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A cold climate Milpa  RSS feed

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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I'm trying to imitate the tropical practice of milpa farming in the high plains desert of Denver, CO. Here is what I have come up with so far. All species, timelines, etc. are just approximate. I would really like some feedback on this. I think this would provide a good balance between disturbance and steady state, keeping pests and nutrient cycles under control.

Year one.

Mulched potatoes. A dense sod of perennial vegetation is dug up, with any useful roots, cuttings, and starter plants saved for utilization elsewhere. Manure and any mineral fertilizer needed to balance the system are added before the potatoes are planted, and the bed is deeply dug by hand, eliminating most of the previous vegetation, though some survives to pop up again, probably including bindweed! The bed is mulched from elsewhere in the garden. The potatoes are only watered once or twice, by hand. In the Fall, the mulch is raked off and the bed deeply dug again to get at the potatoes. Then an oat and field pea cover crop is planted. These plants improve the soil and fix nitrogen, but do not survive the winter, leaving a thin layer of dead mulch on the surface in the spring. (Digging is necessary to get at potatoes, and potatoes will like the pulse of fertility from the disturbance of the preceding vegetation. Chickens could be run through the beds before, during, and after the potatoes, helping to disturb the previous system, clean up entrenched bugs, and add fertility. )

Year two. The mulch is cultivated away or ignored if it is thin, and a summer grain/ biomass crop is planted. These utilize the spring water availability, and dry down as the summer goes on, providing a seed crop and a new, thick mulch layer. These could include quinoa, amaranth, sunflowers, spring barley, spring wheat, and teff, and might be under planted with a legume. Or, in the previous year, we could have planted clover and winter wheat or rye, which would survive the winter for midsummer harvest. Once the grain is harvested, a thick mulch is left in place through the autumn. Chickens can be again run through the system. Some plants from the previous perennial system are reestablishing.

Year three. Flat rocks or pavers are strategically placed to concentrate light rains into the soil. In the early spring, seed balls are scattered in the mulch, establishing slow growing, perennial white clover, daikon radish, turnips, field peas, and various greens. These grow until June and are then slashed back or harvested, and large, wide spaced summer crops are planted, with widely spaced ollas throughout the bed. Tomatoes, summer and winter squash, melons, and peppers all go here. Some of the radish, turnips, peas, and mustard are allowed to remain at a distance from the crops (and water sources) and the annuals go to seed. Turnips, and with some mulch and luck radish, survive the next winter to go to seed. Clover starts to dominate the system. More perennials are planted throughout the season; strawberry starts, chicory, sea beets, dandelion, sorrel, chives, and lots more. If tomato and squash growth slows, more slashing and localized pulling is used.

Year four. A repeat of year three. The perennials continue to develop. The cool season greens and roots start to fade back, even with another spring reseeding. Beds which grew tomato family grow squash instead. Ground nuts are introduced. Small woody starts of raspberry, blackberry, currant and other soft fruits are introduced.

Year five through six. Perennials dominate the system (the ollas have been kept full.) Some hardy, reseeding cool weather annuals and biennials persist, especially kale and arugula. An occasional tomato volunteer surfaces. Comfrey and other perennials expand from hedgerows along side the garden. Judicious slashing, harvesting, and pruning keep competition to a dull roar.

Year seven through nine. More drought tolerant/ and or longer lived perennials have been planted in the previous years and are now dominating the system. The ollas are refilled less often, and there are fewer of them, since the perennials now have deeper rooting systems and in areas far from water thrifty crops take over. Raspberries and other soft fruit are bearing well near the ollas. Alfalfa takes over from the lower growing clover. Jerusalem artichoke and Maximilian sunflower dominate whole swaths of the garden. Woody biomass begins to build. Weeds and pests also start to build, but the tough crops of this stage shrug them off. More harvesting/ pruning to keep things from getting totally out of hand.

Year ten- year one. In the Fall, system reboot. Rocks or pavers and logs are removed. Edible roots, and starts for new beds, are removed. Chickens work the beds over the winter. Then in spring, through deep digging reduces the perennial plants to a few root cuttings in the soil before the potatoes are planted. Raspberries, dandelions, chicory, alfalfa, and Jerusalem artichoke definitely survive, but foraging by the chickens and the hilling and weeding of the potatoes reduce their ability to compete. Along with prunings from the hedges, much of the woody biomass is turned into biochar, though woody roots are left to rot.

And the cycle repeats. Soil deepens and improves. Or, on larger pieces of land then ours, the cycle could be longer. Something like this.

In year five, saplings of small trees and large shrubs are added to the beds: peach, plum, hazelnut. Everything else the same.

Then,

Year ten- twenty. Fruit trees and nut bushes dominate the system. Ollas have been removed, and only a deep watering once a month is given as needed. Ground covers are now more or less drought tolerant. Woody pruning and autumn leaves build up into a dense mulch layer.

Year twenty - year one. Goats, fire, and chickens are used to put the system back to potatoes.

Any longer then that, with bigger trees, and we would be in the hundred year scale, which is not very useful for vegetable gardening.

All the species are just suggestions, as is the length of each stage. Maybe we could do a five year cycle instead without the woody plants.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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It seems like you have given this some thought, Gilbert.

