Tag Archives: small scale wheat growing

UK Permaculture Convergence 2014

I will be attending the UK Permaculture Convergence 2014, where I will be giving a talk about my work on grain polycultures. The Permaculture Association organises a convergence every two years. The 2012 convergence was the first that I attended, and I spoke about grain growing there too. I have found the two year gap between convergences is really interesting, as it highlights how much has changed in the two year period, a fact that might not have been so marked with an annual event. Those changes will be reflected in the content of my talk.

My 2014 Convergence Workshop

In 2012 my workshop reflected where I was at the time with my Small Scale Grain Growing. Things have changed markedly since then. I have successfully added soybeans and edible lupins to the crops grown, and this year I am growing rice, teff, proso millet, foxtail millet, grain sorghum, grain amaranth, and lentils to see how they perform. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference is by the work that I was doing today. Having harvested my wheat, spelt, and rye last week, I was preparing one of those beds for sowing the next crop combination. In this case a second flint corn, to be intercropped with winter wheat, sweet clover, and persian clover. In October the corn will be replaced by broad (fava) beans, and it has been planted at a spacing that will suit the beans. I am looking to use this type of intercropping and follow on cropping to maximise the amount of root exudates produced by the plants, along with the biomass, in order to build soil fertility at the same time as providing food. The adjacent bed is growing grain sorghum, intercropped with grain amaranth, and some white clover and red orach volunteers. I am trying a cowpea interplanting with this combination, to be sown tomorrow, after germinating indoors since Sunday.

To get to these beds I had to walk past a bed with a lentil, soybean, and teff polyculture planting at one end of a bed that included two types of oats, a barley, and a second lentil variety at the other. All very different from the wheat/clover/bean combinations of two years ago.

Workshop Details

My workshop is officially called ‘Designing Grain Polycultures for Food, Fertility, and Fun’ and for the promotional ‘blurb’ I’ve described it as:

 
‘How complex mixtures of grains,  pseudograins,  and legumes can be grown to feed us and our soils. The talk will include details of the full range of crops that I am growing, including uncommon grains, and legumes, how they effect the fertility of the soil, and how they can be used in multi-species mixtures to meet specific needs.’
What I hope to do is weave together strands of food production, soil fertility, and good design, as well as having a giggle at the same time.

Convergence Highlights

Whilst I’d love my workshop to be the highlight of everybody’s UK Permaculture Convergence 2014, the reality is that there are a lot of good things going on over the course of the weekend. What I enjoyed most about the 2012 convergence was the opportunity to meet in person many of the people that I had been communicating with digitally for the previous year. For Diploma apprentices there is an annual Diploma Gathering, held November/Deacember each year, and there are now more regional gatherings being organised, but this is the ‘biggie’, and a real opportunity to start embedding yourself deeper into the wider network. I am fortunate to enough to be on the panel for Jan Martin’s Diploma Accreditation, which will be held at the convergence. For anybody who wants a chance to find out more the diploma, this is a great chance to listen to somebody explain what it was like for them. You can find out more about Jan’s Diploma on her blog, ‘The Snail of Happiness‘.

Good food, good company, bar, workshops, Diploma presentation, Ceilidh, time and space to chat. What isn’t there to like about a weekend away with like-minded people?

International Permaculture Convergence UK 2015

The UK is hosting the International Permaculture Convergence in 2015, and we will be hosting hundreds of permaculturalists from around the world. The UK Permaculture Conference 2014 is being held at Gilwell Park, which is the same venue as has been chosen for IPC UK 2015. Not only does this give the IPC planners a chance to test out the venue, but it also gives us a chance to get a feel for what it will be like next year. Funds raised from the 2014 Convergence will help pay for the IPC in 2015, so the more people who attend, the easier it will be to fund the IPC, and the more cash will be left over to help funf IPC 2017, which will be in India.

UK Permaculture Convergence 2014 Details

The UK Permaculture Convergence 2014 will beheld at Gilwell Park from the 12th to 14th September. Details and booking information can be found here. The convergence is open to non-members of the Permaculture Association for the first time this year, but the cost for non members is more than the cost of a year’s membership and the price for association members. So it makes sense to join.

Hope to see some of you there

 

Deano

 

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.

 

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Small Scale Grain Growing Update 2012/2013 Season

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.

Harvesting

rye and spelt

Small scale grain growing results

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.

small scale grain growing problems

Damage to spelt from pigeons

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.

measuring yields for small scale grain growing systems

My High Tech Yield Measuring system

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.

 

harvested bed of spelt

A 100 Sq foot bed

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.

small scale grain growing yield

The yield of spelt taken from a 100sq ft bed

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.

Comparing Yields

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.

Observations

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

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.

Weeds

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.

harvested rye

weed free rye stubble

The next picture shows a bed of spelt after harvest. can you spot the difference?

spelt harvested from a small scale bed

Stubble remaining after harvesting spelt

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

Deano

 

 

Polyculture Update. February 2013

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.

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Small Scale Grain Growing Update Jan 2013

Small Scale Grain Growing polyculture

Spelt, Bean, and Clover Polyculture

Small Scale Grain Growing is an integral part of my vegetable and grain polyculture experiment, which featured in an article in Permaculture Magazine. I have described what I’m trying to achieve in earlier posts, and on my Sustainable Grains, and Vegetable/Grains pages, but I wanted to show some pictures of my current research. That’s especially true as the last time that I posted an update was at the end of October (2012). This was a post about some of my Research, as opposed to the work itself. I will address that now.

The analysis that I did when I Continue reading