Most of the progress in my new polyculture has been in my thinking, rather than in the ground, but I wanted to record some of my early thoughts, so that I can look back at how it all developed. The rye has continued to develop ears. Rather than cut them off, I’m going to see if they have enough time to produce some viable seed. To hedge my bets, I’ve germinated another batch. This is a later sowing than the standard Bon Fils method, which is sown at Summer Solstice, but may be more appropriate to Rye. I thought that the early development of ears was due to hot dry conditions, but it may simply be that Rye has a shorter growing season than Wheat/spelt, and therefore was acting like a very late Spring sowing, rather than a very early Autumn sowing. I hope to learn more as I go along. The seed has germinated exceptionally well, 100% in fact, which has meant that I have a few more seedlings than I wanted, (Nick take Note), but can find space for them anyway.
The Bladder Senna has starting to produce flowers, which are very pretty. A mix of dark yellow, and orange, shaped a bit like gorse flowers. Siberian pea may have been a more useful shrub to grow, adding an edible component to the polyculture, but the Bladder senna flowers later, which is more useful to my bees, and tolerates damp conditions better. There has been some damage to some of the rye stems. I cannot be sure of the culprit, but it may be that the ground cover of Crimson and Persian clover, is making the base of the stems a bit damp. The spelt is doing what it should do. It is already starting to tiller, and should be developing an extensive root system, which will power strong growth next Spring. It is currently growing without a ground cover layer, and I’m not sure whether to use a clover, or to add a different flowering layer, which will die back over Winter. The Stropharia is showing no signs of spreading through the shredded wood, but the substrate may be too dry. Watering is an issue, as I do not want to use chlorinated water, as it could damage the mycelium. Using cans is possible, but slow. The corn is ripening, but there is a big variety in performance between individual plants, and I’m not sure if the clover is inhibiting the growth of the corn, or whether there is another factor at work.
Progress in Thinking
In line with permaculture principles, I’m concentrating on a pattern, rather than the detail, leaving all of the detailed stuff until later.
The idea for the polyculture seemed to emerge on it’s own, rather than develop from a particular thought process, and that is how it continues to evolve. What is constantly surprising to me, is how much of my recent reading/research touches on, or is touched by, the experiment. One example is carbon/compost/soil building. In How to Grow more Vegetables, John Jeavons writes that 60% of the growing space should be devoted to high carbon crops, to produce the biomass needed for composting. As I think about the crops that I’m going to be using in this experiment, almost all of them are the high carbon crops listed by jeavons. That opens up a whole host of possibilities. I can ‘chop and drop’ them in situ, and avoid composting. Building up soil fertility in place. I can compost conventionally, by adding some of my own energy. I can cycle the straw through poultry housing, as bedding, and then return it to the system. None of this includes the extensive root systems of cereal crops, and rye in particular, nor the Nitrogen fixing of the broad (fava) beans, bladder senna, and clover.
Another area that it touches on, is my reading of The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe. This system includes two of her five crops to grow for resilience, the beans and corn, and then adds grain and fungi, and can incorporate the other three, potatoes, squash, and ducks, by rotating from the grain/vegetable polyculture, through a vegetable only phase, before returning to the grain/vegetable system. This could be done by building fertility under the grain polyculture, and then ‘harvesting’ some of that fertility by growing a conventional potato, root, onion, or squash crop. Alternatively, the grain/vegetable polyculture could run completely independently of the other vegetable crops. This might mean that some of the high carbon material would need to be moved from the polyculture, to maintain fertility for the other crops. Again, I want to stress that I’m not looking at the detail, number of beds of each vegetable, total area, spacing, etc. merely mentally exploring some of the possibilities.
Of all of the possibilities that have ‘surfaced’ so far, incorporating a period of standard vegetable growing, after building fertility under the polyculture, has the most appeal to me. Chop and drop, and composting in place, reduces the energy that I have to put in. Most grains do not need a high level of fertility, so a periodic removal of fertility, by growing crops that need those high levels appears to make sense. It will also give a much longer period between growing crops of the same type in the same space. On the negative side, this sort of rotation will mean that i will have to leave out the Bladder Senna/Siberian pea, as they may make growing the potato/root crops more difficult. I would also like to incorporate a chicken tractor into the system, but have yet to think it through. The best use for the tractor may actually be to prepare the additional growing space that I am going to need to expand this experiment.
All in all, quite exciting really, and it gives me something else to think about while I’m working. Please feel free to add your thoughts or comments, as you may help me to ‘find’ another possibility that I hadn’t considered.
Wising you well