I like that you are using potatoes to begin the cycle. If you are going to disturb the soil, do it using a crop that does super well in disturbance. I also like that you intend to use biochar at some point. I would also suggest that you incorporate hugulkulture, for it's long term gains.

I built raised beds and planted them densely with field peas. I let them go to weeds the next year by neglect by absence (I got a job that took me away 26 days of the month...), but after a lot of sighing and throwing up of hands, I decided to just hack the weeds down, after pulling out the grasses. I roughly opened a trench in the center of the bed with a spade without lifting the soil out and placed potatoes every foot or two in it. I watered the trench, and then pushed it back together with the spade roughly, and then covered the bed with a six inch layer of hay. Hardly any weed competition, no watering, and great spuds.

I have other crops in the same types of beds, but have not gone perennial yet, but will be starting in that direction this year or next.

I would suggest that you not wait to get perennials into your system, necessarily. There is no reason, in my opinion, that you could not have small plots and patches of perennials including trees and mini food forest guilds within your annual bed system, while providing the space and light needed for the annual/rotational beds that you describe.

A thread that might interest you: http://permies.com/t/29091/hugelkultur/Emilia-Hazelip-Technique

Emilia is a major inspiration, although she does not
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
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...sorry I cut myself off.... Emilia does not get into perennials in her system. But considering your ideas about starting with annuals and building the system up using annual cycles, you should definitely check her method out. She calls it Synergistic gardening. And the basic premise of it is that the micro ecosystem in the soil is the natural fertility of the soil (and tilling destroys the fertility and thus we need to keep fertilizing it), so the soil is NOT disturbed (or only disturbed once to build the garden) and the ecology continues to build as a result of the micro ecology living off the plant root zones, and the roots themselves which die in the soil. She uses annual plants in perennial soil systems. Unfortunately, she has passed away, but the video of her garden is around and is a part of that thread I posted above.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Roberto pokachinni wrote: I would also suggest that you incorporate hugulkulture, for it's long term gains.


In my opinion hugelkultur might not be appropriate for the dry climate of Denver, but buried wood beds might be.

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hello Roberto and Tyler,

Thanks for the reply! I will look up Emilia's technique. I'm not going to wait to put in perennials; I have a orchard area with trees already planted, and that is heading down the Forest Garden route.

And I may bury some wood, but it might make it harder to dig when restarting the cycle.

I'm glad other people have had the same idea about potatoes being a good start.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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And I would like to clarify why I want to do this, instead of just having a no till annual garden and a perennial / forest garden area side by side.

The problem with annuals is their limited soil building and weed suppressing ability, and the fact that even water loving perennials can cope with a water shortage better then water loving annuals. By using longer lived perennials, I should be able to get deeper root penetration of my super stubborn clay, better nutrient cycling, and a more drought tolerant garden. Also, they take less work.

However, many perennials, including strawberries, raspberries, and many perennial vegetables, tend to become less productive or die out altogether over time, needing replacement. Also, perennial systems can accumulate perennial weeds and pests, especially bindweed, voles, and slugs. This necessitates a disturbance, which will release lots of nutrients and free up water and sun access. This flush of resources is best mopped up with annuals so weeds don't take over.

And both short lived perennials and annuals will benefit from my fenced in garden, as opposed to the open orchard area.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I grow perennials, trees, and annuals all in the same garden, as I think this kind of polyculture is the most beneficial. I regularly divide perennials, and perennials are taking up a larger share of the garden each year, though annuals still dominate. I expect this garden to outlive me, but the next people who live here may choose to let it die, or they may remove it. I hope not.

I find weeds not to be a problem in my actively managed small garden, as they become compost and mulch materials and are a resource.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Daikon has been used to break up clay soils, boost organic matter in soils, bring nutrients to the surface, and provide an annual harvest. My method of gardening may not work for everyone, but here's what I did in this new garden. Some of my beds (that weren't planted with field peas) were planted with a dense 30 (or so... I got a ton of seed at a Seedy Saturday seed swap for free) species polyculture that was harvested just here and there, and weeded only a bit of grasses and a few other tougher to deal with weeds. In the next year this bed was weeded of a few persistant things, and heavily mulched with small holes that transplants of brassicas were added, which thrived. Anything could be planted in the bed next year, without tilling, perhaps a furrow of an inch deep might be necessary for something like carrots. The dead annual plants from the first year provided a rich humus of varying depths relating to the plant roots that died. Another example of what can be done in a simpler way: A single carrot plant, if left to seed biennially can produce enough seed to plant a massive crop of carrots. Same could be done with daikon, radish, beets, turnips... etc). If one was to plant a bed densely with mostly carrots and harvested some, but covered the rest (after watering) with cardboard (which was also watered to dampness), and a dense mulch, that was also dampened. The amount of humus that would be produced by the rotting carrots, the cardboard and the mulch, and their microbial networks would be pretty massive. The gains, for the small amount of work and water, would be incredible in terms of productive, usable living soil. The bed could then be used for anything the following year.

