Creating a Permanent Agriculture

My interest in growing grains has just increased, with the arrival of more seeds, this time from America. The packet contained a corn variety, a variety of millet, and most exciting of all, a perennial rye. Luckily I have all winter to consider how to link this in to my Polyculture Experiment, and where.

maximilian sunflower

Maximilian sunflower

Initially, this started out as an attempt to incorporate a Fukuoka/Bonfils grain growing method, with vegetable growing, in order to provide enough carbon-rich material, to compost. The idea was based on the principle, outlined by John Jeavons, in ‘How to Grow more Vegetables’, that 60% of your growing area needed to be producing composting material, in order to be able to grow your own compost, from within the growing area itself. This principle, of meeting the fertility demands of the system from within the system itself, resonates with the Permaculturalist within me. No other growing system, other than Fukuoka’s, and Forest Gardening, has this emphasis. The drawback of Jeavon’s approach, is time. Hidden away at the beginning of the book, is the fact that it takes up to 15 minutes a day of work, per 100 sq foot bed. Later he states that a person would need 40 of these beds to meet their food needs, and grow their own composting material. My mathematics makes that up to 10 hours a day per person. Not quite what I have in mind.From my own experience, if well set up, I average about two hours a day in the growing area, but with quite a wide variation in the time spent. Some days nothing, other days, all day.

The 60% of the area devoted to biomass would be grains (Straw), Broad beans, Sunflowers, Jerusalem Artichokes etc. Crops with lots of stalk, and a small amount of seed. I figured that if I substituted the labour of the biointensive method, with a Fukuoka/Bonfils approach to growing grains, I could meet the needs for producing the compost material, with less labour. My system is developing along these lines, albeit on a very small scale.

Some of the questions that I have yet to answer are:

Can I get the Bonfils method of growing grains to work here, with my soil and climate?

Will it yield as much grain and biomass as conventional growing?

Do I keep an area set aside for grain growing only, and remove a proportion of the straw to compost elsehere, or do I rotate the grain and vegetable growing beds and leave the biomass to break down in place?

For the last question, the Perennial Rye will need to stay in place for a while, and may be suited to a polyculture that includes other perennials, such as Jerusalem Artichokes, Maximillian Sunflowers, Siberian Pea, whereas the annual grains, might work better as part of a rotation.

When you examine the tables that Jeavons provides, the big producers of calories, in terms of calories per pound, are nuts. Confirmation that tree based production has a place in a sustainable food production system. Whether that place is separate from the growing of vegetables, and grains, or whether they are integrated, I’m not sure. There is no doubt that they could be combined, as demonstrated by Sepp Holzer, but whether that is the most efficient way to meet our food needs on a small scalewould need to be tested.

Lots of exciting stuff to play around with.

All of the best

 

Deano

13 thoughts on “Creating a Permanent Agriculture

  1. annisveggies

    Very interesting and exciting! I have been reading the same books as you and thinking along similar lines, but equally have lots of questions and no answers.

    One of my central aims is fertility being retained and developed from within the garden with nothing being imported or exported. Also the least labour possible! It’s no good if the amount of calories used to grow food exceeds the amount gained from it, which is another reason why nuts (and seeds) are valuable foods.

    I did not realise that we could buy seed from the US. When I was looking for perennial veggies from overseas the US sites I looked at would not sell outside the North American continent.

    I think there may be prove to be a number of similar but different ways to realise these aims and I shall very much enjoy seeing how your experiments develop.

    Anni

    Reply
    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Anni
      I’m not sure how’legal’ buying seed from the US is. A lot depends on the willingness of the seller to ‘post’ them. I agree that there are many different ways to solve the fertility and labour issues, but I’m excited by the possibilities and potential. It will just take a few years to run the sequence through, to see how it performs,and then to tune it to suit my own conditions.
      All of the best
      Deano

      Reply
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  4. chrisjsuk

    Can I suggest a lateral thought. We use masses of biomass on our plots (after composting) The sources of this are varied- several people bring us their kitchen waste, I collect peelings from a ‘meals on wheels’ kitchen, two professional gardeners use us to leave their grass cuttings (they know about our organic rules!) ,they save themselves tipping fees in the process. I collect bedding from a guinea pig breeder etc etc
    Chris

    Reply
    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Chris
      For me, the point is to create a system that grows it’s own biomass. We have access to loads of free materials, but that isn’t what I’m trying to achieve. If Peak Oil is here now, and I think that it is, these sources are going to stop. At that point we will need to have systems in place that don’t rely on external inputs. I’m working on one way to acieve that.
      All of the best
      Deano

      Reply
  5. chrisjsuk

    I take your point (I agree about peak oil by the way) though I am also interested in systems that incorporate interactions with other people and thereby community/network building.
    Chris

    Reply
  6. David Miller

    I would warn you about removing biomass from a Bonfils bed, the systems he and Fukuoko worked out included returning all of the straw to the bed for mulching. The reason being that composting burns up 80% of the material that mulching would save/allow utilization of.

    Reply
    1. Deano Post author

      Thanks for the warning David, but I’m happy to give it a try to see what happens. Part of the logic behind it is to see how far the system can be intensified/pushed, and integrated into a larger food production system. If it proves to be the case that all of the straw has to be returned just to maintain fertility, then I will have learnt something useful. All of the best. Deano

      Reply
        1. Deano Post author

          Cheers David
          It was a timely reminder that there is no guarante that it will function in the way that I hope.
          Deano

          Reply
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