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Vegetable polycultures.

 
John Wright
Posts: 17
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I'm just going to throw these vegetable polycultures out there for people to check out... all plants have bore well so far.. all of this was pasture in February.... I have used nothing but straw mulch, compost, and foliar sprays like seaweed and fermented legumes and dynamic accumulators... not everything is doing as well as I would like but I have gotten about 800 lbs so far this year in produce.
the first picture is our broccoli bed.. they were originally planted with scallions and then diversified with nasturtium and borage... we later interplanted japanese chrysanthemum... we just planted pumpkins, eggplant, and okra to take over for the rest of the summer.. needs more compost.
second picture is the tomato beds... these had stone piles set in every 15 feet or so for eggplants and peppers... they also ended up having nz spinach, amaranth, molokheiya,
in front of the tomato on the path is parsley with some onions and sweet potato interplanted... the t posts for the tomato trellis have just recently been fitted with alternating malabar spinach and cucumbers.
the last picture are beds that were fitted also with the stone piles and some circular cages... the center of these cages was filled with compost and cucumbers and dry beans planted all around.. the stones in this area have eggplants and peppers at two foot spacings with parsley and basil planted in between... I also added one cantaloupe per rock pile and some nz spinach as a groundcover.... basil and marigolds are filling in the spaces between everything else...
I must say... polycultures are the way to go...
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Shelly Randall
Posts: 73
Location: Central Valley California
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That looks great, John. I've never heard of putting stone piles in a garden. What does that do?
 
Craig Dobbelyu
gardener
Posts: 1415
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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sheila reavill wrote:That looks great, John. I've never heard of putting stone piles in a garden. What does that do?


The stones can absorb heat during the day and release during it during cooler times, creating a slightly warmer micro-climate, which heat loving plants utilize to extend the growing season. They can also create pockets of moisture from dew accumulating on them thus mitigating dramatic changes in humidity and soil moisture. I stumbled on this fact a few years ago when I planted my tomatoes near a short stone wall. That area stayed frost free for 2 weeks longer than the rest of my neighborhood. AND in the spring it was ready for planting 2 weeks earlier than the rest of the neighborhood. People thought I was crazy planting my "stone beds" that early, but I'm harvesting crops while they are still dealing with little seedlings.

I've found that using large flat stones (like thick slate) buried halfway in the soil vertically will warm the soil in early spring deep enough to plant several weeks earlier than the local normal frost dates. It's a heat trap!
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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beautiful, could you tell us "where" you are?
 
John Wright
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thanks
central ohio.. columbus area... clay soil. at least here... ph 6.1
the stones do all of those things listed above.... I have also found that the majority of plants germinating from the compost (tomato, watermelon, pumpkin) are germinating in the edge where the rocks and the soil come together. nz spinach loves the extra heat... the melons climb all over it and it will help me ripen really good fruit from the peppers and eggplants.
the only worry I have with the stones.... weeds will germinate in those same cracks where the rocks and soil meet.. this can be a hard place to weed... the rocks were originally put on top of 6 inches of mulch but things have since come through.
I think watermelon and cantaloupe make a great groundcover for just about everything as long as the timing is right.... the other plants have to either get a head start if they are direct seeded or transplants can be put in at the same time as the cantaloups.
the cages were important too.. just hog fencing that was tied to itself to make a tube... they make it so I can just put compost in the middle and fertilize all of the plants around the cage... this keeps all of my trellised plants fertilized and happy.... ive only tried it with cucumbers and pole beans but I'm sure it would work with other crops.. it's easier to put compost in a pile in the middle than to spread it out over a bed... the trellis itself is also much easier to put up and take down.
I did my tomatos this year in the florida weave but I think next year I will put them around the cages...
I think my original ideas for this came from people talking about the banana circle and how that works....
 
Alder Burns
pollinator
Posts: 1341
Location: northern California
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Dense polycultures like this are awesome for the small homestead garden. They become more challenging once one begins to scale up towards growing for market or gardening with/for a community of people. Newcomers sometimes find it confusing.....I have had valuable plants pulled out as weeds! In larger scale gardens efficiency begins to become important....it's beneficial to have all of one kind of something together or at least in a recognizable, repetitive pattern. This doesn't mean polyculture needs to be abandoned altogether....it might just become a bit more orderly.....such as alternating rows or alternating plants; or one taller plant with one groundcover beneath, etc.
 
