• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com pie forums private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Carla Burke
  • John F Dean
  • r ranson
  • Nancy Reading
  • Anne Miller
  • Jay Angler
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Nicole Alderman
master gardeners:
  • Christopher Weeks
  • Timothy Norton
gardeners:
  • Matt McSpadden
  • Rachel Lindsay
  • Jeremy VanGelder

My attempts at useful perennial polycultures

 
master steward
Posts: 6407
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
3098
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 19
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I’ve been toying for a while with the idea of designing perennial polycultures. I have my secret garden, and other areas that are a bit piecemeal, but I would like to come up with schemes where the plants work together, rather than being an odd bit amongst other plant types. I guess I have this idealised view of what the native Americans achieved with camas meadows and silverweed/springbank clover gardens and I’m aiming at trying to do something similar here. I am based in the north of the UK, but am very close to the sea so despite my northerly lattitude I have a very mild, wet maritime cool temperate climate. My winter minimum temperature is usually above -5 deg Celsius (23 Fahrenheit), summer maximums about 17 deg Celsius (62 Fahrenheit) and about 1770mm (70 inches) of rain throughout the year - a little drier in the spring.
The area I’m going to use I cleared for my natural Farming project, but never dug, just mulched with cardboard and organic matter: seaweed, woodchip and hay. The soil is therefore still very compacted, silty and acidic, so I’m going to mainly use transplants to start with which might have a chance of getting their roots down.  
There are two sort of circular areas cleared, which I bounded with currant cuttings, and I’m planning to have one area with mostly root harvest plants, and the other which are mostly harvested for their upper parts – shoots, leaves or flowers.
perennial polyculture mulched turf
perennial polyculture starting point

I made lists of plants I was interested in for food value or soil building, and divided by growth habit and harvest part (root, flower leaves) as well as what sort of growing conditions they might prefer, whether they grow well for me (if I’ve grown them before). I’ll attach the spreadsheet here as a .csv file to make it easy if you are interested and have similar growing conditions to me. I’m thinking of planting some of the slower growing root crops in with the leafy crops on the basis that when the main plants need digging and dividing, the roots may have come to harvest point too.
I’ve making a start planting some of the roots into the upper circle: Camassia, jerusalem artichoke (sunroot), Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) silverweed, fennel, zigzag clover, marsh woundwort and skirret. There is already lots of pignut that seems to have survived the mulching last year :) and I never bothered dig the mashua, so hopefully that will come back fairly strongly.
dividing and transplanting skirret uk
Planting Camassia and Skirret

My plan is to try and plant them up as much as I can, mulch them a bit and then pretty much leave them to it and see how it all grows! I think the woundwort may find it a little dry – it’s happy growing in the pond in my polytunnel, but we’ll see.
Zigzag clover I’m hoping may be a substitute for springbank clover. It is a not very common native clover, which I have in a few big patches, and seems to spread by underground roots rather more than I had realised before I dug a bit up to look at. I did try chewing a bit and they appear to be rather tough. This might be because of the growing conditions, or because they were older roots, so I’m going to give them some space and see what happens. In the worst case, if they survive, they will be nitrogen fixers for the system.
perennial nitrogen fixer
Zigzag clover roots



Filename: herbacious-plants.csv
Description: List of polyculture plants Skye
File size: 12 Kbytes
 
Nancy Reading
master steward
Posts: 6407
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
3098
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
A bit of an update on my polyculture progress a month on:

We've had some warmer weather and getting some grwoth at last. I broadcast sowed some seeds into the "leafy bits" polyculture area. I got a bit overexcited and sowed my salsify seeds, which I was intending to put as part of my roots rotation in my simple farming system, but I don't suppose it matters. As well as the salsify, I sowed scorzonera, leef beet, sea beet, buckwheat, Angelica, Sweet Cicely, and alpine strawberry seeds amongst others. The perifery of the circle is growing rye grass and chiccory which I sowed last year. There is also a bit of clover coming back there and a few skirret plants which were planted last year, but didn't do much growing. Most of the area is mulched with cardboard, bracken and hay from last year, but there is a fair amount of regrowth of the "onion grass", docks, sorrel and creeping buttercups.

