or, really, at all) since it grows up instead of out, meaning that weeds pop up in the bare soil around sunn hemp's feet.  I didn't pull them because cover crops aren't supposed to have to be weeded, so our forest garden has a lot of tall weeds getting ready to go to seed.
  • I don't feel like I got nearly as much biomass production per unit area with sunn hemp as with sweet potatoes, and sunn hemp didn't provide an edible return.
  • Sunn hemp can't handle the more-waterlogged parts of our garden (but, then, only oats and rye have thrived there).
Forest garden

All of that said, sunn hemp is pretty, especially now that it's starting to bloom.  And the plants are legumes, so they fix nitrogen, which my other cover crops don't do.  Still, they failed to meet my two primary goals for cover crops (maximum biomass production and weed suppression), so I don't think we'll try sunn hemp again.

Our chicken waterer keeps hens happy with clean water and dry coop floors.


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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.



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Is seven years' weed!" I hope you can catch the weeds before they spread their seeds all over your field. Knowing nothing about cover crops, I wonder if clover is a possibility? I think it fixes nitrogen and attracts bees, but don't know any more. Good luck finding an alternative!
Comment by Rhonda from Baddeck Tue Sep 17 14:58:56 2013
Could you plant both the sunn hemp and the sweet potatoes in the same plot? If they don't compete for the same vertical space, you might be able to get the best of both crops.
Comment by Jake Tue Sep 17 21:51:00 2013
The spider just wants a hug...
Comment by Brian Wed Sep 18 13:07:02 2013





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