A kind farmer friend has come and ploughed up half an acre of our 17 acres at our request. And that's the most mechanisation that this bit is going to get so it's over to manual labour now.
In this area we hope to grow some, if not all, of the feed for our animals. The animals currently number 5 hens, 3 geese and 2 pigs but we hope to move that to 50 chickens (for the table), 6 geese, 4 pigs (two for the table and two sows to keep for breeding), 2 sheep and 2 milker goats.
Seedwise I have bought 25kg of maize, 25kg sunflowers, 5kg mangelwurzels (mangolds?) and 5kg peas/beans. We were given 20kg of potatoes and I kept seed from last year of pumpkins and winter squashes (I know the squashes were F1 so it's anybodies guess what they'll produce!)
Today I was out planting the maize in rows, with a stick making 3cm (1inch) holes and spacing them 25cm (1ft) apart and I got to thinking (as you do when you're left in peace in nature). Is there a better way to do this? Can I broadcast sow maize/sunflowers/mangelwurzels? Maybe it's beter not to sow in blocks of one species? How do I keep the weeds down? Do I need to? Should I mulch?
Ok, I am not a farmer. This is my first foray into big cropping (that's big in my terms) and also I'm a beginner at permaculture. So guys, can you help me out? Any advice for planting? Have we done it all wrong by ploughing it in the first place ops:? Yes I'd love to have a forest garden and there's time and space to develop that - but it does need time and our animals need fed now!
I'll owe a debt of gratitude that I can maybe pay forward by showing our WWOOFers in the future when I have more experience.
I wouldn't broadcast the four crops together. Sunflowers are allelopathic, that is, they inhibit the growth of other plants. And they would compete with the corn for light, too. And the corn will shade the mangels and beans unless you leave them 3 feet apart or so. Try blocks of each kind, maybe the size of raised beds or so. You could try mulching, but a half acre will need an awful lot of mulch.
This is really farm scale annual production, and not permaculture at this point. I'd recommend looking at some of the stuff Joel Salatin has written on combining livestock and annual plantings. He's very wise and had worked out some wonderful combinations.
I can only offer a few suggestions that I am using, maybe something will be helpful to give you some ideas of your own.
I am planting my peas to climb the outside of a perimeter fence to contain animals that has a grid type material on it. I poked holes right in amoungst the plants growing. I also planted garlic this way actually under some rail cross fencing. Where i planted my peas there is a very low but steep sloping bank along a roadway and over time i have planted hydrangea flowers, honey berry, blueberry, lavender and oregano. Not only did I innoculate my peas with mychorrhazil fungi but I mixed it in all my potting soil and began putting a little in the holes as I dig for planting .
Corn I interplanted in my garden with squash and beans , I read it here and in various places . I do feed my animals from my gardens too for instance, grape prunings are thrown to the horses, as are the pruned branches of non toxic orchard trees which they especially like to chew the bark off in winter when they are bored and eating a mixed hay (which has to be boring day after day, maybe I will buy various small lots of differing hays just to make it more interesting)
I am interplanting animal safe and beneficial herbs, and changing the monoculture of grass pasture by introducing some red clover seed where the ground was rutted exposing soil, and will get some organic alfalpha seed next to introduce this way a I am worried about the genetically modified strains they have just now introduced will make regular alfalpha seed harder to locate in a while. I am just going to keep introducing beneficial plants right into and bordering the pastures . I planted squash and pumpkin on an old manure pile and also beside trees it can climb. I planted sunflowers also on the perimeter of some fencing and will put a few in a couple corners of my riding ring where i store jumps too and along that perimeter fencing in a few places .
I am planting a few golden weeping willow in very damp areas on the perimeter of the pasture where my horses will graze on the hanging branches as it gets bigger and they can reach it , 2 mulberry trees are being started where I may use that area for a future poultry run and other trees that provide fruit (apples/pears are working well but toxic ones to animals like plum, apricot, peaches and nectarine are planted away from the animals), nuts, nitrogen fixing qualities (honey locust) even conifers for shelter and future wood harvest.
While it does not address the idea of your crop planting , maybe it will give you some ideas of a few alernatives you can also try , looking at what your own environment there has to offer. I am sure other have grown feed crops and will have super suggestions.
Being blunt here, you want Sun Chokes. Loads of them. If you don't want mechanization and are trying to grow food for animals, the mangels and without a doubt sunchokes are the way to go. Except they are not high enough in protein. But for calories, sunchokes sunchokes sunchokes
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