Polyculture Update. Late September 2010

Again, actual progress with my experimental polyculture has been slow, whilst my thinking has continued to evolve. In the vegetable beds, Broad beans have now been planted. These are a great example of the Permaculture principle ‘every element should perform more than one function’. They are a food crop, provide bee forage, fix nitrogen, yield a lot of biomass, and keep plants in the beds over Winter (green manure). As a food crop, you can eat the young shoots, the whole pods, the seeds young, or dry the seeds for storage. Not bad from a single crop.

I’m trying two variations of planting for the polyculture, but graphically, I’m having problems showing you what I’m trying. I’ll try to explain  in words.

This year’s grains are planted in a grid, 60cm/2 feet apart. Three  rows across a 1.5m/five foot wide bed, as per the picture in the previous post. Having sown the ground cover, I have now planted pre soaked Broad (Fava) beans. These are done for two distinct purposes. There are two beans per row, planted between the existing grain plants. This gives a row that is  Grain-bean-grain- bean- grain across the bed, at about 30cm/1 foot spacing between plants. These beans will be left to set beans, and be cropped. Mid way between these rows, are a row of beans, five across the bed, at the same spacing, giving an effect like a grid. These beans are primarily a green manure crop. I intend to keep cutting the shoots for eating, which will give me the additional benefit of the plants shedding roots, and nitrogen in the root nodules, into the soil. before planting out the grains, and corn, next Summer. These plants, and the ground cover, will be hoed down, to allow space, and light for the new plants. Just to complicate matters, I want to try a different configuration  of planting for these ‘mid row’ bean plants, that would allow the plants to remain, and be cut back regularly throughout the Summer. This would entail planting a cluster of beans in the gaps between the primary rows, but leaving spaces for the planting of next years crops. The main difference is that in the first option, the new plants would go into the positions that the mid row beans had occupied, whereas the second option leaves the mid row beans surrounding the planting site for the second year crops.

Where is your simple graphic when you need it? I have planted beds using both methods, and as the beans are now emerging, it shouldn’t be long before I can illustrate this with a picture. Both planting schemes allow me to use a hoe, unobstructed by plants that will need to be left alone, which is important, as the timely removal/ setting back of the clover, is likely to be crucial to the establishment of new plants.

I’ve also been occupied with leveling some of the raised beds. At the moment they are orientated North – South, and are higher at the Northern end. This is good for plant growth, as the slope gives more warmth from sunlight, but I have been reading some  interesting accounts of some grain growing in Mexico, in raised beds, where the paths between the beds were filled with straw. When the crops are watered, it is the paths that are filled with water, which then soaks into the beds laterally. This interested me, as if I have to water the beds now, I stand there with a sprinkler. This takes time, washes nutrients down into the subsoil, assists weed seeds to germinate, and is not very efficient. Using the paths as irrigation channels is a bit like filling a swale with organic matter. Even when the water has seeped across, the organic matter holds moisture like a sponge, for longer. Nutrients released by the decomposition of the organic matter would also be dissolved in the water, and move laterally into the beds. I had wondered whether adding the straw to the bed would inhibit the growth of the ground cover plants, especially clover, and this might be a way of avoiding that. the reports that I’ve read suggests that it will also reduce water use. perhasp just as important, I can leave the water to run, whilst I do something else, allowing a more efficient use of my time. The system is called FIRBS (Furrow irrigated raised bed system). I would have provided links, but much of the writing is in PDF format, so you’ll have to search for it yourself.

Currently I am continuing to soak bean seeds, and then planting them in modules, to use as green manure crops in all of the other beds. I’m enjoying seeing growing plants in beds, that would normally just be covered in compost, and then mulched with straw. it looks more natural.

Wishing you well



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