The jerusalem artichokes/sunroots are starting to sprout in the roots polyculture area. I think they are getting a bit slug eaten, which is pretty normal here. The skirret transplants have taken well. At first the leaves were quite purple, but they have picked up and are growing green now. The Camassia are looting a bit tatty; really they were transplanted a bit late, but I think they will take OK. Some sprouts from the mashua show they have made it through the winter OK. The silverweed spread well last year and has some lovely silver new leaves.
I'm quite happy with the amount of useful seedlings I've got growing in this area. Not all roots mind you, but lots of the ragged kale that seeds around in my polytunnel, a fair amount of Angelica and fodder radish. I can see the Spear leaved Orache I imported from the beach inadvertently and spread the seeds of last year. Again there seems to be quite a bit of onion grass that survived the mulch, and lots of pignuts too. No sign of the zigzag clover as yet, although it is growing in the area of the field I took it from. I'm wondering whether to try again to transplant it...
roots-polyculture-2nd-year-end-april.jpg
perennial Polyculture spring growth
Silverweed and seedlings in Roots Polyculture area
 
Nancy Reading
master steward
Posts: 6407
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
3098
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If I were to describe the polyculture areas at the moment it would be "a mess"! The plants and weeds all start growing in May, and it looks very different now. Lots of grass, pignut, sorrel, buttercups and narrowleaved plantain are thriving amongst the more useful plants I want to encourage. We've had an unusually warm spell through June, so I haven't wanted to do more transplanting. However, all the previously transplanted plants seem to be doing OK. The Fennel is looking a bit sad, and the Skirret a little overwhelmed by grass at the moment. I can see a bit of marsh woundwort, which probably would have preferred a more normal summer, and several potatoes that I obviously missed last year. I've got a feeling they are probably earlies, and if they are happy to join the polyculture I don't suppose it is too much of a problem. At least they are in the 'roots' area! The rye grass is forming seed heads, and I suppose I should chop and drop this too. It's a bit tricky since there is clover and chiccory in there which I'd quite like to keep. The chiccory is going to flower, and I'd like that to spread, since it should have good roots to break up the compacted soil (the reason it was planted). Those are the tree like structures you can see to the right of this photo:
polyculture design UK
View from the East of both areas

I can't see many of the plants I sowed seed for. There seems to be a fair amount of Angelica and Parsley, both of which will be good for biomass and soil breaking roots. I think the dry and hot weather has been a factor in the lack of visibility in the new seedings, and hopefully some will turn up now we've had a few good showers of rain.
I spent a few hours this week doing a bit of chop and drop around the currant bushes. I'm pretty pleased by how many took last year considering that they were just pushed into turf. Because it was still dry I mulched just inside the circle, mostly to improve the visibility of the tiny bushes. Again now it has rained, I'll get some more hay from where I have scythed the trackways and mulch them with that.
permaculture technique chop and drop
chop and drop at roots polyculture edge

I can't resist weeding out the onion grass. It is the sort of grass that you can't mulch out: This was all pretty well mulched last year and the grass has grown back from the previous year's reserves. It has made lovely looking bulbs that ought to be edible, but when I've tried them before they were incredibly bitter.
how to get rid of bulbing grass
onion grass bulbils

I've also found just a little couch grass, which is very similar in appearance to the onion grass, except the onion grass is clumping and the couch grass has running rhizomes. I'll try and get all that out. There are other grasses as well: two that are runners. One I call 'stringy grass', which sends out surface runners that can stretch for 6 or more feet a year and then root. It has been knocked out pretty well by the sheet mulch so I'm hopeful I can pretty much get rid of that. The other I call 'blood grass' or 'hair grass', it has very fine blades almost round in section and at some time of the year the tips are scarlet like they have been dipped in blood. Sometimes so much that I've thought something horrid had happened! This forms a dense, fleece-like mass on the surface, insulates the ground from rain and sun and has smothered several of my trees where I planted into it. If I can reduce these a bit I think the seedlings will have a better chance of getting established. I'm also taking out the creeping buttercups as much as possible, since they can really take over an area if allowed to get a hold. Hopefully the silverweed will spread and fill that niche in time.
There is a nice thatch of organic material on the soil surface from the sheet mulched turf, which should get incorporated in time into the soil. A few ground beetles, slugs and other creepy crawlies were making it their home. I found a few brave worms  and some thick beetle, or leather jacket grubs, as I was weeding. Also, a warning to others who use cardboard for sheet mulch, I found several strands of tape that was presumably an 'easy open' tear here type device on some of the boxes I used. I thought I'd got it all out when putting the cardboard down, but obviously not. I know Paul dislikes the use of cardboard, and I must admit I'm going off it a bit, but I can't think of another material that does the job it does at a reasonable cost.
 
