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Planning polyculture beds - need some input  RSS feed

 
Lucie Madsen
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I am a newbie gardener and have been reading as much as I can about permaculture methods. We have a very small yard and have just put in two raised beds - 4'x10' and 3'x6' - with a layer of wood, then year-old grass clippings on top, then a mix of topsoil and compost. Now we're ready to plant, but I'm finding myself confused about how exactly to put together a polyculture bed. I have some things that I know we will eat and that are supposed to work well together, but I just don't know how to implement it - especially since some of my major plants are starting inside and I won't be setting them out just yet.

Here's my plan:
4'x10' bed - half will be snap peas, strawberries, green beans, lemon cucumber (started inside), and oregano. Other half will be cherry tomatoes (started inside), basil, oregano, carrots, and more green beans.
3'x6' bed - planting miners lettuce, carrots, corn mache, and looseleaf lettuce. Should I add something else here?

So, I guess, three questions:
1) Do you see any problems with these combinations?
2) Do I need to add anything else? I have some yarrow seeds, a beneficial insect mix, and a few other types of flowers. I could also always pick up some more seeds if there's something else I really should have.
3) How do I sow these beds?? I'm confused about spacing, placement, etc. And how do I work in the seedlings that I'll be setting out when the weather's a bit warmer?

Thanks for helping a newbie!
 
dj niels
Posts: 182
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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Hi Lucie, welcome. I don't know where you are, but you mention putting in seedlings later, when the weather warms up--so I suppose you are somewhere in a northern or cooler area, is that correct?

I have been planting polyculture mixes for several years. Usually I just sow a mixture of whatever cool-weather seeds I have, as early as possible. Some of my beds have frames with pieces of PVC so I can erect tunnels, and plant early. I planted two beds in early April. the one under plastic was actually planted later, after I finished preparing the bed. The seedlings coming up there are already as big as the earlier planting on a bed with no cover, just for comparison.

I use the instructions from gaia's garden, by toby hemenway, and sow a mix of mustard, cress, arugula, lettuces, peas, onions, kale, chard, spinach, beets, carrots, radishes, dill, and other cold tolerant crops. He says to sow fairly thinly, about 1-2 seeds every inch (I usually plant 1 presprouting pea seed every foot or so, and one onion set every foot or so). Then, when the seedlings start to grow, thin them progressively so as to open up space for the remaining plants. Then, after the weather and soil warm up, plant bean seeds and transplant cabbage, broccoli, basil, etc into the spaces opened by harvesting the early greens. He doesn't recommend putting tomatoes in a bed like this as they tend to be big, sprawling plants, but it could work if you install a trellis on the north side of the bed and train the tomatoes on the trellis.

The idea behind the mustards etc is for them to serve as a kind of living groundcover. They come up early, before the slower germinating things like carrots, and can be thinned out for salads or stirfries as the other plants start to need more space. I like to let a few go to seed and use the flowers and radish pods in stirfries as well.

Strawberries seem to be one that works better in a bed of mostly perennials, or under fruit trees, etc, and not so good in beds of annuals, because of soil disturbance, and the maintenance, mulching etc that might be a problem with the salad crops.

Depending on your weather and climate, you could plant the cool weather crops now and add the warm weather ones in a few weeks, when the weather is more settled. Hope this helps and it works for you. I love my polyculture plantings. They seem to work a lot better, to get a variety of food over a longer season. Just keep thinning and harvesting those that are ready.
 
Leila Rich
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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Lucie Madsen wrote:
4'x10' bed - half will be snap peas, strawberries, green beans, lemon cucumber (started inside), and oregano. Other half will be cherry tomatoes (started inside), basil, oregano, carrots, and more green beans.

I'd be careful about putting oregano in an annual bed. It's a mint and has the family trait of taking over...
Lucie Madsen wrote:3'x6' bed - planting miners lettuce, carrots, corn mache, and looseleaf lettuce. Should I add something else here?

In my experience, the leaves you mention prefer cool, damp conditions, but carrots need plenty of sun.
I don't know your climate or aspect, but some of those leaves might be better autumn-grown.
Purslane loves heat, and it's delicious.
Lucie Madsen wrote: I have some yarrow seeds, a beneficial insect mix, and a few other types of flowers.

Yarrow's great stuff, but it's a mat-forming perennial and I find it doesn't share well with small plants. Do you have a spot that could be a little 'wild garden'?
I always have some flowers in the garden, although the majority of insects seem to prefer flowering veges and herbs to anything fancy!

Lucie Madsen wrote: How do I sow these beds?? I'm confused about spacing, placement, etc. And how do I work in the seedlings that I'll be setting out when the weather's a bit warmer?

Like dj said


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