Clay, if damp in the first place, and if covered with a thick enough mulch, stays damp. I would reason that a hugulkultur could be built above grade with clay, if the mound was dampened, was mulched heavily and had some drip irrigation to get the wood kick started for the first couple years. That said, depending on your rainfall/snowfall recharge potential, you may have to continue to drip irrigate to keep the thing charged. I have a feeling, though, that a heavily mulched clay hugul would work. I would build the hugul with less vertical, and more width, to eliminate moisture wicking away with wind or heat. The wider the base, the greater the lens of water that will be saturating the base, and thus wicking upwards.

I would consider the areas that had woody material (huguls) to be long term areas that would not be disturbed as things progress in you milpa. I'm not sure that the tropical milpa idea that I have read about should be mimicked outside of the tropic zones, though it seems like a very interesting experiment worth giving a shot. I just can't really conceive of having to do this type of succession (involving breaking it apart and burning stuff to ashes in order to start again) in a temperate climate, though turning waste woody debris to char and inoculating it with nutrients to then add to your gardens seems like a good way to mimic it, if you were to go the 'milpa' route.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Despite having a new garden, the dense polyculture required very little weeding, and the few persistent weeds that I missed were a minor chore after the annual died back. If I had been around more, there would have been even less weeds and I would have taken out and transplanted some of the polyculture (which I had planted much too dense), to fill in gaps in other beds instead of mulching to keep weeds out.

Annual gardening does not have to be a weeding chore, especially if mulched and the plants are at a density that weeds do not have much of a chance.

As Tyler said, weeds are a resource to utilize. I have a friend that leaves a weed (hedge nettle) that i weed out, so that he can utilize it at a bit of a larger stage in his compost. I weed it out when I see it, primarily because I have been working so much away from home to pay for the property, that I do not want this plant (which seeds out like mad... and all of them seem to germinate in almost any type of circumstance) to get to maturity by missing it in my quarter acre garden.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:
Clay, if damp in the first place, and if covered with a thick enough mulch, stays damp.


I have not found that to be the case with my clay soil. My garden still needs to be irrigated during the summer, in spite of being entirely made of buried wood beds and thickly mulched in the paths.

I should add that I think a hugelkultur experiment could be very worth doing!

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hello Roberto and Tyler,

My clay gets wet in the winter, but tends to dry down hard during the summer. By autumn it is generally dry and rock hard at least a foot down. Then again, I have only fifteen inches of precipitation a year, mostly as snow and rain in March, April, and May, much of which evaporates.

The reason I see periodic disturbance as a good thing will be explained in a little more detail below. It comes from a few goals for this garden. However, I agree with Roberto that a polyculture could be maintained for a long time with very little disturbance.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:Hello Roberto and Tyler,

Then again, I have only fifteen inches of precipitation a year, mostly as snow and rain in March, April, and May, much of which evaporates.



That's what I get in a drought year, and we have cracking clay soil. Huge amounts of organic material, including wood, seems to help hold moisture.

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Yep, I have the same. Big cracks. And when the stuff is wet, it is really wet. And shoes and tools quickly pick up lots of extra weight.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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First of all, I'd like to hear more about your projects. In particular, Roberto, what was in the thirty species polyculture? Did anything get squeezed out, and if so, what? Were the persistent things that had to be weeded out the next year crops? If so, what? And Tyler, what kind of trees and perennial vegetables do well in your mixed garden? I figure that anything that can survive your climate and soil would survive mine. Right alongside the garden in which I want to try the milpa experiment, I have a garden that will end up looking something like what Roberto is describing (annual and biennial plants in various polycultures providing their own mulch, no till) and a few hundred feet away I have an orchard which will end up as a mixed garden of trees, perennials, and annuals. So I certainly am not saying that "Only milpa experiments are true permaculture" or anything crazy like that. I don't even know if it will work at all.

So why do I want a periodic disturbance? Mainly, this is because I want to use succession, but don't want to let it get too far. Eventually, succession gets into the "golden rod phase" where a few tough, expansive, semi woody plants (Golden rod in Eastern USA; I will just call this the golden rod phase,) dominate the area, reducing the biodiversity and yields from an area, and making it difficult to establish anything else, unless you want a forest. However, I want yields of a wide range of annual and perennial plants, alongside my more shady orchard, so I will need to use some disturbance.

Now, why don't just use Roberto's idea of using an annual/ biennial polyculture and never letting it get to the "goldenrod" phase? Because if I don't, some sort of wild "golden rod plant," in my case probably bindweed or perennial grass, will take over and lower system productivity. David Holmgren points out that sheet mulch, or mulched beds of any sort, is a good start, but it is not a stable system, and will eventually do one of three things: succeed to orchard/ edible forest; revert to grass/ running weeds; or remain intensive garden through periodic disturbance. (For that matter, the same three apply to any annual garden, mulched or not.)

My planned "golden rod stage plants" raspberry, Jerusalem artichoke, Maximilian sunflower, etc. are the answer to bindweed and wild "golden rod plants." (They will smother them.) They provide a yield, but eventually will yield less unless I disturb things. I will not be using fire that much in reality, maybe not at all, and will focus more on the necessary digging (to get roots and plant potatoes) and the grazing and scratching of chickens to reset the system. Any burning will be done to the side in a special TLUD biochar stove; I'm in a suburban area and don't want to torch the neighbor's place by starting a field fire.

