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Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm has planted two tropical legumes in the orchard at Cape Tribulation - Pintos Peanut and Desmodium to provide a permanent ground cover and a mulch source as part of the orchard guild.
Pinto's Peanut (Arachis pintoi) originally comes from Brazil, in a location at the same latitude as Cooktown and which has a marked wet season and a dry season. The peanut was originally selected because it was growing under a forest canopy in a low fertility soil.
The plant is a prostrate, stoloniferous, perennial legume that forms a dense mat up to 20cm deep. This dense mat of stolons is held down by roots and fruiting pegs which enable the plant to protect the soil from high intensity rainfall.
The plant has shown itself to be very persistent and can survive long dry periods, but its main growth is during warm moist conditions. It is able to compete against weeds which find it difficult to push through the pinto canopy.
We planted a nursery plot from seed which had been inoculated with the correct rhizobium requirement, and then used this nursery as a source for cuttings. At first we placed 30cm cuttings in small pots and looked after them in a nursery situation before planting out into the field at 1 meter spacings. This gave them time to establish a rootball and survive dry conditions in the field.
We use a brushcutter to control weeds around the trees and slash the inter-rows of the orchard, and the Pintos has gradually taken over as the dominant ground cover. It doesn't climb the trees and the Muscovy ducks love to eat the yellow flowers.
Desmodium heterophyllum is another non-climbing legume in our orchard, which we established with runners from another orchard. It needs to be slashed regularly as tall grass species can outcompete it very quickly. In some parts of the orchard it has become well established, but is not as vigorous as the Pintos.
We tried out a full range of legumes and these are the only ones which seem to be able to work in our environment.