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Grains: grow in rows, or blocks?

 
Patrick Winters
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I'm with all you guys. I hate monoculture. When I think about fields for large crops, where they are necessary, I'd much prefer to establish a system of rows rather than monoculture blocks. Rows ensure that plants are adjacent to companion plants of other species for maximum diversity. A strip of Three Sisters beside a row of amaranth, beside a row of buckwheat, beside a row of flax, etc, etc.

But after reading that corn wind-pollinates poorly in strips, and does far better in a block, I started to wonder about other wind-pollinated crops like barley, and rye. Would they all be better off in a checkerboard polyculture of squares, rather than a series of rows? Far less of a polyculture effect, little more than a bunch of little monocultures, together.

One thing I was thinking about was the circular pattern of an Aster flower. A dense core of Three Sisters in the center, surrounded by a ring of one wind-pollinated crop, and then another crop in the next ring outside that, and so on! Would a circle pattern like this work for wind pollination, letting the pollen from one side of the circle cross the center and hit the far side, or would it still be less likely to result in good pollination with all those other species of plants getting in the way?

And lastly, I know the stalwart permies' response would be "no grain at all! No annuals at all!" Right now this is just theoretical, so let's just talk about wind pollination crop formations, and polyculture, nice and purely academic!
 
John Polk
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Besides the wind pollinated plants, one must think also of the pollinating insects.
If you were to have a 100 foot long single row of anything, the insect pollination would probably be very poor.

They are attracted to large blocks of their target food. They may never detect a long, skinny row.
They will often bypass their target if it doesn't look promising & abundant.

 
Leila Rich
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Patrick Winters wrote: I'd much prefer to establish a system of rows rather than monoculture blocks. Rows ensure that plants are adjacent to companion plants of other species for maximum diversity. A strip of Three Sisters beside a row of amaranth, beside a row of buckwheat, beside a row of flax, etc, etc.

Corn really needs to be planted in a block for good pollination. It's a straight-out practicality thing.
Also, corn is very susceptible to wind, and a block provides support and protection.
I never plant in rows. It looks funny to me, and wastes space.
I'm not seeing the benefits of strips of plants in what is essentially a polyculture planting, since rows are generally designed for machinery and such?
Seems to me it would be a heck of a lot easier to just chuck it all out together!
Patrick Winters wrote: I know the stalwart permies' response would be "no grain at all! No annuals at all!"

No grains or annuals? Who says?
I don't grow grains for space reasons, but they're an integral part of many permaculture gardens.
I grow loads of annuals. Many self-seed, so they're effectively perennials
For me, it's about building a resilient, self-supporting system which needs minimal work.
 
Alex Hamond
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Read Masanobu Fukuoka's One Straw Revolution, it will change how you think about growing grains.

I would plant in blocks that were rotated between grain and crops that add organic matter and all the nitrogen and nutrients it holds, and I wouldn't till the ground.

The main thing is that you care for the soil. Return the straw back to the plots. Some chicken manure on top will speed up its decomposition. With just those two things the soil will get better over time. Working on a crop rotating system where you plant it with radish that will be killed by winter will put a lot of organic matter into and break up dense soil as it develops, dies, and decomposes. When it warms back up, plant a warm season crop, all the better if it fixes nitrogen. When it comes time to plant the grain, toss it out and then mulch it with whatever was growing in the field before that, more chicken manure. Harvest grain, throw out seed for next crop, mulch with the straw. Doing all of this you are going to be adding what amounts to tons of organic matter back to the soil.

I would do this for each field i used for grain. For most everything except grain, I think polyculture is the way to go. I don't understand not having annuals. I think annuals are an important part of permaculture design. Sometimes winter killing off the plants is a good thing, like radish. It's just more organic matter going back to the soil. And if you are of the "no tilling" mindset and you are continually improving the soil, annuals that end up on the ground or under mulch germinate and grow if the necessary conditions are met. Eventually your annual plants come back annually instead of having to plant them annually.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Hey Patrick, I like the circular pattern idea, give it a try and let us know how it works. You might be on to something. Maybe even an herb spiral type of planting?
 
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