Also, I have a hunch, confirmed by reading permaculture books that focus on a broad scale, that we shouldn't work to minimize disturbance, but to establish a disturbance regime that suits the plants we are trying to grow. No doubt lettuce, spinach, and other ruderal plants do grow, and grow well, in a sheet mulch, but they are adapted to quickly capture the flush of nutrients and warmth produced by a disturbance, and it makes sense that this may be the best way to grow them. (Sheet mulches are also a disturbance of a sort, at first; maybe once they have been around for a few years, ruderal plants will not do so well any more.) Grains in particular can not be grown in a mulched bed of any type, at least according to Living Systems Institute. And I want to grow grains.

The correct regime of disturbance and succession can also maximize the accumulation of biomass (because it breaks stagnant stages of succession), can help deepen topsoil (because lots of different root types, with their different micro communities, grow and then die back) and can maximize biodiversity and structural diversity. (For instance, quite a few insects need need bare soil, but bare soil is always an inherently unstable phase, unless there is a severe problem.)

Also, succession is a natural process, and since permaculture is all about working with natural processes as much as possible, it seems like it would be good to mimic it.

Finally, my site is extremely deficient in organic matter, and I need to boost it. I want to incorporate woody biomass, for its many benefits. But on my soil, importing large amounts of any type of biomass, especially woody biomass, risks increasing the prevailing imbalance between calcium and potassium. Soil like this one tend to produce a good growth of plants, but they can be less resistant to pests and disease, and crops will not store as well. If I grow large amounts of woody biomass on site, it will only contain the minerals that were in the soil to start with. But growing woody biomass necessitates some sort of disturbance so that I can grow the herbaceous annuals and perennials that were the original goal. (I did import organic matter to start with, but don't want to keep importing more.)

So, to sum up, I want to work with succession, because it will increase the types of yield that I can gain; because it is one way to increase biomass and biodiversity; because it eliminates certain problems (overabundance of certain minerals and some really tough weeds); because potatoes and chickens cause disturbance no matter what; because I think it would take more work to avoid it; and because I tend to have an experimental bent. But using succession necessitates disturbance.

And I still need to watch that video.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Gilbert Fritz wrote:And Tyler, what kind of trees and perennial vegetables do well in your mixed garden?


I have Apple trees, artichokes, cardoon, Canada onion, garlic chives, perennial leeks (Elephant Garlic), walking onion (Egyptian onion), Pomegranate (haven't fruited yet), Canna, asparagus, oregano, rosemary, daylily, Malabar Spinach (I doubt it will survive the winter), Jersusalem artichoke, sweet potato (semi-perennial), hardy yam (not doing much), perennial arugula (Diplotaxis tenuifolia).
 
Roberto pokachinni
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My polyculture consisted of a lot of greens, including four varieties, I believe, of lettuce, chard (rainbow and Swiss), 3 types of kale, 3 varieties of beets, 3 types of carrots, dill, cilantro, fennel, parsley, oregano, 2 types of arugula, red and green orach, garlic bulbils, garlic cloves, onion sets, cucumber, butternut squash, pumpkin, broccoli, cauliflower, 4 varieties of dry beans, 2 varieties of peas, 3 types of cabbage, two types of turnip, 3 types of radish, bok choi, tatsoi, kohlrabi, corn, chives, Egyptian onions, and spinach. I'm probably missing some. Now that I list it, looks like more than 40! I'm glad you asked for the list, as it forced me to really think about it. This was 2014's garden.

The largest organic farm in the vicinity was getting out of the Asian greens, so they were giving away a lot of seed, as was this super awesome seed saver lady who brings her seed from a similar climate every year.

As I said, I over planted everything, much to the detriment of the vast majority of the plants as far as optimum growth is concerned. This was particularly the case with plants that like a lot of space to thrive, like the curcubits, the beans, and the brassicas. They either didn't germinate at all or died in the moist shade, or lived in a way that was not productive (curcubits had no flowers, or they rotted, or they didn't get fertilized). The carrots were tiny and the beets didn't make much of a show, and would have preferred a lot more light. But all of these plants I think would have done a lot better had the polyculture been less dense.

Things that I harvested regularly were salad greens, particularly lettuce, orach, spinach, and arugula, cilantro, parsley, kale, dill, some chard, and if I found them radishes and turnips. I had amazing, rich tasting salads everytime I came home. The variety of arugula that did really well was a non bolting variety from an organic seed place called Steller Seeds. Not only did it not go to seed until the end of the season, but it self seeded in my garden this year. Most things don't self seed here. I was surprised to see the carrots that I had missed when things started growing this year; of course they were going to seed. Also the oregano showed up after the season as it is a perennial that was struggling under all the annual growth. This was a thriving ecological mess, and there was very little insect damage, but not a whole lot of general food production. The end goal of building soil was achieved, and little weeding was needed (which was great because I wasn't around much at all), and it looked amazing. I do have photos that i have not made public yet.

