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Productive Polycultures ?

Paul Alfrey
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Over an 8 month period we grew a polyculture on 66.5m2 of land which was cultivated 100% biologically. From it we harvested 94.68kg of tomatoes, 6.81kg of basil, 36.77kg of beans 10.61kg of courgette and 12.33kg of winter squash. How much time do you think it took to grow this quantity?

To view the full post with data tables and photos click on the link below


Garden Overview

Climate: Continental - Cold Temperate
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 580m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5mm

Garden Layout

Garden area: 66.5m2
Cultivated beds area: 36m2
Paths: 30.5m2

Annual Vegetable and Herb Garden.
Path and Bed Layout

Crop List

66 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum
66 x Basil - Ocimum basilcium
36 x Runner Beans - Phaseolus coccineus
36 x French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris
18 x African Marigold - Tagetes erecta
18 x French Marigold - Tagetes patula
2 x Courgette - Cucurbita pepo
8 x Winter Squash - Cucurbita pepo

Other crops such as chilli peppers, parsley, salad chicory and New Zealand spinach were also grown in small quantities throughout the beds to fill in spaces. The yield of these plants, being so small, are not considered in these records. Also not included are the native wild plants that are encouraged to grow around the perimeter of each bed. Many of these plants provide a harvest of salad greens and tea ingredients as well as mulch material within the beds.

Soil Analysis

Soil samples were taken in early winter and sent to Dr Trendafilov from the Agricultural University Plovdiv.

see original post for details


Input:Time Spent in Garden

The total time spent on the garden was 24 hours and 50 minutes, based on one person carrying out all the tasks listed below. The garden tasks were split into seven main categories. We have the specific activities of each task recorded and would be happy to share our spreadsheets. Send us an email or leave your details below if you would like this information.

Set up/Pack up - 420 minutes
Planting and Sowing - 241 minutes
Weeding - 249 minutes
Tomato care - 420 minutes
Mowing paths - 89 minutes
Irrigation - 30 minutes

Input: Fertility

67.2L - Planting out compost (applied as top dressing to each plant when planted out) 400ml per plant
32.8L - Seedling medium (applied in "nests" made in the straw to facilitate better germination of the seeds) 400ml per nest
120L - Compost - 20L per bed
30L - Ash - 5L per bed
9 Straw Bales - 1.5 bales per bed
33kg Comfrey (fresh cut weight) - 5.5kg per bed

Output: The Harvest

The total produce from each of the main crops in the polyculture were as follows.
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum : 94.68kg
Basil - Ocimum basilcium : 6.81kg
Fresh Runner Beans -Phaseolus coccineus and French Beans -Phaseolus vulgaris : 34.47kg
Dried Runner Beans -Phaseolus coccineus and French Beans -Phaseolus vulgaris : 2.3kg
Courgette - Cucurbita pepo : 10.61kg
Winter Squash - Cucurbita pepo :12.33kg

The crops were weighed directly after harvest. Only produce of marketable quality was recorded

Table showing recorded Input and Outputs throughout the season April 2014 - November 2014


Records do not include the gathering of materials, compost, tools, plants etc, and assumes that everything is on site ready to go. Harvesting was not recorded although we do intend to record this next season.

We grow our own plants from seed, make our own composts and sowing mediums, grow our own summer and autumn mulch, save seeds from tomatoes, basil, marigolds and beans. The support materials (stakes and bean poles) needed for the garden are harvested from a nearby alder coppice. Therefore we have not included this cost in our records.

This year we experienced above average quantities of rainfall regularly dispersed throughout the growing season. This lead to reduced time spent on irrigation.We irrigated during the "dry season" (mid July - mid September ) once as opposed to a normal year where we would irrigate approximately once a week during this same period.

The moist conditions resulting from high rainfall created below optimal conditions for tomato growth and provided ideal conditions for tomato disease to proliferate. Many local tomato growers lost their entire crops without a harvest. Furthermore, early season temperatures were far from ideal resulting in slow fruiting of the tomato crop. Records from previous years show first tomato's harvest around Mid June as opposed to this year 22nd July. The above mentioned disease also resulted in the early demise of the plants with the last harvest of poor quality fruits (not included in the total) recorded on the 26th September in contrast to mid October in previous years.

The garden usually includes chickens in mobile pens however we did not use the chicken tractors within the garden this year. The reason for this was due to the uncertainty of obtaining a valid measurement of the fertility inputs of the chickens. Furthermore, we wanted to make the design as easy to replicate as possible.

We have lots of beneficial habitat and high biodiversity designed into the surrounding garden area that serves to attract pest predators and pollinators, repels pests and provides fertility to the garden as a whole. It would be very interesting to set up a control study on another site nearby without the high levels of biodiversity and designed habitat to see how the harvests compare.

Improvements for Future Studies

Biodiversity Study
We would like to add a measurement of biodiversity to the records and chart how this changes from year to year. Specifically, we would like to look at soil microbiology and invertebrate diversity.

Interested in Ecological methods of growing food? Check out our Edible Ecosystem Design Course coming up next June. Currently offering 20% discount on food and accommodation for early bookings.

Landon Sunrich
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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Paul, that's awesome! Way to set the standard in record keeping too! Your project looks amazing, If I am ever so blessed as to return to beautiful Bulgaria I will have to look you up. The brief time I spent near Shuman and Madara in 2005 was one of the best in my life.
Paul Alfrey
Posts: 103
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Hi Landon

Thanks for your support and your welcome to visit if you return to Bulgaria
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