gardener
Posts: 547
Location: Pembrokeshire, UK
414
2
dog forest garden gear fungi foraging trees building medical herbs woodworking homestead
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Nancy Reading wrote:Lots of grass, pignut, sorrel, buttercups and narrowleaved plantain are thriving amongst the more useful plants I want to encourage



I am incredibly envious that you have so much pignut that it feels like a nuisance! I've managed to cultivate a few, from the root fragments you sent me a few years back, and I'm hoping they will spread through our meadow. I have yet to try eating it (as I want to give it the best chance to establish) but I have heard such compelling things!

Nancy Reading wrote:Also, a warning to others who use cardboard for sheet mulch, I found several strands of tape that was presumably an 'easy open' tear here type device on some of the boxes I used. I thought I'd got it all out when putting the cardboard down, but obviously not. I know Paul dislikes the use of cardboard, and I must admit I'm going off it a bit, but I can't think of another material that does the job it does at a reasonable cost.



We have found this too at our site. We use cardboard extensively for establishing raised, no-dig beds on former meadow and pasture. It does work well, particularly if it is 2 layers thick with a generous overlap and a good covering of compost or mulch, but the amount of work it takes to hunt down all of the tape is phenomenal. We are also picky about the boxes we use: only plain boxes with little or no printing and certainly nothing with blocks of colour. Also, beware "paper" tape which often hides strings of nylon! Amazon packaging is the worst for this.

Best of luck with the project!
 
Nancy Reading
master steward
Posts: 6407
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
3098
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

I am incredibly envious that you have so much pignut that it feels like a nuisance! I've managed to cultivate a few, from the root fragments you sent me a few years back, and I'm hoping they will spread through our meadow. I have yet to try eating it (as I want to give it the best chance to establish) but I have heard such compelling things!


I'm happy to say that the pignut never feels like a nuisance :) ! The upper growth is so sparse and not very tall, so I don't think it would out compete many plants, but just grow in symphony with most. The roots are mainly a single tuber a few inches down, and the leaves and flowers are thin and no more than about 2 ft tall. The flower stalk will pull out easily leaving the tuber, if you really don't want it spreading. They do come back year to year - these ones probably like the onion rooted grass, survived being mulched. They survive being put into lazy beds, as well as set seed every year, so would probably for me take some eradicating, so it's probably just as well I like them!
Have you seen my 'blog post on them (linked here)? I like them best cooked. I must admit I tend to feed the dogs with them if I dig them up. They like a 'nutty' treat!
I'm glad yours are surviving. Hopefully they will seed themselves, and in a year or two you will have plenty!

(edited to fix quote)
 
gardener
Posts: 981
Location: Málaga, Spain
344
home care personal care forest garden urban food preservation cooking
  • Likes 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I

f I were to describe the polyculture areas at the moment it would be "a mess"!



A mess = a complexity you can't figure it out.
In this experiment, I'd rather try to observe the whole rather than its parts.

Give it more time and some plants will start to clump together on their own, others will form patches, giving it some kind of dynamic order (patterns, actually). Right now, it shows the randomness of your sowing.
 