What I would do differently is to plant the polyculture of greens that did well but not as densely, and in strips maybe two feet wide. In between the strips I would plant two foot patches of carrots or beets and corn and turnips and other main crops for storage. I would then grow all the other plants as transplants, and dig out some of the polyculture greens, and transplant the squash family and cabbage family into these spaces when they were large enough to compete, while using the greens that were taken out to fill in gaps elsewhere in the garden. Any carrots or beets or other roots harvested in the season instead of at the end could be replaced with seeds of more greens.


I grow a market crop of garlic of which I have sold enough to have turned a good profit and that I have multiplied to four times it's size for next year. This was a heavily mulched raised bed that was watered only once in spite of a drought. A drought is a relative thing though. I get WAY more moisture than you two, Gilbert and Tyler. We had no rain at all for 4 months, which is a drought here. I know... wah wah, cry you a river.

This garlic bed was largely a monocrop of 320 plants of Russian, but I did leave many dandelions, some lambs quarters, and plantain. The plantain was a mistake, as it has a similar root zone to the garlic and seemed to effect it's growth. I plant my garlic 9 inches apart to maximize it's growing room. Some of the dandelion tops got huge, so I would chop and drop them so that they were not shading the garlic when it was young. After that I let them go. I shot a short film (which I have not yet publicized) of me digging out a garlic bulb growing right beside a towering lambs quarters to answer my own curiosity over whether having such a large mature weed so close to a garlic would effect it's growth. The bulb was not the largest of my crop, but it was a good mid sized bulb, comparable to many in the same area of the bed. This was spring planted garlic (I usually plant in the fall, but I was away a lot in the fall, and the ground was frozen solid when I returned to plant it.) So I sold that (since my home also freezes solid), and bought some in the spring. It was a surprise that this was the most productive garlic crop I have ever grown. I think it was the heat, and the fact that I mulched it heavily and I barely disturbed it.

So with my crop, persistent weeds were mostly the grasses that are part of the meadow that the garden was created from. If left unchecked, all of them can be problems. The main problems being quack grass and Timothy, but I have several tenacious fescues as well. The worst weeds for me are the annuals that seed like crazy, including the hedge nettle, and the daisy. Any bare soil gets nabbed by daisy and the hedge nettle grows bloody well anywhere it can, including on top of mulch! I like to cut the daisies and bury them in mulch. Most die. They don't like that, and don't usually like to come back after a second cutting and covering.

As you observed, my garden would Quickly be covered with "Goldenrod". In this case, daisy, and probably hawkweed, which has a substantial patch uphill of my garden, , and which i have as an occasional volunteer in the garden.

I have a massive canada thistle resource on my property, of which some have found their way in the lower couple beds of the garden. They are extremely tenacious, and I try not to welcome them.

David Holmgren points out that sheet mulch, or mulched beds of any sort, is a good start, but it is not a stable system, and will eventually do one of three things: succeed to orchard/ edible forest; revert to grass/ running weeds; or remain intensive garden through periodic disturbance. (For that matter, the same three apply to any annual garden, mulched or not.)


I think that Emilia Hazelip (I see the thread listed down below in the similar threads) proved Holmgren wrong on that, but I can see why he thought that that was the case. Certainly if left to it's own device, a heavily mulched bed will go wild in one direction or another, and likely end up with shrubs, 'goldenrods', or forest. But if tended, it can be kept in annuals for as long as desired, while building large scale fertility.

Of course you will have different weeds than I. I am clueless in a high dry climate like yours! I did travel and do some reclaimation work in Utah and AZ, but that was not garden work.

Grains in particular can not be grown in a mulched bed of any type, at least according to Living Systems Institute. And I want to grow grains.

As far as growing grains is concerned, Fukuoka grew grains with legumes, including rice and clover, and alfalfa and barley I think. The grains were harvested, but the straw was left standing or on the ground as mulch with the legumes.

Also, I have a hunch, confirmed by reading permaculture books that focus on a broad scale, that we shouldn't work to minimize disturbance, but to establish a disturbance regime that suits the plants we are trying to grow.
definitely. My garlic and potato patches are pretty disturbed during the harvest, but the beds are quickly put into order again, and mulch replaced so that the soil microbes have as little time in the air to dry out and to reestablish their communities. I would simply minimize the disturbance to the soil structure as much as possible, and disturb the soil only when necessary. Fukuoka teaches that disturbance is what is wrong with most food growing techniques. He never cultivates. As Tom Elpel says in his book Botany In A Day, we need to "tilt the ecosystem in our favor" or at least in the favor of our desired species, but this should be made minimal by the use of observation.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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I think that you have a great idea, and with observation, you will know if any disturbance is necessary. Good luck on your project.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hello Roberto,

Wow, that is impressive! That is a lot of stuff in a polyculture. Thanks for giving me the details.

I think Holmgren was saying that some sort of disturbance is necessary to maintain a sheet mulch bed as an annual/ intensive perennial garden. And he said that he thought that the disturbance should not be reapplications of outside mulch. (Weeding counts as a disturbance, of course.)

I agree that Fukuoka is a model to emulate. And I am sure that grain can be grown without tilling or digging, but I'm not sure that it can be grown in a sheet mulch. (Something to do with the fungal domination, maybe.) At least, that is my experience and the experience of others I have talked to. However, if I see an example to the contrary, I will certainly reconsider it!

