Mexican Sunflowers Provide Support for Beans

Crop production


Content: Sunflowers can provide support for bean plants. They also protect the soil and add nutrients and organic matter as they decompose.

Julio Cesar is a farmer in the Department of San Marcos, Guatemala. One of his main crops is beans. Julio uses a local plant, the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia), to protect the beans and help them grow.

Here is how he does it.

First he plants a row of Mexican sunflowers. One or two days later he plants beans in the same row. The idea is that the beans will eventually grow up the sunflower stems and use them as support. After the sunflowers have grown for some time, little shoots begin to grow out of the stems. Julio cuts off these shoots. Otherwise the shoots grow into branches which prevent the beans from growing straight up. He cuts the shoots off the sunflower stems about every 15 days until the bean plants are well established and wrapped around the tall, strong, stems of the sunflowers.

After that Julio lets the sunflower shoots grow – this way the plant produces more branches and leaves which will be a good mulch on the ground next year. When the shoots grow bigger and form branches they provide shade which keeps Julio cool at harvest time.

This practice has lots of advantages. The sunflower is a cover crop when the beans are growing, keeping the soil protected. And Julio has stopped buying fertilizers for his beans. At the end of the season the sunflowers add nutrients and organic matter to the soil as they decompose. So the sunflowers act first as a mulch on the soil and then decompose adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Also when the flowers have died they can be dried and used as fuel.

Information sources

  • This script is based on an interview with Julio Cesar Pereira, a farmer from Aldea Sombrerito Bajo, Nuevo Progreso, San Marcos, Guatemala.