John Wright
Posts: 17
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although I believe in economies of scale and I know that this would be improbable on a much larger scale... the amount of mulch alone would be hard to come by every year...
I am lucky though.. all our mulch came off the fields adjacent to the garden and I have been able to keep most of it shaded with plants
this is definitely a market garden.. we have sold or donated 1000 lbs of food so far this year.
on the efficiencies of harvesting.. the picture with the stones and the cages
around the stones the varieties of eggplant and pepper are the same for each stone circle..... that is to say all the black beauty eggplants and calwonder peppers are around the same circle... they should all be coming into bearing around the same time... this is the same around the other stones ... im utilizing 3 varieties of eggplant and 6 varieties of pepper.. they are all grouped around the stones for easy harvest
also... the greens and herbs between the peppers and eggplants are all harvested weekly at the same time... the greens go into a stir fry mix
the cantaloup should be done by the end of the pepper and eggplant season
I feel like if I tried to simplify this system with one or two plants instead of 5 or 6 it may work structurally to shade the ground and keep the weeds down but I think the diversity is the most important part of the system.. the flowering and aromatic plants do a lot
when I'm harvesting basil and summer savory I can smell it in the air... I know the pests can too... and they don't like it.. the marigolds, basil, zinnia, milkweed and queen annes lace all do their part to bring in beneficials
the problem with larger scale market gardeners is that they don't try to do this stuff... efficiencies can be made up for with good placement of plants... high yields can still be attainable
I use absolutely no biocides of any kind in this market garden.. the only thing I put or have put on the plants has been compost, fermented legumes and liquid seaweed... I feel like if I simplified things that I would have worse pest problems.
 
Ray South
Posts: 60
Location: Northern Tablelands, NSW, Australia
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Great job John. I like the idea of repeated patterns. I am trying to convert my yard into a similar mixed planting but struggle a little because I find it so much easier to plant a row of carrots, for example.
 
John Wright
Posts: 17
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I should say that all of the plants in the pictures are transplants... I think it's easier to space them out and generally get the structural parts right
I did experiment with direct seeding carrots, beets, and turnips into prepared beds that were covered in burlap and watered until germ... this worked fairly well with the turnips raging out much faster than I expected... I had some spacing issues.... I was trying to harvest the smaller ones... and that has worked to a certain degree but I think I would like to develop the seed mixes on percentages... like 40 % carrot 30% beet... etc. . .and then get better at broadcasting... eventually...
 
Milan Broz
Posts: 87
Location: Croatia
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This spring I've started full mix garden, by mixing all vegetable seeds (maybe 20 or more) in a bucket and spreading it all over the garden. I covered garden with a mulch and leave. I visit it every 15-20 days, and what happens is that I can not recognize what is vegetable and what is weed. So I don't tuch anything. I have garden full of weeds, and also full of vegetables. But when it comes to harvesting, it's gonna be tricky. For example cucumber or squash leaves hides small plants like carrots, so I'm playing detective when it comes to harvest carrot.

Next year I wouldn't probably do the same, I'll try to develop some pattern so that I know where to find something.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5614
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I too love our vegetable polyculture with every inch covered in all variety of green but this morning I saw the last foot or so of a copperhead moving into my sweet potatoes and I still needed to cut back the buckwheat for mulch around the calendula and knew that copperheads come in pairs so my peaceful early morning gardening experience was made anxious. Trying to find the right balance to live among these critters. They would love the stone piles. Your garden looks beautiful.
 
Matt Baker
Posts: 45
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John: It's great to hear that some market gardeners are using polyculture techniques. Seems like you're on the right track. Too often I see 'polycultures' as a something like row or broccoli with clover planted underneath, i.e. about two species. While this is better, I don't think it reaches anywhere near the full potential of polyculture. I have only begun to experiment with polycultures. So far just one summer as an intern. However next year I plan to start selling produce at the local farmer's market and I am very keen to experiment with polycultures.

Milan: From what I have read and experienced annual vegetable polycultures require more attention then once every '15-20' days - It's necessary to harvest often and early. Otherwise the plants suffocate one another and can't mature. I hear you with the detective game. Booking up on plant ID is super critical for polyculture success.

I think there is so much work and experimenting to be done tweaking polycultures for market gardening. I've read about it from the greats like Holzer and Hemenway and while they give good advise it's not clear cut the way Elliot Coleman lays out planting methods in his books, e.g. plant your carrots 1/4 inch deep at 2" spacings in rows 6" apart. Sepp is like, "mix your small seeds in one bucket; large ones in the other and chuck them out there" -all done! Polyculture seems much more of an art form which is both frustrating and exciting.

I'd like to make it to polyculture 50 one day but this is what I have to start. It's about polyculture 20ish. The theme is salad/high-value crops. Things like mesclun, carrots and radishes sell well at farmers markets so that's the focus of this guild. Much of the stuff in the mix is more functional than profitable, like the maize and beans. The maize I don't even expect to harvest; but I hear it makes a good trellace and its sugars feed the nitrogen fixing bacteria in the peas and beans. I'll likely plant several varieties of stuff like carrots, broccoli and lettuce to see which ones do the best. The ones that do I'll let go to seed for next year. I'll put in squash, tomatoes and melon guilds in locations I don't visit as often, like a zone 1.5-2. Please comment/criticize the list and share yours!

