I spent the afternoon bagging up locust pods for my goats to eat. The locust tree is a perfect example of what Permaculturists calls “stacking functions,” meaning each design element should serve more than one purpose.
Trees do this anyway, right? Among many other functions they clean our air, stabilize soil, act as a sponge holding water in their root zone, provide habitat for insects and birds and maybe humans. All this just doing what they do best -being trees.
If you think about tree selection and placement, your tree can provide food for you as well as other critters; placed on the south side of your home, a deciduous tree can provide shade during the summer, and let in sun for passive solar heating during the winter. They can provide privacy screening, serve as windbreaks, and the list goes on.
The locust is one such many splendored tree. It is a low water use tree, grows quickly, provides a gentle dappled shade, can be used for fence posts or firewood, provides forage for honeybees, birds and insects, and it will bear copious curly brownish-red pods after the leaves fall in the autumn. The pods will fall, too. Be prepared for that. But as a legume (it fixes its own nitrogen, too!), it provides nutritious edible fodder for my goats. And the chickens love the fresh high protein leaves and will strip a sapling dry.
The nutritional value of a locust pod falls somewhere around that of oats or barley, around 15% protein. Supposedly you can grind the pods and make flour, but I would be concerned about soaking or roasting them first before using them as human food.
We have at least 20 thornless honey locust and many more thorny seedling trees. So far, I’ve bagged about ten 50-pound potato sacks full of pods, and they just keep coming. They make a quick shade tree, growing 5-10 feet in one season here in the Rio Grande Valley. They make a great living fence post, and you can coppice them for livestock forage.
They can be considered a weed tree, though, so think carefully before planting them. We have the majority along the western and southern border of our property to help diffuse the powerful sustained winds we get coming off the mesa.