Vegetable Growing Update and Polyculture Details

With so many of my recent posts concentrating on bees and swarming, I thought that it was time to get the camera out, and show you what I’m up to in the vegetable growing areas, and show you the first pictures of my new, experimental, polyculture, or guild, which is a hybrid of Bon Fils grain growing, and the three sisters planting guild, but with a couple of additional twists.

The first picture is a shot of the first vegetable growing area, which is becoming the space where I grow the early crops, and those that need regular picking.

vegetable growing

This area is 25mx 20m, which is 1/8th of an acre. The thing that is most noticeable in the picture, is the straw mulch in the paths. This has been excellent, suppressing weeds, and saving me time. It also seems to be keeping the beds more moist, reducing evaporation from the sides of the raised beds, and holding some moisture within the straw, which is what I’d hoped would happen.


Onions ready to eat

This is the first time that I have grown Autumn sown onions, and they are ready now,much earlier that the Spring sown ones. A few bolted in the dry weather, but we’ll eat those first….. This bed is about 12 inches high, but you can see that the straw mulch is almost as deep as the bed. This gives me the best results of all. I get the free draining of the raised bed, the mulch prevents weeds growing through, and helps to avoid the bed drying out too much, and the straw will act as a source of food for microbes. I expected to see an increase in slug activity, but that hasn’t been the case so far.  I’m  hoping that the mulch provides a good habitat for slug predators too. Sadly, I suspect that it will also be a great hiding place for voles, and rats, later in the season.

The picture below is of the other vegetable growing area, which is for growing stuff for Winter storage.

vegetable growing

The greenhouses are now in the wrong place, and I may move them. The picture below is of some of last year’s leeks, which I’ve left to flower, so that I can save seed.

leeks flowering

leeks flowering

In this area I’ve started an experimental polyculture, which is a sort of hybrid of the three sisters guild, and the Bon Fils method of small scale wheat, or grain growing. The first link  is for Toby Hemenway’s explanation of the Three Sister’s Guild. The second link is for Mark Moodie’s site, where you can get his ebook, the Harmonious Wheatsmith, which explains the Bon Fils method of growing wheat. My variation takes elements of both, and combines them. The first picture shows the initial planting.

polyculture experiment

Polyculture experiment

The first stage is a planting of corn, and bladder senna, undersown with crimson and persian clover. There is also some self sown red orach, and borage. The bladder senna is a perennial, nitrogen fixing shrub, and the clovers are annual nitrogen fixers. The Bon fils method uses white clover, which is perennial, but I wanted to try something different. I’m due to sow the wheat (spelt)  any day now, along with some rye. Both are long strawed varieties. They will be planted in between the corn, just like the planting in the Bon Fils method. Another addition to the experiment are Stropharia mushrooms (Wine cap). These will add another edible component, as well helping to decompose cellulose (straw), and lignin (wood), making them available to the plants. The link will take you to a blog post about Stropharia, which will save me some typing. The next link is about the use of fungi in Permaculture, which includes a section on Stropharia.

clover seedlings

clover seedlings

The picture above shows the first of the clover seedlings appearing, and the one below shows them in relation to the corn, bladder senna, and borage.

clover in polyculture

clover in polyculture

To follow the Bon Fils method, the grain element should be sown on Solstice, by pressing the grain into position, at 60cm spacing, through a living mulch of clover. As my clover has yet to establish, I am soaking the grain to germinate it, and will grow it on in rootrainers, until it is robust enough to look after itself. After just three days, roots and shoots are already emerging. The beauty of the Bon Fils method is that the new grain is planted into the standing grain crop, sown the previous year. So from Solstice to harvest, they grow together. My twist is to substitute one of the grain crops for a crop of corn. This means that a plot will rotate from grain to corn, or corn to grain, or grain to grain, rather than just grain to grain. I am also tempted to see if I can have the two grain crops, and a crop of corn, growing at the same time, perhaps with a slightly wider spacing, but will have to waituntil next year to try it.

One of the elements that I am unsure of, is how the corn will cope, when planted amongst the standing grain crop. As I am using old fashioned, long strawed varieties, it may be that they will create too much shade. I am hoping, that as the new grain has enough light to grow in this system, a crop of corn will do too. In addition, the old grain crop will be harvested before the new corn crop is ripening, which is when it will need maximum sunlight. Having read how mycorrhizal fungi channel sugars from large forest trees, to seedling trees in the shade, I am hopeful that a healthy fungal mycelium will help to overcome short term shade problems.

Another element that I am still pondering, is the possibility of incorporating squashes into the new polyculture. In the three sisters planting, the squash provides the shade and weed suppression that is the job of the clover in the Bon Fils wheat growing method. I do not know if trying to add squash as well, will damage an understorey of clover. I’m going to leave it for another year to find out.

The final parts of this experiment are the use of woodchips, or hugelkultur to feed the Stropharia, which will turn the wood into plant food, and the inclusion of bamboo, which is another grass that should benefit from growing with the Stropharia.

I am also working on/planning an Azolla/comfrey/worm/duck/grain straw system, which overlaps with this polyculture by using the grain straw as duck bedding, before returning it to the system.

Interesting times ahead, I think.

All of the best


4 thoughts on “Vegetable Growing Update and Polyculture Details

  1. Pingback: Our Permaculture Working Group 2011 | Transition Horncastle

  2. Pingback: Polyculture Update 26 June 2011 « The Sustainable Smallholding

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