Productive Polyculture Experiment

Sometimes it’s funny how things turn out. I have not been a fan of the ‘garden polyculture’ strand within permaculture. I think that it’s ok on a small scale, or where there is a lot of free labour available for harvesting, but it has never struck me as a way to grow significant quantities of calories. Strangely I seem to be coming back to the idea. It all started with confirmation of the yield increase from a grain legume combination. Not really a true polyculture, more of an intercrop, but the basis of my small scale grain growing experiments. Things have moved on a bit since then. Please note that I’m not going to be giving details of all of the plants that I am using in my experiment, or references for the information that has got me to this point. I want to be sure that it works, before publishing the results. There will however be plenty of links to help you think about your own polycultures, or cover crop cocktails.

 

Multi -Species Cover Crops

Much of the research that I’ve been doing this winter has been to do with multi-species cover crops, or cover crop cocktails. It started with this video clip, called ‘under cover farmers’ cover crop cocktails. Really interesting, and there seems to be a lot of potential in their use within large scale agriculture. However three bits of information really struck home during my search. First was the realisation that many of the cover crops were food crops in their own right. Secondly, much of the soil building benefits of the cover crops were due to the root exudations, from actively growing plants. This suggests that growing these crops to harvest was likely to be as good for the soil as early incorporation/crimping. Finally there was the overlap between cover crops, food crops, and plants good at accessing phosphorus from the mineral fraction of the soil.
All in all there seems to be good reason to try and integrate the functions of food production and cover crop in a single mixture. In other words, a polyculture. However the harvesting issues still remain, so I’m planning to gow these crops in double rows, mixing cold season grass, cold season broadleaf, warm season grass, and warm season broadleaf as row crops.

A Grain Based Polyculture

Most of the world’s population eats grain, and although some root crops may produce more calories per acre, I suspect that we’re going to be eating grains for some time to come. So a polyculture with a high grain component makes a lot of sense. Luckily the advice given for growing cover crop cocktails is to use both cool and warm season grasses. Most grains grown are grasses, and so including grains in a productive polyculture makes a lot of sense. If you look at this cover crop chart, you can see some of the plants that are being recommended. There are plenty of grains listed in thischart too  MCCP_Chart_2 cover crops .

A Phosphorous Scavenging Polyculture

This post is not the right place to discuss phosphorous availability in depth, but my reading has turned up a number of plants that are able to access or dissolve phosphorous that would not be available to other plants. What was surprising was how many of them were also food crops, or cover crops, or nitrogen fixers, or even all three. For example, one plant that was mentioned was white lupin. A common green manure or cover crop component, and one that I’m growing an edible version of.

lupin polyculture

A polyculture of edible lupin, garlic, and salad leaves

Including it in a productive polyculture, I will get food, nitrogen fixation, a deep rooted plant to help with decompaction, make more phosphorous available, and a bee plant. This is only one example of many.

An all year round Polyculture

By carefully choosing plants, it should be possible to keep the soil covered, and have an actively growing plant in the soil at all times, all at the same time as producing food, and building soil. This is probably going to be the most difficult part of my experiment. I think that I’ve worked it all out, but it will take a season or two to iron out any glitches, and then perhaps another season or two before I test to see how my soil has been affected by the polyculture experiment.

I intend to keep drip feeding information, pictures, and blog posts as |I go along.

 

12 thoughts on “Productive Polyculture Experiment

  1. Tara

    Please do keep feeding us information as you can. I’m so new to this but still finding your posts fascinating and great springboards for my additional research. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      If I’m totally honest Tara, I’d be doing this whether anybody else was interested or not. The fact that some people find it useful or interesting is a bonus though, and I’m glad that you find it useful..
      All of the best
      Deano

      Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Joshua
      It’s the seeds that bare eaten. It’s a common snack around the mediterranean, known as Tremacos in Portugal.
      Deano

      Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      No problems Sue
      There is lots of good information available out there.
      and Good Luck
      Deano

      Reply
  2. guy

    Hi – i have just finished reading Jean-Martin Fortier’s ‘The Market Gardener’ and you’re prompted me to go back over it as he mentions using mixed cover crops like peas and oats in the autumn (book is quite good BTW). I am just getting started with green manure really and am trying crops individually to see what works before trying combinations (it looks like the ag lupins will fail unfortunately probably because the soil pH is too high; i am sending off samples to Logal labs so should get a better fix on the actual pH though among other data). I am starting a blog soon on our urban homestead and would like to link to yours as i’ll also be trying new things and reporting results – is that OK? Guy

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Guy
      I’ve not read the book that you mention. Anything that stands out in it that makes it worth getting?
      No problem with linking, and good luck with the blog
      Deano

      Reply
      1. guy

        Hello Deano – the books doesn’t have much about green manure mixes so I wouldn’t get it for that reason; it gives a description though of a small scale organic market garden operation (in Canada on the US border so the latitude is broadly relevant) and i’m collecting different growers’ tips and tricks as it’s something I’d like to do myself. Cheers.

        Reply

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