Chamaecytisus palmensis, “tagasaste”, is a small-spreading, drought tolerant evergreen tree that can grow 9-12 feet high.
A native plant of the Canary Islands, tagasaste hedges are grown and used widely for animal feed in New Zealand as well as in Australia and other parts of the world. Cytisus proliferus is another varietal, and it is also commonly known as Tree Lucerne.
In 2008 we were able to purchase the 10 acre property and orchard that bordered Redwood Hill Farm. At the time, we were in the midst of drought conditions and skyrocketing hay prices. The neglected apple orchard we took stewardship over had empty spots where trees had died. We decided to experiment with growing tagasaste seedlings in some of those empty spots as Jennifer had done many years ago on the original Redwood Hill Farm on Occidental Road. Tagasaste seeds were hard to find in the U.S., but found and imported in from a European seed company. The seeds were scarified, germinated, and a new era of cultivating our own goat feed began.
Over the next five years, there were growing pains with the tagasaste project. We learned the hard way that tagasate hedges do not like “wet feet” and good drainage for the root system is a must. Also, the second shipment of seed refused to germinate. Then we had issues with a small strange caterpillar that began infesting the plants.
But the goats did love the tagasaste we harvested for them. And the drought and high hay prices persisted. Farmers are resilient folks, and we found solutions. We reconfigured the outside roaming area for our free-range chickens to include our tagasaste field. The chickens quickly solved the caterpillar problem and the tagasaste hedges thanked the chickens by providing them with shade on hot days. On the third year, the “original 8” plants bloomed and made seed. We harvested the tagasaste seeds that year and quickly germinated another 100 plants which are thriving.
Tagasaste is also a well-known “fertilizer tree”. Fertilizer trees are used in agro-forestry and permaculture designs to improve the condition of soils on farmland. As a member of the legume family, it is a nitrogen fixer: it captures nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil through the roots and falling leaves. The tagasaste tree can also bring nutrients from deeper in the soil up to the surface for other crops with roots that can’t reach that depth. With this in mind, we have also started planting various citrus plants within the tagasate field.
There are multiple reasons we decided to plant tagasaste hedges on our farm:
- They are perennial shrubs that need very little water and that, once sheared, re-grow and produce more forage on less acreage than traditional goat feed like alfalfa and grass hay. In our northern California climate, growth slows during the shorter and colder days. We are within the tagasaste hardiness zone and it is evergreen, but we can harvest just 6-7 months of the year.
- High in protein, tagasaste is nutrient-dense—an important factor for our goat’s diet.
- With our tagasaste hedges, we can eliminate a portion of the alfalfa and other hays that are otherwise trucked in for the goats. Feed prices are volatile, especially with climate change – this doesn’t only reduce our carbon footprint, but is a good business decision as well.
- Tagasaste blooms are high in pollen and nectar for our bees at a time when other sources are scarce; flowering occurs in February here on our farm.