2012 Plans, Experiments, and Direction

Polyculture Thinking

It’s only November and I already have almost all of my seeds for next year. Some of that is down to seed saving, something that I should have done more of in the past, but the rest is down to thinking ahead. It all sounds a bit organised, but some of the seeds came too late to sow this autumn, and will have to wait until spring. The seeds that I have are very different from what I’ve grown in the past, and really show the direction that my food growing is taking, growing in a polyculture. This is the pattern for my experiments next year. New additions include rye, perennial rye, spelt, perennial wheat, soya beans, and millet.  Increases include lots more broad (fava) beans, but with a substantial reduction in the salads, and leaves. This all fits in with my desire to grow all of our own food. We eat a lot of grains, so unless I grow grains, I will never produce all that we eat.

Small Scale Grain Growing

The polyculture experiments, documented in earlier posts, are really only the stepping stones to a complete food growing system, which has come about thanks to the reading that I’ve carried out over the last year or two. The crops that I’m concentrating on derive from two sources. ‘The Resilient Gardener’, by Carol Deppe, and ‘How to Grow more vegetables’  by John Jeavons. The first suggests eggs, potatoes, corn, beans and squash as the basis for a healthy diet. The second showed me the need to grow grain, both for food, and to produce the biomass that the garden needs to maintain fertility.

My reading of ‘The Harmonious Wheatsmith’ by Mark Moodie, and re reading ‘The One Straw Revolution’ by Masanobu Fukuoka’, suggested a way to reduce the workload associated with the biointensive system of Jeavons.

Bonfils Method of Growing Wheat

The initial polyculture experiments were aimed at seeing whether I could make the Bonfils grain growing system work, but I was unaware that it had not been successfully imitated here. That meant that I have added additional elements into the Bonfils system, particularly broad beans, but to include soya beans too. To those initial aims have been added the desire to incorporate the experimental polycultures into a vegetable rotation. Quite a bit of my quiet time has been spent thinking of the best way to achieve that. Proving those ideas is the main focus for 2012, and potentially for the next six years. The new seeds are all aimed at the polyculture, attempting to maintain high yields of grain, adding beans, whilst creating enough biomass to keep those beds healthy.

Crops that I’m Growing

The perennial rye, and wheat, give me an extra option. That of keeping beds in permanent grain and biomass production, exporting some of the fertility produced to other parts of the system. Incorporating alfalfa, comfrey, red clover, etc. into these beds, should allow me to achieve that.

The millet is for the first year that a bed  moves into grain production. There will already be broad beans in place, sown the previous autumn. White clover sown in the spring will yet to have established, and the first year of annual winter grain will not be sown until late June. That gives scope for a short season grain crop to fill in the gaps. I’m using millet, but amaranth, or quinoa would also work, as would a spring sown grain. The soya beans are for the last year of the grain rotation. The winter grain sown the previous autumn will be harvested in mid summer, but with no additional grain to sow, there will be gaps to fill. Squash and corn would both fit here, but I’d also like to grow soya, as I’ve read that it kills the microbe that causes potato scab. As the last year of grain will be followed by potatoes, including the soya may help to keep the subsequent crop healthy. If it proves too difficult to grow all of them, I may have to alternate. With at least two full width beds changing each year, that shouldn’t be difficult. I also have the option of growing the soya in these beds, for it’s disease suppression, and not worrying too much about harvesting the beans. perhaps growing another patch, or a section on the southern ends of these beds, purely for seed production.

The corn that I’m growing is also different. This year I’m trying a corn designed to ripen, dry, and grind for flour. Again it’s part of the general direction, which is for bulk crops, which can be stored easily, and used when needed. To save seed from corn you need to be growing an absolute minimum of 100 plants, preferably two hundred. That’s a lot of corn. There may not be enough space to grow that much within the conventional rotation, but it might be possible to include some with the perennial grains.

In addition to the growing of all this food, there are are whole bunch of other skills, and techniques to learn, as well as equipment to find, or design. Processing grain by hand, shucking corn, dehydrating squash, new recipes, all will need to be looked at.

On the whole, it looks like another busy year here.

take care


One thought on “2012 Plans, Experiments, and Direction

  1. Pingback: Looking Back, and Forward. « The Sustainable Smallholding

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