Interestingly, Fukuoka is actually one of the inspirations for this project. He uses only just enough disturbance to keep the system productive, and focuses on internal elements to the system, instead of importing anything. (For instance, he planted leguminous trees instead of burying wood.) I think that aspect is important for me considering my prevailing soil imbalances. The disturbance in Fukuoka's system is the flooding and draining of the paddies; this may actually be a more drastic disturbance seen from the system's point of view, though it takes less effort then digging.

If I could use them, I would use pigs to provide the disturbance to my milpa system, but instead I will mimic them by planting potatoes and then "rooting" them up.

I will also be using seed balls to establish new phases, much as Fukuoka did.

Finally, that point about Fukuoka not using tillage is correct, but as I pointed out above he does use fairly drastic disturbance, though it has minimal energy use. In one sense Fukuoka represents the inheritors of our permaculture systems five hundred years from now. He can afford not to do much work because all the energy intensive disturbances (forest modification, terraces, paddies, etc.) have already been done.

On the other hand I think he is right about tilling being a bad idea under most circumstances.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Tyler, my site is a little too cold, zone six, for some of those things, but I will give anything that is hardy enough here a try.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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It's been a while since I read M. Fukuoka's books; but if my memory serves me correctly, he did not flood his fields at all in the way that we traditionally understand rice to be grown, and he does not transplant his rice as is the common paddy method. In fact, part of my memory is nagging me to say that he did not flood them at all, but it's been over a decade since I read any of his work. The primary disturbance to his fields is done by him walking in it, casting seedballs, and his encouragement of small animals in the fields. He certainly did inherit an amazing landscape, which included volcanic soil of great depth, and many generations of pre-industrial/chemical soil work.

I do not know of any example of grain grown in sheet mulch either, but grasses in general don't seem to have a problem with mine! Perhaps I will give it a try next year. The large organic farm I mentioned specializes in Ancient Grains, and they have offered some to me to experiment with...

I am also interested in borrowing some cattle as a source of planned focused disturbance (and also to trample in seeds) in a Savory, holistic management way to try to deal with my voluminous Canada thistle patches. It is not that I do not believe in disturbance, but in non-tilling (or one time tilling only), and in minimizing as much as feasibly possible the breaking of the soil structure. I am a huge follower of the ideas presented in the book Teaming With Microbes.

I forgot to mention that clover and alfalfa was left in most of my garden beds most anywhere that it volunteered. The white clover is spreading (and provides a dense living mulch), and I plan to transplant it into other beds to make room for transplants. At this time I import hay from a non sprayed minimally tilled (Every 10 years or so, he flips his fields with a disker and reseeds) river bottom-land sheep pasture. It is not the best (it's pretty good though), but since I do not have the capacity to hay my own yet, I import. I would prefer not to import even from my own feral meadow except minimally with the addition of shredded forest leaves, rough cut chopped hay, biochar and AACT (Actively Aerated Compost Tea) to create a carbon/fungal/microbial web structure on the soil surface, and then rely on the crops in the beds to provide a living mulch.

In regards to Fukuoka's use of leguminous trees, I'm hoping to get a lot of Alder transplants into and around my hugulbeds that I will be constructing in the spring. I had the sod cleared off my building site and most of it is heaped near where the beds will be constructed. Alders are the main nitrogen fixing tree in my area. I will chop and drop them as I need material on these new beds, eventually killing all but a few that are on grade (not on the huguls). They will be an integral part of my food forest to be.

Again, I salute the use of potatoes and human harvesting as a great soil disturbance regime. I use a fork to loosen the soil under and around the plants, and a small dandelion digger to move the soil as I get the spuds, garlic, carrots, beets, or other roots/rhizomes. I try to minimize the breaking of the soil pore structure. It takes more time, but not much more, and I know that much of the communities have not been disturbed. Some of the potatoes are left in the soil by mistake, and when they come up, they are chop and drop volunteers in my non potato systems that follow.

On the other hand I think he is right about tilling being a bad idea under most circumstances.
I can think of no reason that tilling should be done except to expediate the killing of a noxious pest like volunteer (like my hawkweed patch){this might be better done with pigs and tossed corn}, or possibly to begin a new garden with sculpted beds (although I think this could be done almost as well with sheet mulch) . While I can definitely agree that some form of disturbance is a natural part of succession- indeed succession itself is a disturbance to whatever is being succeeded-I believe that there is pretty much always an alternative.

Here is a link for a reason not to till:

https://vimeo.com/23850878
yes, another video!

Most of the things that I have followed, are because they make intuitive sense. I grew up in the logging industry, and farming industry. My family had gardens and harvested wild berries. I later went against the clearcut and agriculture and searched for something better. I spent a lot of time in the forest as a kid. And just so you know, I watch Emilia's video at least once a year, and I never have a doubt about it. The only thing that breaks with my intuition is the external input of mulch, which I'm glad that you brought up, and that i address above in my own way, using as many soil building/enhancing techniques as I can think of while keeping it as simple as I can.

