ASK Dr Paul: The Rodale Institute’s research manager, Paul Hepperly, answers your research and farming questions

What can we grow between hardwood trees in Guatemala?

Posted January 12, 2007

What Paul brings to the table...

As New Farm Research and Training Manager at The Rodale Institute, Dr. Paul Hepperly has been a regular contributor to for some time, providing research updates, op-ed pieces, and white papers on topics like carbon sequestration in organic farming systems.

None of those venues do full justice to the range of Paul's experience, however. Paul grew up on a family farm in Illinois and holds a Ph.D. in plant pathology, an M.S. in agronomy and a B.S. in psychology from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He has worked for the USDA Agricultural Research Service, in academia, and for a number of private seed companies, including Asgrow, Pioneer, and DeKalb. He has overseen research in Hawaii, Iowa, Puerto Rico, and Chile, and investigated such diverse crops as soybeans, corn, sorghum, sunflowers, ginger, and papaya. He has witnessed the move toward biotech among the traditional plant breeding community and the move toward organics among new wave of upcoming young farmers. Before coming to the Rodale Institute Paul worked with hill farmers in India to help them overcome problems with ginger root rot in collaboration with Winrock International.

Dear Paul,

We are planting hardwood trees in northern Guatemala. We need to control weeds or to grow something in between the tree rows for various reasons:

  1. reduce weed control costs
  2. better use of the land
  3. have some income while trees grow (20-25 years).

Do you have any suggestions?

Ricardo Zachrisson
Peten Basin, Guatemala

Dear Ricardo,

You might want to consider using frijol de abono (Mucuna pruriens) as a natural weed control and source of nitrogen for your tree growth. Plant the frijol de abono every 20 feet at the start of the the rainy season, chop down at the end of the season and replant. This will reduce the weeding—as mucuna is an excellent weed smother—and will also reduce the need for any nitrogen inputs.

Paul Hepperly, PhD