A free email agroforestry journal for practitioners, extension agents, researchers, professionals, students, and enthusiasts. One edition is sent each month focusing on a concept related to designing, developing, and learning more about trees and agroforestry systems. Focuses on trees and their roles in agriculture, natural ecosystems, human culture and economy.

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Overstory #3 - Weeds as a Resource

Weeds: A Problem or A Resource?

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. - W. Shakespeare

A very useful design principle is: Turn constraints or problems into opportunities. Weeds are often seen as major problems, and much energy and resources are spent fighting them. But are weeds really the problem, or is our perception of them the problem? What follows is a short exploration of some ways that weeds can be a resource for farmers, foresters, and gardeners.

Beneficial functions and uses of weeds

Weeds are vigorous improvers of land, constantly striving to create more diversity, organic matter, and abundance. Weeds on the land may be accomplishing what Nature knows needs doing there, better and faster than we are. For example:

Weeds support diverse soil microlife

Soil microlife feeds off plants. The diversity of plants on the surface is directly related to the diversity of microflora in the soil. Weeds can contribute greatly to that diversity. Removal of weeds to bare the soil reduces diversity. It is very likely that there is important soil life or function being supported by some family of weed that has yet to be documented. For example, several nitrogen fixing species used to be considered weeds, but are now valued and actively cultivated by many farmers.

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Overstory #2 - Permaculture Principles: A Foundation for Sustainability

Being caught up in the day-to-day aspects of developing or managing field projects can be very exciting or frustrating. There are new design challenges continually. Often, conventional solutions alone are too expensive and not sustainable or feasible in the long run. It requires a lot of creativity and original thought to come up with appropriate sustainable solutions for each site and need.

When facing new design challenges, we often have to step back and remind ourselves of the fundamental principles of sustainable design that drive our practices. We find it works to examine not just the issues, but how we look at and think about the issues. One of our favorite design philosophies is "permaculture." Permaculture focuses on how to think about planning sustainable solutions.

What is Permaculture?

Permaculture is a practical design approach which enables people to establish productive environments providing for food, energy, shelter, material and non-material needs, as well as providing the social and economic infrastructures that support them. Permaculture aims to create systems that will sustain not only for the present, but for future generations.

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Overstory #1 - Sheet Mulch: Greater Plant Health for Less Work

Editor's Note

Welcome to The Overstory, a free on-line newsletter for people working with sustainable forestry, agroforestry, and farming in the tropics and subtropics. Every two weeks, we'll send you a short piece to share practical information, species highlights, tips, ideas and insights, recommended books, and useful organizations. We hope you will find it helpful to you as you work to create healthy, productive plantings on your land and in your community.

Sheet Mulch: Greater Plant and Soil Health for Less Work

Summary: Sheet mulch can substantially increase plant growth and health by encouraging soil health, helping to retain soil moisture, and suppressing weed growth.

If you are asking yourself how to improve the growth and health of your plantings, our answer is: sheet mulch. We have seen mulched plants and trees grow more than double the rate of their unmulched counterparts in the same area. This applies not only to gardens, but to trees in orchards and reforestation projects.

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