Year-round cover crops


Year-round cover crops in Florida make sense if you’re building up an area for a food forest or future garden plot. It’s easy here!

I recently came across this article by the always-helpful Harvey Ussery at Mother Earth News.

Harvey is the author of this book, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in raising chickens:


The Small-Scale Poultry Flock

Chickens aside, I’m a big fan of cover crops, though I don’t always use them the way others do. I use perennials and annuals, depending on the location – and rather than tilling everything under, I often chop plants down as mulch, then put them around mulch-loving perennials or the next season’s crops.

Year Round Cover Crop Suggestions

In an annual setting, say you want to grow peppers in the spring. In fall, you might plant a mix of lentils, ryegrass, mustard, turnips, chickpeas, garlic, peas, fava beans, and other cool-season crops. When the weather is warm enough for peppers, harvest whatever you like of those plants, then start chopping holes into the green mess and planting your peppers. As the cool-season crops fade, they’re still protecting the ground from erosion and the baking heat of the sun. Some may be adding nitrogen, and others (like mustard) are deterring pests. Some might just be good for adding humus to the soil (like rye, with its massive root system), whereas still others are good food for the table.

year round cover crops in florida

It’s too cold for baby citrus trees… but not too cold for turnips, peas, ryegrass and other cool-season soil-building cover crops

In the warm season, as you look forward to perhaps planting cabbages or broccoli in the fall… plant cover crops such as beans, buckwheat, sunflowers, marigolds, pigeon peas, etc. The more varieties, the better. I’m all about intercropping.

Right now, I’ve got a large patch of cool-season cover plants (see above!) going that will be converted to corn in the spring. It’s not only good for your soil – it’s a great use of space that might otherwise be vacant. There’s no excuse not to garden year-round here!

Anyone else experimenting with cover crops? Any good suggestions I missed?

Survival Plant Profile: Peas


Growing peas in Florida might not occur to new gardeners here; after all, peas seem rather… European, not tropical! Fortunately, peas do grow easily in Florida. Snow peas, snap peas, shelling peas… you can grow them all here.

Before I get further into this plant, let me get one thing straight: in a survival situation – or even a pinched grocery budget – peas wouldn’t be my first choice as a staple. They’re a lot of work for only a little food. Fortunately for them, they aren’t useful for their peas alone.

growing peas in Florida in a pot

Growing peas in a pot!

The common garden pea is not just a tasty cool-season vegetable, it’s also a nitrogen fixer (and it has cousins that are nitrogen fixing trees!) and a decent producer of fast-decomposing organic matter. If you grow various field pea varieties, you can get a decent yield of dry peas without too much work. It’s certainly less work than shelling green peas.

When I put new ground into circulation, I have some cold-weather green manures I like to throw down before planting serious crops. Peas, along with lentils and chick peas, and occasionally rye grass or turnips, are some of my favorites. If you’re lucky, you can get bags of whole dried peas in the grocery store. They’re also often available in big bags at farm-oriented retailers. I use peas more for ground-covering nitrogen fixers than anything else.


I write more on nitrogen-fixers such as peas in my composting book. Buy it!

Anytime there’s a gap in my fall, spring and winter gardens, I try to tuck in some peas. If they produce peas for me – great. If they don’t, they’re still feeding the soil and making biomass for my compost. I’ve been known to chop them down in spring and plant peppers and other transplants right into their newly mulched remains.

growing peas in florida along with other cover crops

Intercropped: peas, lentils, collards, etc.

Another thing about peas that many don’t know: you can eat the leaves and shoots in salads. They’re a pleasant, crunchy, vaguely pea-flavored green that mixes will with other common salad ingredients. And of course, the young pods can be stir-fried (yeah, they’re stringy… unless you get an edible podded snow-pea type variety).

All that said – go ahead. Plant some peas as the world burns. Just don’t expect to get fat off them.



2.5 Spuds!

Name: Peas
Latin Name: Pisum sativum
Type: Annual
Nitrogen Fixer: Yes
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun/part shade
Part Used: Seeds, unripe or dried; leaves
Propagation: Seed
Taste: Very good
Method of preparation: Green peas steamed or boiled, young pods stir fried, pods raw, leaves in salads
Storability: Poor – use immediately, if possible. Blanch and freeze for long-term storage, or simply allow the pods to mature on the vine and use the peas as a pulse.
Ease of growing: Easy
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: High
Availability: High

A Healthy Mess


Cannas, candlestick cassia, malanga, papaya, lemongrass, irises, roses, wormwood, Graham’s cassava and ginger living together in harmony.

This is what a bit of tweaked nature looks like.

I do nothing but pull the occasional interloper out of here… and sometimes hack back the plants so the sun gets through a bit.. and sometimes throw down a little extra mulch.

Half of these are edible or useful in some way, and the others are edible.

Got a space sitting unused?