Brocoli (market)
Maize (trellis)
Dill (insectary)
Beans (market/N fixer)
Peas (market/N fixer)
Chives (market
Calendula (market)
Garlic (pest deterrent/market)
Comfrey (nutrient accumulator/mulch)
Alfalfa (nutrient accumulator/ deep rooted water pump)
Marigold (nematode deterrent/looks pretty)
Radish (market)
Onions (market)
Mesclun mix (market)
Leaf lettuce (market)
Head lettuce (market)
Buckwheat (insectary/mulch)
Nasturtium (nutrient accumulator)
Potatoes (market/nice soil organic matter if left in the ground)
Carrots (market)



 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Hi everybody,

Just hoping a new post will spur people to updates now that more of us are entering planting season.

For harvest reasons in a tiny backyard urban lot, I find it useful to lean on Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening. I focus on my keystone species, like tomatoes, for instance, and plant in a stratified manner, as earlier suggested, with just about all the companion plants I can fit into the garden that benefit tomato, or are benefitted by them. So my tomato guild includes oregano, basil, parsley, peppers, onions (chives, mostly), and marigolds on the perimeter. I plan for walking spaces between three-by-three planting blocks (outside of hugelbeets) and these I seed with foot-traffic-resistant n-fixers and nutrient accumulators like clovers, yarrow, and roman chamomile.

I plan such blocks with other compatible extended companion guild webs, and arrange them south to north in order of height and sun tolerance (the north half of my yard is usually shaded by a large tree). I am growing potatoes in 3x3 planters that I gradually layer compost as they grow, also with basil, oregano, kales, and peas(beans after), and I seed the north side of the plants with a seed mix that contains buckwheat and red clover. I am taking cuttings of my blueberry bushes to start seedlings coming out of the sides of the planters (I built them out of wooden pallets and am planting into the dirt exposed between the slats), taking advantage of the acidic conditions. To that I am going to add raspberry rootstock to the north end of the planters.

I think that if you pattern properly, and plant in discrete blocks that each follow a pattern, and grow a serious polyculture on the pathways and as borders (marigolds!), then make sure you have at least 2 different types of block and mix them so you don't have two side-by-side, you will find a dramatic rise in the polyculture number.

-CK
 
dj niels
Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Great discussion about polycultures. I am doing polycultures on several scales this year. In my small home garden, I have several small hugelbeds (mounds of sticks covered with hay, soil, and woodchips) with mostly salad crops. In my high, dry area my lettuces all bolted and have been pulled, as also the mustard greens that acted as an early cover crop. What is left is mostly onions, kale, carrots, and a few other misc. greens. Since these are all new beds, I am really pleased they are producing at all, as this mound garden is an experiment for me. Because of the mulch, I only have to water every other day, but I still am able to harvest greens for smoothies and stir-fries about every day with minimal maintenance.

I also have a small Food Forest polyculture that looks like a miniature jungle right now. In fact, my daughter asked me today, Is anything growing out there to be able to harvest? I was able to point out to her the currants, nanking cherries, plums, and siberian pea shrubs that all are forming fruits or pods, plus all the perennial onions, rhubarb, asparagus, marshmallow herb, comfrey, horseradish, hollyhocks, and other plants in that jungle, many of which are making seed or building the soil, or other useful functions to help the whole system.

In my "other" garden, that we are establishing as a market garden and food forest or savanna, I also have several polyculture beds. My main market bed so far is 6 feet wide by 40 feet long. Last year I tried planting it as square foot beds, with 4'x6' grids of 1' squares, each grid planted with a single crop. It did not work well at all, as the squares were much too crowded with cabbage or broccoli plants, and even the peas and beans were hard to harvest, and carrots had major damage from mice and voles, etc.

This year I used the grids mostly to help me visualize the space, and sowed a mix of mustards, lettuces, peas, carrots, beets, chard, kales, etc, with transplants of cabbage and broccoli set farther apart. The lettuces all bolted in the hot May afternoons, and have been pulled to feed my small flock of layers. The mustards are gradually being pulled too. I have been able to harvest several pickings from the chard, kale, mustard and spinach, and gradually building up several local customers.

I haven't tried to tell anyone about the theory of polyculture, I just go out several times a week and pick a mixture of what greens are ready, and pack it as a greens mix. It has been pretty well received.

This is a small, one family operation, consisting of one 60 somthing female (me) and my 20 something son who assists with the heavy work. All the work is done with hand tools, so it is a bit slow to get going, but with cold frames and rebar and plastic covered tunnels, we have already harvested more than we did last year by this time, with more beds and plantings coming along, so we are gradually seeing progress. I do like the polycultures, but need to work on not sowing quite so thickly so I don't have to do as much thinning.

Eventually I hope to move toward a Mark Shepard type perennial polyculture, to reduce the amount of labor required for annual crops.
 
Jeffrey Hodgins
Posts: 166
Location: Yucatan Puebla Ontario BC
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Hey John you might want to try putting soil between the rocks and planting right in there. I've seen the result of this technique and they are very good. The rocks stop evaporation and channel any precipitation into a smaller amount of soil thus making it wetter with less rain.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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