I'm very interested to learn more about your place, Gilbert. Just reading of your succession plans makes me smile.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hello Roberto,

I read one of Fukuoka's books, but that was a long while ago and I may have gotten it mixed up with other books. As far as I remember, just after he scattered the rice seed he flooded the field for ten days and then allowed it to drain. That set back all the clover and other stuff in the paddy, and by the time it recovered, the rice had dominated the area.

Basically, that is what I'm trying to do; figure out how to get the benefit of various guild plants without letting them compete too much with the main crop plants.

I'm glad you like hearing about my project. I certainly like hearing about yours! Do you have a permies thread dedicated to it?

I have just thought of a refinement to my milpa plan; by connecting all the beds, the plants of the different stages could spread into the adjacent areas at their own schedule; since each stage is more aggressive and competitive then the last , each would take over the earlier one and things would more more or less in the right direction.

I'm going to be going through seed lists and catalogs this afternoon, and posting lists of plants for each stage on here latter.



 
Roberto pokachinni
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I don't have a thread dedicated to my project yet. Having time on my hands to even mess around on permies this winter has been a novelty. The last time that I gave myself this much internet time I was off work with an injury. I've been working like mad to try to pay off my property, and was largely working away from home until this August for a year. There have been a number of complications, one of which is that I have no power on the site. I have raw rural land. Everything needs to be built, from a gravity water system with intake on the creek to hopefully include a hydro electric system, to a house for myself and my aging parents to live in. It's difficult to fathom where to begin. I recently purchased a refrigerator long haul truck unit which has a broken fridge machine. It ends up being a 53 foot long insulated shed 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide. For 3000 bucks it was a steal. This will be for storage for the time being. I may make some money back by selling the three sets of dual wheels and their removable chassis. I do have some rock gambions on my little creek, and of course my annual garden. I had a building site cleared so that the trailer would have level ground. When that was leveled all the sod was removed and heaped up. I'm hoping to build hugulkultur with this material packed in between the logs. I have a partially insulated school bus with a wood stove in it, but it is not adequate for wintering around these parts. My parents and I are renting in a nearbyish town (45 minutes on the highway), where I am now stationed out of as a railway laborer. That's my project in a nutshell! Anyway, I wish you all the best of luck on your milpa-esque high and dry food forest. You definitely have got some challenges ahead of you. I see that Tyler started a desert/drylands hugul thread. I hope that that yields some positive possibilities, or definitive answers. In Regenerative Abundance, ~Rob~
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hello Roberto,

I know what you mean about not having time! I have plenty of time right now, because my urban farms and backyard garden projects, and the yards of my yard care clients, are all more or less off line for the winter. I spend a lot of time in the winter researching, dreaming up crazy idea, and posting them. Then summer comes, and a mad rush, and I never post about how they went.

Your projects sound interesting, though. Maybe sometime you could start a thread in the projects section.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Definitely will happen, Gilbert! It's just a matter of me getting the ball rolling. I have some photos and videos of the project. I'm just not a super techie guy. Perhaps if one of my sister's kids come to visit...
 
Gilbert Fritz
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So, as I keep thinking this out, I think I will make the beds for these into a long, skinny oval shape with an unplanted mound in the middle, and a raised path around the edge. Maybe 500 square feet all told, though if it is a success I will expand. The raised path and mound will be covered with plastic and gravel to drain water into the depressed, planted beds. By making an oval, the planned rotation can move round and round, theoretically with little help from me. The first step will be the potatoes. Probably the second step will be a grain, rye or winter wheat, which will exploit the disturbance of the mulch caused by harvesting potatoes, while at the same time rebuilding the mulch layer with a thick layer of straw. Probably the second step will be a seed ball planting of biennials, mostly brassicas, with larger squash and tomato plants inserted at the proper time. These are the three planted stages. The remaining stages should move in on their own. However, I have to get the competitiveness of the plants sorted out. If a plant is too competitive for its stage, it will overrun the stage before it and eventually eliminate it. If it is not competitive enough, it might get squeezed out by the plants ahead. Of course, I expect quite a few things will get squeezed out, but I like attempts to think these things through.

Probably the first perennial stage will be strawberries. They aggressively colonize new land well outside their borders by runners, while at the same time being weakly competitive long term and dying out after a few years. I expect that they will move in among the biennials and tomatoes rather fast, ending the managed stage of the garden. I think that some tall, self seeding annuals might be able to keep a foothold among them, and I will include dutch white cover in the strawberry patch as well. The evidence that I could find seems to indicate that clover is the stronger competitor over the long haul. However, strawberries spread faster due to longer runners, so they should claim the new territory and thrive before the clover catches up. I could also insert bush green beans among the strawberries; they are reputed to be good companions.

I have to think about what should be next.

Included in some of the remaining stages will be raspberries; perennial greens; perennial roots; etc, each with various guild/ companion plants. The final stage will probably be Jerusalem Artichoke, which is known for not sharing ground with anyone, and will probably wipe out any remnants of earlier stages, hopefully including the bindweed. Bindweed is supposedly suppressed by secretions given off by Sunflowers, and since they are sunflower relatives, and very densely growing, this might work.

