Polyculture Update 26 June 2011

The plants in the Polyculture experiment are starting to grow, with the clover beginning to cover the bed. I wanted to post some pictures, mainly to record the progress of the experiment. These pictures were taken two days ago.

Bon Fils/Three Sisters Hybrid

The first picture is of one of the test beds.

polyculture picture

Polyculture bed 1

You can see that much of the ground has been covered by the clover, but there is some space at the front of this picture. I may need to sow some more. The next picture is of the second test bed.

polyculture picture 2

Polyculture test bed 2

To the right of the picture is a bed which will be included in the experiment, but which currently has sunflowers in. They are already at head height, and have flower buds forming.

Small Scale Grain

The grains were sprouted in a small tray, with paper in.

Spelt sprouting seed

Spelt sprouting

The first two pictures are of the spelt.

seeds sprouting spelt

spelt sprouts close

The next two pictures are of the Rye.

rye sprouts

rye sprouts

sprouting rye

sprouting rye

The rye seems much more vigorous, and I put 64 seedlings into rootrainers yesterday.

Both sets of seed will be planted into the clover groundcover, once they are large enough. I decided to try one tray of rye with the addition of some mycorrhizal fungi, and one without, to see if it made any difference to the growth of the seedlings.


The Stropharia is on order, and should arrive this week. I found a number of suppliers, but went for Ann Miller, who I have used before.

AZOLLA Experiment

In my last post, when I introduced the polyculture, I mentioned that I have another experiment underway that linked with it. This is designed to provide duck forage. You can read about AZOLLA by clicking on the word, and reading the wikipedia article. The paragraph under human use is particularly interesting. I am planning to use the azolla to feed ducks directly, and as a food for a wormery (vermiculture).


Azolla tray

The picture above is of my first tray of azolla, and the one below is a close up. What it doesn’t give you is how strange it feels, like a soft polystyrene, very light.

azolla close up

azolla close up

My ducks also eat comfrey, and comfrey is a great food for worms, increasing the rate at which the worms breed. The worms themselves are a high protein feed for ducks, with the advantage of producing vermicompost for potting mixes. The overlap with the original polyculture is not food, but bedding material for the ducks. We currently use bought in, non-organic straw for duck bedding, which gets very wet, and covered in wet duck poop. This is normally composted. For the polyculture, I will need to return this to the original beds. With the grain growing, my plan is to harvest some early for use in skep making. I will lose this material, and it is harvested before the grain is ready. The rest will be harvested for grain, and this straw will be used for duck bedding. I’m not sure if the duck poop will be too rich to allow me process it through the wormery first, or not. I suspect that I will need to supplement the bedding, as there is unlikely to be enough straw, unless I find myself growing a lot of grain. As far as quantities go, my friend John Letts, from the Oxford Bread Group, once told me that it takes 1 Sq meter of wheat to make a loaf of bread. This is for conventionally grown wheat. That makes about a 10 meter x 10 meter plot to give two loaves a week, for a year. IF the Bon Fils method gives a similar yield, planted at 60 cm spacing, that makes 278 plants, without some seed to save, so about 300 plants in total.

The current trials are much smaller, and are to test the idea. If all goes well this year, I will expand it, and try some of the variations that I discussed in my last post.

Finally, I haven’t been able to find anybody else trying something similar, so if you are, or know of anybody else, please let me know. It would be nice to exchange information.

Take Care



4 thoughts on “Polyculture Update 26 June 2011

  1. Nick Vowles

    Hi Deano,

    We are not growing wheat in a polyculture but we are growing wheat
    as part of the ‘Bake your lawn’ project set up by the Real Bread Campaign. We are growing it in one of the larger no dig beds with several plants multiple sown at stations about 30cm square. We have sown an area about 150cmx300cm using the seed provided (Organic Ameretto). I will let you know what kind of yield we get. We are also thinking of growing rye over the winter. If we use the same variety of Rye as you, we could compare yields from the different systems.


    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Nick
      That would be really useful, but I will probably not have enough seed until next August. As part of the Bon Fils method, I have to plant the next crop in June 2012, which is before the previous crop is harvested. With expanding the experiment next year, I’ll need all that I’ve got.
      I should have plenty to spare next August, even with returning some of the new seed to the originator. So perhaps we should shedule the comparison between the two methods then. It would also be interesting to compare the yield of the rye that you use this year, with the that of this variety, when you use the same cultivation methods, as my soil is very different to yours.
      Interesting stuff.
      Patrick doesn’t think that anybody else is doing anything like this, which is exciting, and slightly unnerving at the same time.
      See you soon


  2. Shadiya

    Hi Deano

    Just found your website and like what you’re doing. I’ve been meaning to do some experiments with the bonfils method for a few years now but haven’t got round to it for one reason or another, the list of things to do being pretty much endless mainly! This could be the kickstart I need to start the ball rolling, just a shame it’s so late in the year. I think I may have a go with a small patch anyway and see what happens.

    Good luck with it all.


    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Shadiya
      Good Luck, and let me know what you do, and how you get on. I think that it’s important to try these things out, at different scales, and in different places, to see what works well, and what doesn’t. I’m working n the principle that even if it doesn’t work for me, here, that’s still a useful piece of information to have.
      You didn’t say where you are based?
      Again, good Luck



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