ECHOcommunity Conversations

Planting King Grass

At The Organic Learning Center in Honduras, we grow a variety of different king grasses including African, Taiwan, Cuban and Clone. We have experimented with obtaining more seed from each plant. King Grass is normally planted using only the mature canes. So if the plant is 10 feet tall typically only the lower 5 feet of cane is used for seed. We have experimented using the upper 5 foot as well and have achieved very good results. There are two caveats in using the young tender upper portion. One, we plant it immediately so as soon as it’s cut, within a few hours it’s in the ground whereas sometimes the mature cane might be days before it’s planted. Secondly, we normally put two canes side-by-side in the planting trench but when using the young canes, we place three. When they germinate and grow it’s indistinguishable which row had the young and which one had the mature canes. They both germinate at about the same rate and grow at the same rate. So this is an easy way to obtain much more seed from fewer plants. One other thing we have learned through experimentation. In the begining, most people told us to plant the canes in deep trenches. We now only plant about 2 inches deep. Much less work and they grow just as well.

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Are you laying the canes vertically or horizontally in the trenches? What is the end purpose you are thinking of for the material as it grows? Thanks!

We are lying them horizontally in the trench/ditch. Our purpose is to produce more cut and carry forrage material.

We have experimented with vertically but find that to be less efficient. We have also experimented with Mexican sunflower and generally find that to be more efficient horizontally if we are laying a lot of area. But, if we’re only interested in a small area we do it vertically.

I might also mention when we are planting, we typically also plant fresh cuttings of Mulberry, Chaya and Mexican sunflower and also plants or seeds of Leucaena. We plant those in the same trenches with the King Grass.

We plant rows spaced 15 inch because we harvest at 3 to 4 feet in height (when the protein tests at about 20%) because we do not use a chopper. If we were going to grow to 6 plus feet and use the chopper, we would widen the rows otherwise the tall height shades out the young plants in the 15 inch rows. In other words, when cutting short, the plant density can be greater than when growing tall as most people do who chop.

Thanks for sharing. In fields of giant king grass where Leucaena has been introduced, it has taken over for us, choking out the grasses. Has this been a problem for you?

That has not been a problem…I assume because we cut the Leucaena often. Our goal is to provide a “mixed salad” for our sheep. Therefore, with the king grass and/or mombassa, we plant other high protein plants that can be cut with the grasses so the animals receive a “salad” instead of only grass. In the past, we grew them separately but that creates more work for harvesting in our cut and carry system. Plus, we think a multicultural system is better for the soil than a monoculture system.

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This is interesting! This King Grass does not have nodes like bamboo does it? I am fascinated that it will sprout stems from the trench. Do you nick the stems or add any other amendments to promote sprouting? I would imagine you must add water at the outset of the planting. Thanks!

I’m not well familiar with bamboo but king grass does have nodes that put out roots and leaves when buried. Other than cutting it into approximately 2 to 3 foot lengths, we do not nick it nor do anything to promote the rooting. By planting shallow, it sprouts within a few days. We normally plant when there is sufficient soil moisture so that extra watering is not needed. The main reason we cut it into relatively short lengths is so it will lay flat in the ditch so as to be easy to cover.

Ok great. That is a super interesting technique. Thank you Art For Humanity Glen.

The same technique works very well with Mexican Sunflower too.

You are re-planting Mexican Sundlower before, during, or after it is flowering? Because in zones 5-10 (I am in 6) they are considered annuals. In Honduras they must just go on and on or how does that cycle work please? Thank you @AFHGlen

You are correct Jeff that for us Mexican Sunflowers are permanent perennials. We don’t do any replanting because they continue to produce. However, we rarely see flowers because we keep them cut back. They are interplanted with all of our tall grasses which we typically cut when they are about 45 inches tall which is approximately every 40 days. We interplant MS and Leucaena with our tall grasses, King Grass and Mombasa, as a way of providing a “salad” for our sheep. In other words, instead of harvesting Mexican sunflower and Luca Hannah and the other legumes separately and to feed the sheep we grow them all together and cut them together. That note only provides the sheep with a nice “salad” it also provides a diversity within the soil to promote healthy microorganisms. We do that same type of diverse planting with all of our crops… not just King Grass. We also interplant low growing legumes which never get harvested because they grow so low to the ground but I believe they add to the soil health. We notice no difference when planting relative to flowering. I’ve read that after flowering is best but because ours seldom if ever flower, that doesn’t apply to us and we seem to get near 100% germination rate with our cuttings.