With the onset of the rains, we’ve been cover cropping to try and beat the weeds at their game. Our groundcovers include peanut, sesame, sweet potato, sunn hemp, cow pea, pumpkin, cucumber and perrenial peanut.
Sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) is an amazing groundcover. It’s a legume, so the bacteria attached to the roots actively fix Nitrogen, thereby fertilizing the soil. Thus it acts as a soil conditioner. You can actually chop sunn hemp back 3 times and it will keep coming back with a coppice effect. So from one seed, you can get a lot of organic matter for your soil. It grows up to 2.5 meters. That’s a lot of organic matter!
If the seeds are broadcasted densely, the sunn hemp will grow thick enough to block out weeds. It can also be grown for animal fodder. It is being looked into as a source for biofuel. ( http://phys.org/news/2012-01-sunn-hemp-biofuel-source.html )
Peanut (Arachis hypogaea) is another excellent leguminous groundcover. Peanut originated in Peru approximately 7,600 years ago. Later it was spread world-wide by European traders.
Aside from being delicious and fixing Nitrogen, peanuts can also aid in phytoremediation (the use of plants to remove toxins from the soil). Considering our land was farmed chemically for so many years, this function is of particular interest to us.
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is another excellent groundcover. As a vine, it can grow prolifically blocking out weeds. Sweet potato also provides a healthy diet, far more nutritious than the common potato. A total winner for any farm!
Daikon (Raphanus sativus) is another excellent species to introduce to your system. Not only is it delicious, it’s primary purpose is to break up the soil with it’s long carrot-like white roots. These roots extend deep into the soil (up to 50cm), breaking up even hard-pan clay areas and any other compacted soils. Like the two birds and one stone idea – how about a harvest that also improves your soil structure!
Check out all our other groundcovers. They are all excellent Permaculture plants worth looking into!