Polyculture Update and Small Scale Grain Harvested

Well today was a busy day, with the first harvest of grain from my Bonfils Polyculture. It wasn’t all great news, but this is the first example of small scale grain growing, and grain harvested using the Bonfils method, and a good start to my polyculture experiments.

Initially I had only intended harvesting the annual Rye, but part of the way through I saw that quite a lot of the Spelt had been eaten, probably by mice, rats, or voles. So despite the Spelt looking like it needs a bit longer to ripen, I decided to harvest it too.

The annual Rye was growing in beds that were the equivalent of two Jeavons sized beds (100 sq ft each). It was obvious that the yield of grain wouldn’t be big just by looking at the standing crop. I’m not sure whether my failure to thin out the chicory understory is to blame for that, but I will modify that when this year’s crop is sown. The harvest was bundled in dustbins, and there were four bins in total. The picture below shows some of those bins.

Bonfils small scale grain growing

Bonfils Rye

If my memory serves me correctly, a good yield for one of these beds would be 12 pounds of wheat, with rye yielding about 8lbs. I don’t think that each of these bins has four pounds of rye, but I hope to weigh it once it has dried, and been threshed and winnowed.

The Spelt had been chewed through below the ears, and there was a lot of nibbled ears on the floor. The picture below shows the type of damage.

Bonfils Spelt

Bonfils Spelt damaged by rodents

The Spelt yield was three bins, but with around half of the ears eaten, that may have been up to six bins for two Jeavons beds. That corresponds with the superior yield over Rye. The damage was hidden by the flowering stalks of the chicory, which were taller than the Spelt.

Initially I was disappointed with the yields, and had to remind myself that I didn’t know of many people who were engaged in small scale grain growing in the UK, or of anybody else who had obtained a yield of grain using the Bonfils method. That put things into perspective. I also remembered that one of the reasons for growing the grains was to provide enough biomass to maintain/improve fertility over the whole area. Whilst the chicory may have reduced the grain yield, it has added a lot of biomass to the total, as well as feeding chickens, and providing bee forage. The picture below shows the heap of chicory taken from two Jeavons sized beds, piled in front of a greenhouse.

Chicory Biomass

Chicory Biomass

The usefulness of the chicory means that it deserves a place in the system somewhere, although I’m not sure where/how yet.

In my vegetable/grain design, I mentioned that it may be possible to modify the Bonfils system, and harvest a crop before planting the next, by using modules/soil blocks. If that proves to be the case, it may also be possible to increase the number of plants, without reducing the yield of each plant. This is because there wouldn’t be a need to leave a gap for the following year’s crop, as you do with the standard Bonfils system. As I use beds, it should be possible to more than double the number of plants, and may still allow a Nitrogen fixing intercrop. An alternative would be a different grain, possibly something like Amaranth.

This year’s Spelt is growing in modules, with the Rye due to be sown later this month. I still need to dry and thresh this year’s crop, weigh it, and save seed for next year. I am also looking forward to making some bread and eating some.

Wishing you well



4 thoughts on “Polyculture Update and Small Scale Grain Harvested

  1. Heckety

    Like the Little Red Hen?? I’d say the fact that you got a crop of ANYTHING with the summer that’s in it is more of a miracle than anything!! You should be congratulating yourself- all we have is a soggy mess, with a lot of happy brambles so the blackberries should be good!

    Came across your article in the Permaculture Magazine since I finally got around to reading it, and am well interested in your methods, experiments, doings. I’m wandering around your blog reading and truly gobsmacked at the amount you cram into your days!

    Why aren’t you on team GB as their weightlifter or something???!!

    1. Deano Post author

      Hi again.
      Hope that you find some useful stuff.
      We’ve harvested less than normal, but that’s better than nothing.
      If you’re attending the convergence, I’ll be there, and happy to chat.

  2. Evan

    you know, chicory leaves are edible and so are the roots, on that however, chicory is great at breaking up hard packed soil and is a dynamic accumulator. So, even though you’d didn’t get that great of a yield, fertility will not be an issue in that area if you allow all that material to decompose where it grew. If you have a largest of “weed” population, or, fertilizing, non food crops in place, you never have to rotate a crop area. trading yield for fertility and the ease of not having to rotate a field.

  3. Pingback: Polyculture Update and Small Scale Grain Harvested « The Sustainable Smallholding

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