Feature

5 great fodder crops

Green Lifestyle online

Growing expert Christian from The Produce Garden takes us through his five favourite plants for fodder, and shares his tips for growing them.

peas

These Snow pea seedlings will make a great fodder crop for fertiliser and mulch.

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Fodder crops are the crops grown to feed and mulch your garden, sometimes also called 'green manure'. Here are five of the most reliable and best to grow in between your vegetable crops.

1. Comfrey (also called knitbone), Symphytum officinale
I was given some comfrey plants a few years ago. I knew I could eat them, use them for certain ailments in hot presses, and that they were nice on an aesthetic level, but besides that, I didn’t really know much about them at all. I planted them regardless. They flourished and then it hit me, living mulch! So I cut them off at the base, tore them up and literally threw them back on the garden bed. And I’ve been doing it ever since. In warmer months they cut and grow back like a dream – I’ll cut mine at ground level about every three weeks or so. Don’t be worried if they slow down in growth and even die back in the colder months, they’ll jump back again when it starts to warm up. If you make a 'tea' by soaking the leaves in water for about 10 days, you’ll get a potassium rich liquid.

2. Clover, Trifolium sp.
Though generally condemned as a weed, clover has a naturally wonderful way of being extremely easy to grow, with the added bonus of fixing nitrogen in the soil. Simply sow some seed with the first layer of mulch and up the little seedlings will come. At first, you will be tempted to pull them up and throw them away or into the compost. By all means pull them up, but after that put them back on the bed or under the mulch to break down, thus giving back to the soil all of that lovely nitrogen that plants love so much. Let them grow to a good size before harvest, and to instigate the self seeding process just leave a few so they can bolt and produce the next generation. Seed is easy to find at most garden centres (it can be ordered). Alternatively, you can always dig some up from your lawn – they transplant easily and will soon start re-seeding.

3. Peas, Pisum sativum
These are probably the easiest fodder crop vegetables to grow as they’re so hardy. You can simply sow the seeds and forget them. You might be tempted to harvest the seedling tips for your salads as they emerge from the ground, but if you want the full benefits from this plant, don’t! Basically, the process should go: plant pea seeds, let the plants grow, peas will flower then produce pods, pods will dry up and go a dull yellow colour, harvest peas and allow to dry away from direct sunlight, leave empty pea 'vines' to self return, re-sow harvested seeds in a different bed, and repeat the process for a bumper crop.

4. Parsley (flat leaf variety), Petroselinum crispum
Parsley is on the list purely for its versatility and ease of growing. It will produce a mass of 'cut and come again' foliage and self seed without a trouble in the world. Wild fennel has the same attributes but can become weedy if left to its own devices, though the introduction of livestock on a regular basis can keep it under control. One of the best methods is to simply let the parsley bolt and self seed in a few beds, with an occasional cut back down to ground level.

5. Lupin, Lupinus sp.
More than just a flowering plant for your garden bed, lupins work beautifully in a garden orchard as fodder mulch. They are the plant for green manure production. They don’t like the heat much initially, and after planting can droop and look like they’re on their way out. Cut the foliage back to ground level and use it to mulch the plant but also use something else (such as sugar cane mulch) to begin with so you have a thick ground layer to keep in the moisture at the roots. Water in well and they’ll pop back no problems.

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Christian Monahan has created a very impressive garden that you can see for yourself here: www.theproducegarden.com