This morning when I went to feed the animals I thought I’d start by collecting some pigeon pea for our horse, Trippy, and see what I could find for the pigs in the fodder forest while I was there.
Our fodder forest is a small beginning in my long-term goal to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, our dependence on fossil fuel-based agriculture. It’s an area roughly an eighth of an acre, planted in rows, with paths between the rows.
Here’s a list of the plants we’ve found most useful in our fodder forest so far, along with how they’re used:
1. Pigeon pea
Goats, horses and cattle eat the leaves, the small twigs are dropped for mulch, and the older wood is good on the fire.
I don’t currently make use of the peas other than to spread the seed around in other areas, but chooks (chickens, for non-Australians) would eat them, and people can eat them too, cooked similarly to any other dry bean.
(Pigeon pea is a legume and fixes nitrogen in the soil. We also plant it as a windbreak /nursery plant for young fruit trees elsewhere on our property, where I prune it regularly to keep it bushy, dropping the prunings as mulch. When the fruit trees get big and start to crowd out the pigeon pea, we’ll chop and drop the leaves and small branches, and take the trunks and large branches as firewood.)
2. Queensland arrowroot
Chooks, ducks, cattle, goats, pigs and horses can all eat the foliage (cattle and goats LOVE it); pigs like the stems and love the bulbs at the bottom of the stem.
We eat the bulbs too, harvested small. They can be cooked in many different ways (our favourite is deep fried in lard or tallow).
The stems and leaves of arrowroot make great mulch, and it’s a plant that can go up quickly (assuming adequate moisture and warmth) to make a low windbreak or shelter belt for smaller, more delicate plants.
All permaculture farmers, I think, know and love comfrey. It’s a valuable fodder for all livestock but for us in particular it serves the poultry and pigs. Bees love its flowers.
It’s also a dynamic accumulator, mining minerals from down deep and depositing them in the mulch layer if you chop and drop its leaves.
My goal is to have comfrey everywhere that I want to build soil – under the fruit trees, near the veggie gardens, and everywhere that I grow animal fodder.
4. Sweet potato vines
Everybody loves sweet potatoes. We and the pigs eat the tubers. Horses, cattle, goats and pigs all eat the vines.
The vines cover the ground as a beautiful living mulch and weed suppressant. And they grow under most other things, so in a sense, they take up no space. They have to be discouraged from climbing and choking young trees, but this is also an opportunity to harvest a tub full of them, to take to the pigs.
They can be grown in a raised area, or along a road side or path, and the vines cascading over the edge or snaking out across the path are easy to cut off and take to the animals as fodder.
Nasturntiums are beautiful to look at, their flowers grace our salads and their leaves are good in salads too, losing their peppery sting when they meet up with the salad dressing. Their leaves also feed our chooks, and they cover the ground and suppress weeds.
They sometimes try to take over, and when that happens I find a thick base of a vine and cut through it, so that the vines die down and provide mulch and ample seed for the next flush of round green leaves and jewel bright flowers.
Chokos, growing up the fence around the fodder forest, are another super provider for us. We eat the vine tips and the smallest nut-sized chokos in salads. We eat egg-to-small-avocado-sized chokos as a veggie, and we feed the large old tough chokos to the pigs.
Pigs also eat the vines, and the vines also can be easily pulled down from where they’ve spread too far or too thickly, and used as mulch.
Besides the obvious benefit of, well, bananas, this plant has a myriad of other uses for us. Cattle and goats eat the leaves and trunks. The trunks can be used to fill the bases of raised garden beds.
Bananas are planted in our second small fodder forest down slope from our large manure composting bins, to mop up moisture and nutrients escaping from there and to provide shade to the bins to keep the composting worms happy.
And, bananas. Pigs, goats, cattle, poultry and people can all eat bananas in various ways and in various stages of ripeness.
8. Mulberry trees
Horses, cattle and goats love the very nutritious foliage, and pigs eat it too. The chooks clean up the berries that the kids miss.
And the trees grow in any shape you want – in our case, low and spreading to provide chook shade and habitat, climbing opportunities for kids, and ease of reach for collecting berries, and pruning off foliage for fodder.
Harvest as maintenance
Maintaining our fodder forest is a simple matter – I just harvest from it.
When a path becomes obstructed with excess growth from the rows either side of it, it’s time to harvest something from it, to widen the path again. While I’m in there harvesting, I usually also do some chopping and dropping, and some weeding and dropping, to add to the mulch on the rows.
And that’s it. It’s really “harvest as maintenance”, which is the only kind of garden maintenance that is likely to be sustainable in the long term so long as I am the main maintenance person.
My harvest this morning
So, now that you’ve met our fodder forest, back to my harvest this morning.
I pushed my way into the path between beds that most needed widening, and stripped leaves from the pigeon pea branches that were obstructing the path, into Trippy’s feed bin. Then I pruned the stripped branches off and chopped them into the mulch on the bed.
Next, something for the pigs. I cast my eye about and spotted a huge choko that had fallen from the vine that climbs along the fodder forest fence. That would make a good start.
Five minutes later I was on my way back to the animals, with Trippy’s pigeon pea leaves in a bin in one hand, a bin full of large chokos and excess choko vine for the pigs in the other hand, and three smaller, tender chokos in my pockets for our dinner tonight.
The whole harvest took about 10 minutes. Tomorrow, I’ll widen the next path.