I have used a number of Green Manure strategies this Winter as part of my soil fertility building program. In fact I think that I have shifted from growing food to growing soil as my primary activity. Using a Green Manure provides a number of benefits for me, which I’ll describe below. Please note that this is an explanation of some of the things that I have done this Winter, and not an attempt to teach people how a green manure should be used.
My small scale grain growing experiment has reached the end of year two, having grown and harvested, rye, spelt, and wheat. I’m almost ready to start sowing the grains for year three, and thought that I would record my results and observations here.
This is the rye and spelt before harvesting. The rye was even more impressive than last year with most of the grain over six feet in height, and some reaching 8 feet tall. I started harvesting a little before I thought that the grain was ripe as I was experiencing a lot of bird predation. I had pigeons eating the spelt, and smaller birds eating the rye.
The picture above shows some of the evidence. The pigeons land on top of a bundle of grain, forcing it towards the ground where they can get to it more easily. Once down it then becomes easier for rats and mice to get at it too.
I was a bit concerned that with harvesting it a bit early germination may be reduced, but I was preparing the beds for sowing today, and there was grain sprouting where some had been missed by the birds.
This is my High Tech measuring system to get a rough idea of yields. I simply stuff the grain into the rubbish bin until I cannot get any more in, and then tie it up into a bundle. Not that scientific, as it only measures the straw, but ti gives me a rough comparison between different crops and systems. That’s not too much of an issue for me, as the straw is as important to me as the grain is. it will be used as poultry bedding, and then returned to the growing area to help build fertility. Were I more concerned with money, the rye straw is perfect for making skeps, for which beekeepers pay a lot of money. The picture also gives you an idea of just how tall these grains are compared to the modern ‘vertically challenged’ grains grown conventionally.
Small Scale Grain Growing yields
It’s difficult to describe or assess what your yields will be when you are growing grains on a small scale, so I thought that |I’d show you my yields in pictures.
The picture above shows a bed of 100 sq feet (4 ft x 25 ft). (In theory this bed would be 5 ft wide, but the high nature of the bed won’t allow planting all the way across). This is the standard size bed for the Grow Bio-intensive system. it’s also the right size to allow comparisons between fertilizer applications (grams per 100 sq ft bed is roughly equivalent to lbs per acre). The picture below shows the yield of spelt taken from it.
The 100sq ft bed produced four ‘stuffed bin’ sized bundles, which is pretty cool. Once these have been threshed and winnowed, I’ll start to get an idea of how much grain i get from each bundle, which will be much more useful.
The overall yield from this year’s grain growing was 30 of these bundles, with roughly equal amounts of each of the three grains.
The only direct comparison that I did was two roughly equal sized beds of wheat. In one the wheat was was spaced at 12 inches apart, and in the other the rows remained 12 inches apart, but the grain was only six inches apart within the rows. of the two, the smaller spacing yielded fractionally more than the wider spacing. 3 1/4 bundles as opposed to 3 for the 12 inch spaced grains.This used twice as much seed, and was harder to weed, but seemed to resist lodging better. The recommended spacing for the System of Wheat Intensification method is 8 inches, and perhaps the results of this comparison bear that out. The difference in yield for such a small plot is not significant, but it will be interesting to repeat this a few times to see if the difference remains over a number of years.
One of the benefits of small scale grain growing is the ability to observe closely what is going in with each grain. On a huge scale you can only look at little patches of the whole picture, whereas I get to see everything in great detail.
Ergot is a problem in chemical free rye, but I only found one infected grain. Earlier in the season when the weather was damp it looked as if more were infected, but the grain seems to have fought it off on it’s own. There were tiny patches of black on the very ends of a couple of grains, but the grains themselves were healthy. The weather may have helped, but it’s reassuring to see a strong, healthy rye plant.
There was very little weed amongst the grains themselves. The picture below shows one of the rye beds after harvest, and you can see for yourself how clean it is.
The next picture shows a bed of spelt after harvest. can you spot the difference?
Well I hope that you can see a lot more green in the second picture. Both of these crops were module sown, and I added some wild white clover to the modules. On planting out, both crops had a small amount of white clover around the base of each plant. As you can see from the pictures. This clover has grown reasonably well with the spelt, but very little has survived with the rye. Some of this may be due to the extra shade cast by the rye, which was taller. Another possibility is that the rye is a bit allelopathic, chemically suppressing it’s rivals. If that’s true it could be really useful to help combat spring germinating weeds, possibly in an organic vegetable system. That’s in addition to the yield of grain, masses of straw for fertility building, a massive root system, and a late sown crop to help mop up Nitrogen after the harvest of an earlier crop. Not a bad set of reasons to incorporate small scale grain growing into your own system. To test the allelopathy I’m going to swap the crops grown on these two beds this year.
Growing Grains in 2013/2014
The next year’s small scale grain growing experiments are similar. The single wheat variety will be replaced by a mixture of six winter wheats, grown as part of the Permaculture Association’s ‘Sustainable Grain’ project. This is a research project to develop a sustainable, small scale grain growing system. Now that I have a good supply of grain and seed, I will grow less of the rye and spelt this year. Sowing just enough to maintain a fresh supply of seed. I want to grow out some Rivet Wheat that I was given, mainly to see what it looks like, but also to keep the seed fresh. I have to read up in chemical free methods to clean the seed from Bunt. I was told that coating in mustard powder, or dried milk works, but I’d like to look into that over the next few days before deciding whether to risk using this seed or not. I also have two different varieties of oats to grow next spring. One variety is Naked Oats, and the other Black Oats. The Black Oats may also have some allelopathy so could be potentially useful. Although oats are normally a spring sown crop here, the Black oats are supposed to be really tough, so I might broadcast sow a small bed soon to see how much survives. Even if none does, it will suppress weeds first, mop up nitrogen, and then winter kill. acting as a non hardy green manure crop. There is a lot that you can do with this small scale grain growing, and I intend to try as much as I can.
All of the best
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.
It’s been a little while since my last post, and for most of that time I have been contemplating the detail of my vegetable/grain polyculture, how the crops will be rotated, and how I will incorporate compost, green manures, and intercrops into the system. I waited, in the hope that I could post the finished article, but have to admit, that I still have a bit of thinking to do.
The problem has been trying to get the PERFECT system, whereas I may have to compromise on perfection, and settle for just pretty good. It hasn’t helped that I’ve learnt more during the process, which has added some complexity.
What I hope to do is explain what I’m aiming for, why I’m doing it, and outline where I am now. What follows is for my larger vegetable growing area.
Yesterday evening I read ‘Growing Green’, by Jenny Hall and Iain Tollhurst, which had been recommended to me by a friend, Nick Vowles. There was a lot in the book that I already knew, but, as always, there is always something new to learn. The book is about Stock Free Organic farming, and much of the book is devoted to listing the standards that you need to adhere to to be registered. The book deals with farming at all scales, so quite a bit of it, the bits that dealt with machinery, were of little relevance, but there was enough new information to have made the purchase worthwhile. The main topic that caught my attention was the recommended amount of compost to use., which was one wheelbarrow load per 10 sq meters, for most crops, dropping to 5 sq meters for Nitrogen fixers, and some other crops.