Polyculture Experiment Update Early August 2011

Mixed news so far, and a few pictures of my polyculture experiments to post, for those of you following my experiments for this year.

The good news is that most of the plants are doing well. The corn is about to flower, as is the persian clover, the bladder senna is growing well, and so is the spelt. Some of the rye has been browsed by small rabbits/voles, but not enough to be serious. The main problem is that the rye seems to be etermined to produce grain this year, and not wait until next Summer.

Here is a picture of the two fully planted beds of rye.

polyulture picture

polyculture overview

The beds contain corn, bladder senna, rye, an an understorey of persian, and crimson clover.

polyculture piture

polyculture bed

This picture gives an idea of how the plants are laid out. The corn is spaced at about 2 feet (60cm), the gaps in corn in the centre row are where the bladder senna is planted. Sadly the leaves of the bladder senna do not show up against the clover behind it. The rye is planted midway between theĀ  rows of corn. By that I mean that the rows of rye go across the bed between the corn rows.

polyculture close up

polyculture close up

This piture shows a bit more detail. The pea like leaves level with the corn are bladder senna, and there is a single stalk of rye clearly visible near the right edge of the picture.

polyculture picture

polyculture viewed from side

Looking from the side, it’s easy to see the density of the clover, and the height of the other components. A good example of the permaculture term ‘stacking’.

spelt polyculture

spelt polyculture

The picture above is of a bed containing spelt and bladder senna only. The clover is yet to be sown. In this bed, I will interplant with broad (fava) beans in the Autumn, and follow with either corn, or rye, or both, in late June.

polyculture picture

polyculture again

The final picture shows a few more of the rye stalks, which are the thin upright lines.

I’m still debating what to do about the rye. It shouldn’t be producing flowering stalks until next year, but may have bolted early due to excessive dryness. It seems too late to properly set and mature seed, and I may not have enough seed to spare for a third planting. Which will leave me a gap for planting in 2013. I don’t know if I can cut the heads now, and not kill the plants.

So far, the Stropharia has yet to colonise the wood chips, but it’s still early.

I’m also continuing to think about how to develop the system. Incorporating broad beans is an obvious expansion, but I need to think about how many vertical elements that I will have to squeeze into the space available.With corn, 2 lots of grain, and beans, it could get a bit crowded.

Having just re-read The One Straw Revolution again, one slight weakness of Fukuoka’s method was that he had to sow the clover each year, as the straw suppresses it’s growth, when returned to the beds, and that relies on a supply of seed. An alternative might be to use a Winter Squash, like the Three Sisters Polyculture, once the clover starts to weaken, although if the straw is able to suppress the growth of the clover, it should be able to do the same for weeds.

As the experiment evolves, I will get a better feel for what works, and what is possible.

Wishing you well





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  1. Pingback: Weekly update: 15 August 2011 | Wholesome Food Association

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