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.
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