There is a plant you can easily grow in many parts of the world for fabulous soil improvement and nutritious animal feed that doubles it's size every seven days - Azolla (water fern, fairy moss...)...an abundantly useful resource and well worth harvesting.
Azolla (Azolla pinnata or Azolla filiculoides) is a native perennial water plant that grows wildly on a dam near my house. Close-up you can see that it is a lovely looking little floating fern. It has little dangling roots that suck up nutrients and clean the dam.
The kids and I have been out harvesting it regularly to add to the compost, the garden and to feed the chickens.
I've been watching it spread across the dam over the past couple of weeks. The kids and I keep harvesting, but there always seems to be more. We are planning to go and collect as much as we can before the frosts come and it sinks. It is a fabulous food for animals and excellent for making compost, liquid fertiliser and improving soil structure.
A hands on (and feet in) kind of homeschool lesson on pond ecology - and a super fun splash in the pond trying to work out how to float Monty.
The reasons I love Azolla:
it's a great way to produce an amazing amount of useful biomass quickly
it is so prolific - doubling every week
it is very easy to harvest since it is just floating in small pieces - kids love helping me too
it is a compost activator and it can replace animal manures in the compost
my chooks love it - it can be used instead of conventional feed
it's great worm food in my worm farms
earthworms love it too
It cleans water
It creates a protective habitat for many species
It helps to reduce bank erosion
It reduces evaporation rates
It reduces pond temperature - helpful in really hot times
It takes up nutrients in the water, thereby cleaning the water.
Yesterday's collection. Today we had another load the same.
Even a small urban garden could benefit from a small waterbody containing Azolla. You could grow it in a tub on your verandah and grab handfuls regularly to add to worm farms or directly only potted plants. All you need is a handful to get you started.
It's easy to keep in a pot, tub or bathtub at home too. (a few waterlilies in there too)
You can set up an old bathtub too and grow enough to feed your chickens. Like legumes and pioneers in permaculture systems, Azolla is also helpful in fixing nitrogen and as it decomposes it puts lots of nitrogen into the soil. Azolla farming is popular in Asia. IN rice paddies azolla acts as a natural fertiliser, and because it creates a mat, it suppresses week growth. Cutting the cost of fertiliser and weedicide is a great benefit to small farmers - as well as being better for their health and the health of the environment. Do you grow it? How have you been integrating it into your system?