Anybody have any thoughts on white clover versus strawberries, and their relative "speed"?

This whole project depends on the relative "speeds" of plants faced with a given competition. I'm not sure that I will come up with much research in this area.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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This sounds Awesome, Gilbert.

The oval raised mound with the plastic and rock drainage to the trenched bed sounds like a good management scheme. It will possibly provide some spider and insect habitat too.

In your seedball planting stage you mentioned, I would definitely be remiss if not to suggest some insectary plants, like parsley, cilantro, dill, etc. A little goes a long way with these amazing companions. And food too! A native flower might be in order somewhere nearby for the same purposes... bee plant comes to mind for something from near your region.

I think that you are pretty much bang on with your clover and strawberry competition analogy, from my experience with the two plants separately. I can't conclude on the combo though. I'm not sure that strawberries will cover the ground to the point that you would necessarily bring about the 'ending of the managed stage of the garden'. The clover might be more enlightening of your travails in regards to annuals, though. Clover will indeed fiercely cover ground, much more aggressively and more completely than strawberries. Strawberry runners will twine in and out and colonize where ever, but they will always be gaps in the patch. Clovers will take care of that in short order.

Sunchokes do spread, however their reputation for spreading is a little misleading. From what I understand (as I don't yet have much experience with these, but I'd like to), they tend to spread if they are disturbed. When you harvest some of the tubers, this stimulates the plant to produce more and thus spread out. A plant left alone will spread gradually in comparison. So, in regards to, and in the spirit of, appropriate and minimal disturbance, dig a few tubers in the area you want it to spread.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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You're right about insectary plants. Dill is definitely a good fit; it tends to go wild here on irrigated sites. So is cosmos; it goes wild even on unirrigated sites. If by bee plant you mean cleome, I will be including that as well.

Yes, I imagine that strawberries will live among the plants of the preceding stage, but I will stop planting tomatoes, etc. directly (so as not to shade them too much.) And clover can out compete lawn grass in certain situations here; its pretty tough.

Good point about a bit of disturbance helping things to spread. I imagine that I will concentrate the harvesting of each stage right at the interface between the two stages. Especially for the other root crops in the design.

I'm also thinking that some of the stages will produce excess plants that will provide nursery stock opportunities, or they may squeeze out the stage ahead all together.

I'm getting my ideas solidified for the next stages.

Strawberries tend to exhaust the soil and themselves fairly soon. The next stage will be another soil building stage, focused on white cover (which moves faster then the other plants in this stage, and overtakes the strawberries) and clumping, deep rooted herbaceous perennials, mostly edible greens; plants like dandelion, perennial chicory, Good King Henry, Rocket, Sorrel, etc. Most of them are dynamic accumulators. Although they don't run much, they self seed abundantly, and with a little judicious weeding of the clover they should spread. If necessary, I can dig, divide, and transplant them along; most of them do better with periodic division. Chives, garlic chives, and other alliums also fit in this stage.

After this stage comes Raspberries and other cane crops. On irrigated sites here they tend to spread rather fast, and can even become annoying. At the same time, like the strawberries, they wear out over time. I don't think they will quickly wipe out the preceding clover and other species, but will pop up through them, gradually dominating the stand. I will do less pruning of dead canes then is usually advised, especially toward the end of this stage.

The next stage will be two perennial root crops, Chinese artichoke and American ground nut. The artichoke is a mint relative and a fast spreading ground cover; it produces best if some tubers are harvested every year. American ground nuts are nitrogen fixing, vigorous, and will twine up the "trellis" provided by the preceding raspberries and produce a dense tangle. Of course, my harvesting activities will disturb the trellis effect over time. Self seeding, partial shade tolerant plants like miner's lettuce are a good fit here because of the disturbance caused by fall root harvesting; they will seize on open niches. Also, I suspect that this will be the stage with the least mulch built up on the ground, favoring self seeding. The mulch from the grain crop and biennials will have rotted a long time ago, and non of the plants in the preceding stage produce woody, long lasting debris, except for the raspberry, which will not be a thick layer.

Finally, the Jerusalem artichoke, which may suppress the ground nut, though the ground nut may twin up the stems and survive. This stage provides bulk biomass as mulch for the less mulch producing, disturbed stages ahead.

And then back to potatoes. I would probably cut and rake up the mulch, dig up as many Jerusalem artichokes as I could find, and put the mulch back for the winter. At this point I wish we could use pigs! I will run chickens through the bed. In the spring, mulch will be pushed back and potatoes dibbled into the soil. Then the mulch will be replaced. Surviving artichokes will send up sprouts which will flag their locations for digging, and when the potatoes are dug, there will be another chance to get them. Also, I may run chickens among the potatoes. Potato leaves are poisonous, but some say that chickens will leave them alone and eat other things. I will have to do more research on this. If so, then the chickens will harvest any plants left over from the other stages, leaving me with a clean, fertilized, lightly mulched bed to sow a crop of rye into. I hoping that while rye seems to struggle in a wood mulched bed, the predominately herbaceous mulch which has had a year to weather down, will provide less of an inhibiting effect.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Awesome, Gilbert. I think your system is well on it's way already!
 
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