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Swirling vegetable gardens polyculture questions

 
Erin Lemky
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Hi Everyone,

Most of the time when I read about permaculture gardening, there are mentions of - or photos of - the gardens with circular patterns almost always used instead of rows or patches. Can someone explain that to me or share some good links?

I understand the value of polyculture and crop rotations, but it seems to me that straight rows of intermixed crops would be much easier to grow and harvest. Is there something I'm missing?

Scale wise, I'm upgrading from gardening vegetables for our own consumption to a market garden now that we've moved to an acreage. So hundreds of feet by hundreds of feet this year, and we're entirely growing our veggies on an area that we're converting from (untreated) lawn into garden via sheet mulching.

Thanks for any advice!
 
Landon Sunrich
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Location: Western Washington
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Yes.

In a poly culture things happen in layers and successions. Like... in time and space. Something are taller quicker and you eat them first. Does that make since Erin?
 
Nicole Alderman
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duck forest garden hugelkultur
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I think, though I'm not as experienced as many here, that the "swirly" patterns are made to create happy ecosystem niches (more sun, less sun, etc) as well as to hold water on the landscape. I think this works really well at the small scale, as well as for "U-Pick" type farms (as described by sepp holzer http://www.amazon.com/Sepp-Holzers-Permaculture-Small-Scale-Integrative/dp/160358370X). In your case, you might just want to make your rows on contour to capture rainfall and prevent erosion. I believe this is the model that many larger-scale farms use, like Mike Shepard (http://www.amazon.com/Restoration-Agriculture-Mark-Shepard/dp/1601730357; http://www.newforestfarm.net/), though I may be mistaken.

Here's an arial view of Mark's farm:


This thread might have some good ideas and knowledge for you, if you haven't looked at it yet: http://www.permies.com/t/17121/permaculture/Farm-scale-permaculture. This one might also be useful: http://www.permies.com/t/42835/large-farm/large-scale-permaculture-system

I hope some of that helps!
 
Dillon Nichols
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Hi Erin,

I think there are several sorts of 'swirly' to be aware of!

1) As Nicole has described, implementing swales/terracing/planting things on contour, ie in a line that stays level across a slope, is good for catching/slowing/soaking water/preventing erosion.

2) The other thing Nicole describes; using complex shapes to create more microclimates/niches, and also more highly productive 'edge' space

3) Finally, there are more efficient shapes than rows for some purposes, primarily in terms of land use. A very common example is the Mandala garden bed, which is loaded with curves. The idea is to have the same amount of garden bed, with less pathway required to reach it, so overall your garden has a smaller footprint for the same amount of plantable space.

Another very simple example is diamond planting patterns, which allow for the same minimum distance between plants, yet fit more plants into a given area due to the offset geometry.

In my experience/opinion it is possible to go overboard attempting to use more efficient shapes! Ending up with a garden that's hard to move around due to overcrowding and convoluted paths can be a real annoyance. You can end up paying dearly in numerous small inefficiencies for the last 5% of space efficiency that you squeezed in. All about priorities and compromises; I didn't mind a potato mandala, you never really need to go into it until harvest. Mandalas with stuff you will need to frequently water/weed/harvest, I've found it easy to underestimate how accessible they need to be.
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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There is a tendency for permaculture to highlight the times it does things differently and not show so much of what it does 'conventionally'. Worth considering that you are seeing a somewhat skewed representation.

That said, straight rows are for the convenience of machinery. Permaculture tends more toward doing things on a human scale, rather than a mechanized one.

One consideration that frequently influences the appearance of permaculture plantings is water, and working with contour to maximize water retention. So you get the sweeping curves of Mark Shepard's New Forest Farm, as one prominent example.

Permaculture does tend toward planting in bunches, or patches, or clumps, but those are commonly aligned with contours, so the eye may pick up the curving line annd not recognize that it is made up of a series of collections (guilds of trees and vines and companion plantings in a food forest, or a couple of square feet of onions next to radishes next to fennel next to carrots, etc., making up a patchwork quilt in a raised bed curving along on contour).

Mandala designs are, as noted, another approach used sometimes in permaculture gardens. They can produce maximum amounts of edge, allow for packing more planting into less linear footage - and they can be highly aesthetic. Decorative gardens are almost never done in straight rows, because curves are prettier Vegetable gardens can be pretty, too. And offer practical efficiencies at the same time.

Keyhole gardens are another case where curves outperform straightlines. You can get some wild effects when you start combining some of these ideas. For example, you can do a series of beds on contour with keyholes to allow use of wide beds but still get access through the keyholes.

All of that considered, you are still going to find that when you get down to looking at the level of actual plantings, most permaculturists are going to favor clumps.
The beds may be laid in any number of patterns, but within them you will likely find patches of a given plant. They will be interspersed with an eye for what will work well together, so sunlovers near edges and with neighbors that will not shade them too much, and shade lovers toward the interior with neighbors that will provide shade. Widespreading types get room to spread, but may have tall sturdy types rising up among them (squash with corn, say).

I suspect that we could draw a correlation between how structured the plantings are and how far along the permaculture path the gardener is. Still doing straight rows, all the onions in one bed? Pretty new Patches of different kinds of plants scattered about, with multiple patches of everything spread around? Been at it for at least a couple of years. A crazy random moshpit where you need to be a botanist to tell what is what and you cannot discern any plan at all? Way down the road, that is where you see people like sepp holzer and Michael Pilarski.

The pattern should fit the terrain, the climate, the plants and the gardener. I want a garden like Mike Pilarski tends to grow, but I do not have the knowledge to identify the plants in that kind of chaos - yet
 
Peter Ellis
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oh! Jean-Martin Fournier (spelling?) wrote the book, so to speak, on market gardening. The Market Gardener - i think that is right. His farm is two acres total with 1.5 actually in production. He makes some excellebt arguments for the efficiencies that come with working a small area extremely intensely. Some of the points are directly time and motion related and highlight benefits to designing for short pathways and easy reaches. He works with permanent raised beds and entirely by hand. No tractor, no power tiller, only hand tools.
 
Erin Lemky
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Wow, you guys are amazing, I love permies.com! Thanks for all the excellent ideas.

I've been mulling it all over and we've done a lot of standing in various parts of the yard, examining the land. It feels daunting at times, staring at the blank slate with so much promise. It's also a relatively flat piece of land, and in the past we've had to work with more variation in terrain, which made it easier to know where to put things because the land limited us. Now there are almost too many possibilities!

Thanks for all the ideas and links, and we always welcome more.
 
Dillon Nichols
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Location: Victoria BC
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Hi Erin,

I find setting out sheets of cardboard to let you see an intended layout, assuming the scale allows for this, to be extremely helpful. We use the cardboard as part of our mulch anyhow, so no wasted labour getting it there.

Speaking of swirly patterns, if you are starting from scratch now is a great time to think about windbreaks!
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