Thursday, December 28, 2006

Multi Use Plantings

Since we have a "small" farm of 6.5 acres, we try and cram as much into it as possible---in other words making the best use of each item that comes on the farm. When we are deciding on an animal we try and choose one suited to more than one thing. When we plant something we try and utilize it to its fullest---beans can be both a food for us and the animals AND shade in the summer. So recently when I was trying to decide on some new trees/shrubs for the pasture without shade I had the same multi purpose criteria in the back of my mind. We have struggled getting trees started in our largest, and least shady, pasture. If the animals haven't knocked down the fence and eaten it, then the weather has gotten them. Well, I think I have found what I am looking for: Siberian Pea Shrub. The picture above doesn't do it justice---it has attractive yellow flowers too. For those of you in the Midwest--you might recognize this shrub (caragana aborescens) since it is utilized there for livestock windbreaks, but it is also known for its ability to withstand drought, extreme weather and also bad soil. Our back pasture does not have good soil. We are working on improving it with lime, manure and no till cover crops but it takes time. Meanwhile this shrub might be able to help us out. It is a member of the legume family so it fixes nitrogen in the soil. It's seed also carries a protein ratio of 27 to 36% making it a great food for livestock---especially chickens. It can also be used as a food source for humans in areas with extreme food shortage though the Plants for a Future web site suggests it for development as a staple crop . The leaves are edible for livestock if you need them and they are also used to produce a natural blue dye. (Wonder what that will look like if we get to dye our wool with some of it.)
Needless to say---I think this plant fits the bill. We are going to order 50 seedlings from seedling program and then plant them along the fence edges and try and protect them with electric wire this time. They do have a small amount of thorns which should help them out as they mature. The animals might eat the leaves but they won't strip the bark off of them which is how they generally kill the plants they get a hold of.
If you are interested in mutli purpose plants check out Plants for a Future---I linked it in the side bar also. They rate over 7000 plants for their multi purpose uses. They are really interesting and give a number ranking for the plants based on usefullness.

Oh yes, another plant we tried---and lost most to the drought (they were seedlings and needed a bit more water than they received) and animals this past year was thorn less Honey Locust. Pretty tree when it is grown---maybe the few that made it will turn into nice trees for us eventually.


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say how wonderful it is being married to such a brilliant person. Simply brilliant. I don't know how you think all this stuff up but I love it. I love you too.

Phelan said...

we are looking at multi use plants, but will wait for the house before doing much of it.

by the bye,

you've been tagged

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Oh thanks Phelan!

And to anonymous---I wasn't going to put this on the post but you where so nice to do it that I thought I would let you have your fun. Silly "signifigant other" I love you too!

SimplyTim said...


I found your blog through Emme's at SimpleReduce.

I like the idea of multiple uses.

Wendell Berry uses the term "usefulness" which fits here.

You can find more info on how he uses the term at:


P.s. If you don't mind I think I'll just hang around on your blog for a while. I'm starting my first garden in the spring and plan to use the square foot model.

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

Hey Tim
Glad to have you hanging around. Thanks for the link to the interview---I enjoy Wendell Berry so it was nice to read. Don't forget to point out any good sustainable garden sites you come across too :-)