Nancy Reading
master steward
Posts: 6407
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
3098
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm very excited this week because I have obtained some Fritilalria camschatcensis (riceroot fritillary) to try in my polycultures! The bulbs are only available in autumn, are fairly expensive (about £4-£6 each) and I missed them last year. I did get hold of some seed, but unfortunately failed to germinate any.
I thought I'd lost the first lot of bulbs I ordered. They were delivered in September, but the day they came there was a lot going on, and for some reason they got misplaced. I have ordered some more, but the first lot have since turned up (isn't that just typical!?) in the rear footwell of a car that we weren't using, since it broke a spring on the same day they arrived. Anyhow I have unwrapped a couple just to peek and am very happy with them.
native American staple food root PNW riceroot fritillary bulbs
riceroot bulbs for planting


I ordered a slightly different variant as well that has yellow flowers (F. camschatsensis var. flavescens - on right), since I thought if I had the chance of seed setting I might get a variant that likes it here better.
I'm very happy with Edrom nurseries, who sent me this first batch. The bulbs came very quickly (although I subsequently mislaid them) they look a nice size and healthy, they packed them specially to reduce the postage for me, and have included lots of little bulbils in with the mother bulbs, so I get a chance to propagate some babies straight away. You can clearly see the 'rice' scales on the bulbs. Those on the standard bulb on the left are a good size. I'm looking forwards to trying eating them next year. Apparently the whole bulb regrows over the year, so I should be able to try a small amount, assuming they do grow as well as I'm expecting for me.
I'll plant these once the replacement bulbs I ordered from direct bulbs turn up. I'll probably plant some in different areas since I now hope to have more bulbs.

 
Nancy Reading
master steward
Posts: 6407
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
3098
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 11
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm hoping to leave the roots area pretty much to it's own devices again this year. I did plant some more skirret plants, having divided up some of my plants from elsewhere. I was interested to note the layer of dark soil resulting from the mulching I did to start the area off. Maybe not as thick a layer as one could hope for, but it is a start.
perennial polyculture
dark layer of soil building from mulch

I've been harvesting my local silverweed a bit this winter. Not from the polyculture area, where the plants are still establishing, but from further up the hill where they are growing naturally. I like them, albeit that they are a bit small for the effort of digging them. The soil is pretty claggy at this time of year and the roots have a tendency to break off. I have seen it suggested that the act of digging the roots leads to better quality roots, and I'm keen to see if this holds true here. This shows the amount of good roots gathered: enough for a meal from a patch about 3 feet by eighteen inches.
silverweed foraging ancient food crop
Silverweed roots on Skye

I was happy to see signs of life already from the camassia bulbs. Several of them are pushing up green leaves through the grass.
quamash ancient food crop
camassia shoots in early spring

One exciting bit of news is that I was successful in germinating some springbank clover (trifolium wormskoldii) seeds last year. I have the little plants in a small pot. I may pot some on and plant some out a little later in the spring. They are very tiny, and I'm afraid they may just disappear when planted out, so would like to keep some back to plant out when they are a bit bigger.

As I said, I'm pretty happy with the way the roots area is coming together at this stage, but still need to do a bit of thinking about the leaves and shoots area. The plants have been struggling to compete with the grass, so I either need to learn patience or give them a helping hand! I'm contemplating digging some banks and ditches to give some less compacted areas, but I suspect that I will not actually get round to it this year. I have stuck in a few more kale cuttings. They do grow big enough to shade out the grass in time, but I'm finding that almost all of the seed I've scattered has just disappeared, and would like to tip the balance just a bit in favour of the plants I want. The perennial grass is just so much better at surviving on the compacted soil than the 5 star broccoli and scorzonera, let alone globe artichoke or asparagus, which I'd dearly love to be going rampant!
 
master pollinator
Posts: 222
Location: Southwest VT, zone 5a slope ~10°-30°
99
foraging fiber arts ungarbage
  • Likes 10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Your projects are always so inspiring to read about!

One plant I know are true lilies. I have some experience with Lilium canadense and can vouch for their flavor and size but other species  have been used for food as well. They are very close to Fritillarias, but maybe a bit larger. I’m not sure if they would like your climate or not though.

I feel like garlic could do well amongst the chaos, as long as you thin them well when they have divided, and maybe also chives or garlic chives. I have seen garlic grow surprisingly well amongst goldenrod, here a very rampant, shady, competitive plant. And horseradish is another grass-tolerant vegetable that often grows in ditches in my climate. I love eating the actively growing leaves. Ostrich ferns are also tolerant of competition, the shoots are popular here for good reason; they might like it there as the soil deepens a little more.

