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William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Hi,
I'm going through a process of designing a better polyculture to meet some of my needs.

1. Has to be easy harvestable.
2. Has to be weeded with a weed-eater, not my hands.
3. Has to take advantage of the different growth patterns of annuals, biennials, and perennials.
4. Has to have multiple polycultures (at least 2 or 3 planting patterns)

I've divided plants into these categories:
1. Perennial
2. Short-term annual
3. Long-term annual
4. Annual cover crop
5. Perennial cover crop
6. Beneficial weed

The one problem so far is generating multiple choices for a short-term annual crops. Various forms of lettuce is all I can think of. Chard. Mustard grown for leaf. You could harvest cabbage early, but cabbage is usually a long-term annual.

The other problem is generating perennial cover crops.

Any help would be great.
William

 
Dale Hodgins
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Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
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Both for weeding and as a harvesting aid for things like buckwheat, I like the control offered by a cordless hedge trimmer. It cuts and doesn't send stuff flying. A catchment bag could be devised. The cutter can shear just above ground or to any desired height and length of trimmings. They are quiet and they don't fling debris at the face.

With a bag attached, a hedge cutter could gather herbs or animal fodder. I have lots of nettles. Tips could be gathered in a hurry.
 
Dave Burton
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Location: Greater Houston, TX US Hardy:9a Annual Precipitation: 44.78" Wind:13.23mph Temperature:42.5-95F
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William, I think you might find the Plants for a Future database useful.
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Oregano can be a perennial cover crop. Spreads, supresses weeds, has a yield. Mint is another one like that. But that's as far as I can get with that category.

Clover is okay, but it doesn't have much of a yield, other than mitigating my seed purchases (and not much at that).
I've noticed the dutch white clover sticks around for 2-3 years before getting overwhelmed by grass. I think the red clover stays even less.

@Dave
Thanks for that. Pfaf is good if you don't know the characteristics of the plant whose name you have, but I don't know if the site is as useful to get the perimeters I need. "Long-term annual" doesn't compute, even if we all can agree that a tomato plant could be in such a category and a head of lettuce would not.

Edit: I checked their search function, and while it's pretty good, I wasn't able to add anything useful. They do have growth cycle fast but when crossed with edible leaves it gives me arugula, a couple brassicas, and a few others I've never heard of.

William
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_leaf_vegetables

This covers most of the fast, short-term annuals with two caveats:
1) There are longer term leaf vegetables like Cardoons.
2) There are also root vegetables with edible leaves that can be used like a leaf vegetable (onions, potato, carrot, etc).

So that might solve the fast, short-term annual question.

Any thoughts on perennial cover crops? I divided these into
1) Leafy like clover, mint, chives
2) Woody like oregano, thyme
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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I am in my fourth year of planting and encouraging polycultures. In order to manage different weeds I have found the quickest and most successful tactic to use different tactics for different plants. Bindweed is not quackgrass is not poke is not ragweed is not asian honeysuckle is not asian bittersweet is not tickweed.

Each of these weeds has its own weak spot and I have tactics for each. Most other "weeds" I leave and use/eat where possible. The electric weed whacker comes out sometimes when the clover/grass/herb polyculture paths get out of hand. I use hands with sharp blades in them in perennial polyculture beds.

I've grown fond and fonder of the permaculture principle about "small and slow solutions"

 
William James
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We had a first year full of weeding that was never ending. The second year was much easier, except for the mistakenly planted hay seed. We're planning to somewhat abandon that site and move it into herbaceous perennial polycultures. Grass is an issue there , but not that bad.

In the new 2 acre site, the soil was so abused that virtually nothing grew in the first year. This year the pioneer plants are gaining ground. I imagine by next year things should be starting to get revved up as far as weed pressure. Since that site is so much bigger, we need faster planting-weeding-harvesting strategies so we can keep up with the current area that's planted. We want to move that into part forest garden, part herbaceous polyculture.

In the spots we're cultivating the weed pressure isn't bad.

My feeling is that we could be much more productive with much less labor, even with annuals in the mix. We just need to have a better polyculture that can be managed without hand-weeding or (out-of-reach) mulching so much. I think this is possible.

William
 
Matu Collins
Posts: 1976
Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
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It is a lot of work. I haven't hit no-work gardening yet, but the work is much more harvesting and relatively less weeding/mulch moving now.

With large areas here mowable polyculture pasture around well hand weeded mulched perennials/trees is the only answer I have found to be manageable unless I hired a bunch of hands. The weed whacker isn't discriminating enough near bark.

Best of luck with your polyculture experiments. I hope you take photos and show us your progress.

 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I think a scythe/kama/rice knife combo is far superior to line trimmers for a variety of reasons discussed elsewhere.

I think management regime (disturbance) drives polyculture composition... by this reckoning I have four patch types conceptually.

Patches that are frequently tilled and sown (annuals, biennials and roots)
Patches that are cut to the ground at least once a year to produce mulch. (competitors like mint oregano, comfrey, etc. mixed with wild strawberry like opportunists)
Patches were mulch is imported from type two to influence composition (stress tolerators that can't survive my system without help... sage, lavender etc.. or late summer perennials like ecinacea.
Patches where I do nothing..

More random thoughts here: http://stewardshipinstitute.info/wiki/index.php?title=Polyculture
 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Paul: Outstanding! This is exactly where I was going. Glad to see someone is already further along. Looking forward to studying all that.
William
 
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