Start packing cuttings, seeds and starts into it and let ’em run wild. Anything is better than empty grass… and a mini food forest beats all.



Intercropping is one of the best things you can do to lower pest problems and preserve the soil in your garden or food forest.

God is said to be a God of order… so if that’s the case… why does nature look like a rambling mess of vines, scraggly sumacs, tumbling-down oaks and a profusion of annual weeds?

Probably because the order is a lot more complex than we realize. Generally, human beings like geometric forms and straight lines. We like to see all our corn in neat rows and our grapes on taut lines. And when it comes to harvesting and planting, there is an ease to this system.

A productive mess. Cassava, sweet potatoes, figs and weeds.

In Florida, however, some of those neat rows more closely resemble a death march across the desert than a good food source. We’re always watering the thirsty sand, picking off locusts or aphids and praying things will live long enough to produce.

When you add more species, however, things change. You’re no longer counting on one thing to produce heavily enough to justify its existence. You’re also not trusting that patch of earth to be the Perfect Lil’ Environment (TM) for whatever you’re craving. Instead, you’re making a mix of plants – and often their interactions allow a greater harvest across that patch than would be possible alone. The benefits of putting marigolds in your garden has been expounded at length – we’ve all heard that they repel pests. In reality, they don’t seem to make much difference – yet the more plants you put together, the more pests seem to be confused by the profusion.

It’s like taking the buffet at a Golden Corral out of its geometric organization and scattering it here and there around the establishment. The mashed potatoes are in a truck outside, the chicken-fried steaks are beneath a table and the chili is already steaming away in a toilet (saving you the trouble of passing it through your digestive tract.) Now the lardy patrons are having a hard time finding a meal.

It’s all there… somewhere… it’s just tougher to identify.


Herbs and veggies mix well. The patch of garden up above has a mixture of lettuce, spinach, sage, catnip, mint, dill, onions, beans, potatoes, brussels sprouts, peas, lentils and garlic… and a few opportunistic weeds. (It’s also the background photo for this site.) These plants together are doing much more than they could alone.

What Intercropping Will Help You Do

1. Confuse pests

2. Build the soil

3. Harvest a wider variety

4. Conserve space

5. Freak out neatniks

6. Keep moisture in the soil

7. Ensure you harvest something

The lentils, beans and peas in this patch are fixing nitrogen in the soil. I use lentils as a cool-weather ground cover and soil-builder. I don’t find the lentils particularly worthy of harvest, but they’re easy-to-grow, keep the earth covered from the sun, and as they mature and other plants grow between them, they make a good mulch. They’re a “nurse crop” that fulfills a variety of functions. Plus, you can buy a bag of dried lentils from the grocery store for a $1 or so, soak them overnight, and wing them across your garden with a little soil-turning and you get a lot of green going quickly. The same is true of beans, green peas, and chick peas.

Here’s a shot of a newly-transplanted pepper plant in a bed of now-mulched lentil plants:

Intercropping peppers, brassicas and lentils

Intercropping peppers, brassicas and lentils

Doesn’t it look happy? Leave the roots of your leguminous (bean and pea family) nurse crop in the ground when you chop them. I take a machete and hack down a section, then pop in my desired transplant. The roots beneath the ground feed in nitrogen as they decay, and the tops of the plants act as mulch, sheltering the soil from evaporation.

I’ll write more about intercropping in the future – the possibilities are as endless as your enthusiasm. There’s a lot of fun in finding carrots in the peas and basil in the potatoes and parsley in the corn. Trust me. It’s awesome.


Compost Everything and feed your soil like never before!

Backyard Permaculture

Backyard permaculture with extra caffeine!
Backyard permaculture with extra caffeine!

Backyard permaculture with extra caffeine!

I just came across a video on backyard permaculture that I have to share.

The host is the most wired gardener I’ve ever seen – and knows what he’s doing.

I also generally know what I’m doing, but I couldn’t get that wired even if I drank a pot of espresso and stuck my finger in the fuse box… while taking a shower. I guess you’ve gotta have lots of energy to transform your yard in less than an hour of video.

Take note of some of his plans – they’re brilliant. Permaculture design principles focus on making life easier for the gardener and using natural systems to reduce energy inputs.

This video is a great start – and well worth an hour of your time if you’re serious about growing your own food and don’t have a tractor, lots of space, or a huge budget.

Note: You TOTALLY don’t need a chicken house as awesome as this guy’s. They’ll live in just about any enclosure. But his is really cool. If I was envious, I’d say OMIGOSHIWANTTHATHENHOUSESOBAD. But I’m not, really. I’m happy with 5-gallon-bucket nest boxes and an old shed with a sagging floor. The chickens just don’t give a rip.

And of course… just because it needs to be said… to the devil with the local authorities if they don’t like your plans. Just give your neighbors some eggs and veggies and stick it to the man.