I wanted to write a short post to keep up to date with my vegetable/grain polyculture experiments. The overall aims and objectives are described in my vegetable/grain polyculture design, but the page is really a number of linked projects. This post updates a couple of those polyculture projects.
Grain, Clover, and Bean Polyculture
The main thread of the polyculture experiments is the Sustainable Grains Project. This year I am growing wheat, rye, and spelt at 12 inch spacings, and wheat at 12 inches between rows, and 6 inches within each row. The pictures below show beds of Spelt, Rye, and Wheat at 12 inch spacings.
All were taken in February (2013). The broad leaved plants are the Broad Beans.
The wheat was sown and planted out much later then the other grains, and this is obvious from the pictures. In fact it is only slightly more advanced than the spelt planted across the road from me, on a biodynamic farm. This highlights the benefits of early sowing.
If you compare the pictures with those that I used for the January Small Scale Grain Growing Update, you may notice that the grains have continued to grow. A week of warmer temperatures have seen a noticeable increase in size, especially of the rye.
Broad Bean Experiment
Of more interest in terms of the polyculture is the success of the broad beans. One strand of the polyculture experiment is to develop a really cold hardy strain of the Broad Bean ‘Bunyard’s Exhibition’. I’ve chosen this bean as it is the tallest that i could find among the commercially available beans. Last Winter I lost about 90% of the beans. This year I planted out seedlings that came from last Winter’s survivors. This Winter the only losses that I’ve had are to rats digging up and eating the large seed leaves at the beginning of Winter. The remaining plants have all survived so far. It’s been a less intense Winter. The temperatures haven’t been as low, so I don’t want to read too much into the good survival rates, but I am pleased. The beans will play a key role in the polyculture experiments. Adding Nitrogen, food, bee forage, with a high biomass, all from a plant that will stand out all Winter, protecting the soil, and helping to maintain the mycorrhizal fungi.
Another strand of the polyculture experiment is the attempt to grow soybeans in the UK. The picture below shows my harvest last year.
It doesn’t look impressive but this is just from six plants, all of which lost much of their lower foliage and seed pods, which were stripped by my chickens. These soy plants were grown in two pots along with a tomato plant in each. The idea of the pots was to enable me to see if I could use the soil/compost from the pots to innoculate next year’s soy plants with the right nitrogen forming bacteria. These are not naturally present in our soils. I had bought a packet of innoculant from the USA, but it was marked as only being good for one season. I wasn’t sure if that was just good sales practise, or genuine. So I’ve adapted a technique used to grow mycorrhizal fungi, to see if I could produce my own innoculant. The pots are sat in the dry waiting to try this out this year. There is no mention of the innoculant on the RHS website.
Everything wanted to eat the soybeans that were planted in beds. They were eaten by rabbits first. Then when I put mesh over them, the pigeons ate whatever grew through it, as soon as it was in reach. As I mentioned earlier, my chicken ate the leaves and young pods. This suggests that the beans would make a good forage crop, perhaps grown as part of a summer green manure mix. Growing the soybeans without protection may need a complex polyculture in which the soybeans can ‘hide’ amongst other plants.
I grew the soybeans as I had read that growing potatoes in a bed after it had grown soybeans, helped to reduce scab. This will be difficult to test unless I can prevent the soybeans from being eaten. I could grow them in a polytunnel (arriving later this year), but this won’t help the potatoes.
The polyculture experiments are now entering an interesting stage. I have some fellow ‘experimenters’ enrolled for some experiments with the small scale grain growing element of the project. This will begin at the end of this Summer (2013). The Broad Beans may have already started to show signs that the ‘natural selection’ of our colder Winters are creating the type of bean that I want. I have succeeded in harvestig soybeans in the UK, grown outside without protection. Not a bad start to my vegetable grain polyculture system.