Polyculture Update May 2012

Alright, alright, it’s been a while since my last post, but it’s hectic. I thought that I would post a few pictures of my polyculture experiment, to show you how things are progressing, which on the whole, is well.

As you can see from the picture below, the Bonfils grain growing has been awesome.

Small scale grain growing

Rye and Spelt

As you look at the picture, the spelt is on your left, and the rye is on your right. The rye is already flowering, and continuing to grow. In this picture the rye is already above my head, and the spelt has put on another 6 inches of growth in the last week, since this picture was taken.

This is all part of my bonfils grain growing experiment, and vegetable polyculture. These plants are growing with an understory of clover and chicory. I have cut the understory back already, as I had used too much chicory, and will thin it out eventually.

In the long term I’m going to use chickens to do this. I was initially concerned that the chickens may have damaged the growing grain, but the stalks are really substantial, and I think that it’s unlikely that they will cause any harm. To help this along I am training young chickens to eat slugs and the groundcover component, especially the chicory. The picture below is of some Old English Game chicks, with their foster mum.

Old English Game Chicks

Old English Game Chicks

These birds have been reared by a broody, so are a bit wary, and have not been ‘trained’, but I have a younger batch that were hatched in an incubator, and I am mum. So what I give them they eat. They are only three weeks old, can eat one inch long slugs whole, and cut sections of larger ones. They like them so much that some fly onto my hand to get theirs first. As well as slugs and chicory, they are also getting comfrey. This is to allow me to use it as a significant part of their diet, helping to reduce the amount of poultry food that I buy.

Having started the Bonfils experiment, I was able to get hold of some perennial wheat and rye. Martin Crawford’s new book, How to Grow Perennial Vegetables, suggests growing these at  a spacing of 12 inches/30 centimeters. I decided to grow them at the Bonfils spacing of 2 feet/60 cm. This gives me more space to grow a second crop. The picture below shows the first of these polycultures to be planted up.

Polyculture of perennial rye

Polyculture of perennial rye

These beds consist of a bicrop of perennial rye, Hungarian oilseed sunflowers, interplanted with bladder senna, and cosmos, and have been undersown with crimson clover. The outputs are food for people, chickens, and bees, biomass for composting/fertility building, Nitrogen fixation, and beauty. The link below is a table showing the outputs that I have designed this polyculture for.

Polyculture functions

Over the next week I will be planting up the other polyculture beds, and will post more pictures as I get the opportunity.

Wishing you well



6 thoughts on “Polyculture Update May 2012

  1. lesagriers

    Hi Deano,
    The grain looks fantastic! How many loaves of bread do you anticipate from your test bed?
    I like the look of the old english game birds (there must be a french equivalent over here somewhere). I’m assuming that they’re a hardy breed, balanced with a reasonable egg and meat (for those inclined) yield.
    Looking forward to being at yours next month!

    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Mark
      No idea of the yield. I’m concentrating on the how, to start off with, and will worry about the how much later.
      I may have a spare cockerel if you want to take it back and use it to cross with your own hens. They are a very interesting breed, very adventurous,tough, and a bit feisty. I am hand rearing some, and they just fly up and eat out of my hands. I’m training them to eat slugs, and the plants that make up my groundcover layer, so that i can use them prior to planting out, and after harvesting.
      I’m really looking forward to next month. I need to send out a little reminder.
      Wishing you all well

  2. annisveggies

    Hi Deano,

    This is a really interesting post. I love the new format for your blog as well, very attractive and well presented.

    Do you have a view about why the rye and spelt are growing so well? The method / the weather / the variety / other / combination???

    The table of functions of the polyculture is really helpful in showing its multifunctional nature.

    Looking forward to reading more about this in the future.

    All the best


    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Anni
      Thanks for your input, and I’m glad that the table was useful. I find that it helps to display what I’m trying to achieve much more simply than a series of written sentences.
      The method allows the grain to develop a really strong root system and tillers during the preceeding Summer, which then give it a real ‘engine’ for growth the following year. Each plant has 4 square feet of soil, to as deep as the roots can get to utilise, whereas in a conventional field, each little plant is competing with it’s neighbours to a far higher degree.
      My veg beds may also be a little too rich, as we’ve had some ‘lodging’ due to the high winds last week. The one disadvantage of using a long straw variety.
      Some of the Rye has reached 7 feet tall, with 30+ stems, so that is a massive amount of carbon/biomass, matched by the below ground growth. If all of this were to be applied directly to the bed in which it is grown, along with the mass from the clover, the fertility would jump, which is not my aim.
      The difficult bit will be to get the second year’s grain planted in late June, before the older stuff is harvested. This will be more difficult with some of the plants haven fallen/leaning. On my scale, I can use modules/soil blocks.
      The key may be to arrange the rotation so that the grain follows a period of heavy vegetable production, and the consequent lowering of fertility.
      Interesting times.

  3. Douglas Knight

    thanks for all this detail. Where do you buy your spelt, rye and barley seed from?

    1. Deano Post author

      I was given the annual rye and spelt. I was also given the perennial rye. I bought the perennial wheat fromBrown Envelope Seeds.


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