I also wonder whether caraway would like the area. I have the wonderful wild parsnip, but caraway is supposed to like cooler summers and be good and similar as a root vegetable, although a biennial.

Maybe there are some good native or wild plants that aren’t really common at the moment but you can find them in certain special places that are less degraded than others. Here, most of the best edible plants are found in biodiverse areas with richer soils. This was where these perennial systems came from originally, people tending the wild ecosystems to express themselves in a certain way with help, but the technique is just nature, and wherever there is some nature, there is the possibility for tending and caring for the wild plants there.
 
Nancy Reading
master steward
Posts: 6407
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland. Nearly 70 inches rain a year
3098
4
transportation dog forest garden foraging trees books food preservation woodworking wood heat rocket stoves ungarbage
  • Likes 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thank you for your kind words Maieshe. I hope my efforts do inspire people to try different things. At present I'm not having much success, but the soil here is not naturally full of life and deep and fertile, but empoverished and compacted. I'm looking at this as a pretty hands off long term experiment.
Lilies are indeed a good thought for me. Many like the mild damp climate, but also like it well drained. I've tried a few in the garden, but so far none have naturalised, although I have seen turkscap lilies and even Cacdiocrinum naturalising in gardens locally.
Cardiocrinum Giganteum

source
I'm trying to grow Lilium davidii from seed at the moment, as I'm told that is one of the more productive ones. I looked up Lilium canadense and it may be a possibility. From Lilium canadense "These plants usually live in moist meadows and wood margins." So they may be happy enough here. Wikipedia also says that the flowers are edible as well as the bulbs, so can you use them like daylillies? That would make the plant more useful until it is big enough to harvest.
Garlic probably would prefer a bit more heat, but chives are happy enough I think. I suspect we wouldn't use horseradish. I did try and plant some roots a few years ago and they never grew.
Ostrich ferns I am also trying to grow. They seem a bit slow estabilshing - the fronds after several years are still tiny. I have two different plants from two different sources. I did see some at Dunvegan castle gardens yesterday (along with some other interesting plants) which seemed to be thriving in a border in the walled garden there. They were obviously dormant at this time of year but had little trunks like tree ferns. I don't know whether mine need more sun, or more drainage....One is in the tree field under some alder, the other in in the front garden competing with ground elder!
Caraway would be interesting. I gather the seeds are commonly used as a flavouring too. It is a UK native, but seldom found wild (ref) I may have been growing some of this on my drivebank and have lots of seed, but I also grew moon carrot, seseli libanotis, and I'm not actually sure which one made it through! I'll try sowing the seeds and see if I, or a visitor can tell. They are both edible. I'm suspecting caraway because moon carrot is supposed to like it drier, but the drivebank is pretty sunny and rocky, so it could really be either.

....people tending the wild ecosystems to express themselves in a certain way with help, but the technique is just nature, and wherever there is some nature, there is the possibility for tending and caring for the wild plants there.


Yes, this is what I'm aiming at - a mix of native and naturalised plants that I can harvest and enjoy but let them get on with life generally.
 
master pollinator
Posts: 492
Location: Wabash, Indiana, Zone 6a
225
hugelkultur monies forest garden foraging trees books food preservation bike bee writing rocket stoves
  • Likes 7
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
    Number of slices to send:
    Optional 'thank-you' note:
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Ah, not having success? Insofar as nature doesn't often make mistakes, I'd say go easy on yourself. If you feel the way I do--that I wish I had more time, especially since I'm getting into this pretty late--well, we're only here for the cosmic blink of an eye anyhow. I'm sure you're enjoying the process and celebrating every little thing that goes your way. There's joy in that. Otherwise, you're guiding a process with so many interconnected pieces, that you can't always see the results. Small solutions. Slow solutions. Breathe in. Breathe out.

(Newbie telling a veteran how it is, right?)  This is a great thread and I'll continue to monitor it.

j
 
today's feeble attempt to support the empire
Native Bee Guide - now FREE for a while
https://permies.com/wiki/140436/Native-Bee-Guide-FREE
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic