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Balancing efficiency with diversity

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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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This question is not directly aimed at Zach, but of course his input is more than welcome.  And now's as good a time as any to start a thread in this forum, right?

Of course, a large component of permaculture is diversity.  And a large component of market gardening is productivity and efficiency.  I'm wondering how you all merge the two, maintaining a market garden that has to have some level of efficiency to be profitable, while ensuring that there is sufficient diversity for ecological reasons.

(A tangential subject to this is, I think, maintaining a high level of diversity while avoiding pest buildup problems.  I'm thinking specifically of diversity created through self-sowing plants, though maybe that's swinging too wide of the subject at hand.)

On a small, kitchen garden scale, where the planting needs to be quite intensive, it's no problem to have species scattered here and there, so that, for example, you go here for lettuce, there for arugula, gather some dandelion greens from that corner, pick the volunteer amaranth from among the small squash plants, etc. etc., to make a dinner salad.  But this seems much less feasible from a larger, market garden perspective, where one can't spend all day gathering salad greens.

Once one gets to a large enough scale, one could grow crops in rows or beds and let 'weeds' populate in between.  Thus diversity is maintained, as is harvesting efficiency; the larger scale allows for a less intensive use of the land.

Is there a middle ground, or is that no-man's-land?  Can one grow a wide array of crops, interspersed with one another (and not segregated into beds or rows), and maintain enough efficiency to be profitable?  How do you make it work, on what scale, and with what crops?  What specifics do you employ?
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I dont have a clue myself, but  Mark shepard has written a book and also put up a few youtube lectures on the topic what hes saying makes sense to me. he speaks about how he incorporates harvesting machines and sells wholesale produce while maintaining plant diversity in pockets and within rows and alleyways. he has cows to manage the alleyways between rows of trees and berry bushes.  
 is a lecture promoting his book but its not just an ad its full of info on what he does and why.
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Ideally you would have tree crops (nuts, fruits and perhaps wood) along with what I call traditional row crops (vegetables). The trees are in rows and the vegetables or grains are grown in the alleys between the tree rows. This gives you diversity (since it isn't a good idea to plant the same vegetables year after year in the same alleys) it also gives you the ability to grow multiple crops in the same alley or a crop for harvest and a crop for soil improvement. The trees are chugging along producing nuts and fruits at the same time. You keep your disturbances going enough so that you end up with a savanna type environment so grasses grow between the trees as they mature, this is where you graze your cattle, hogs, chickens, in a rotation so that each animal gets their nutritional needs met while turning soil, fertilizing soil and pruning the lower branches of the trees. The most important thing is to move the animals often enough so they don't do real damage to the trees since these are part of your income flow. You start with mass plantings of trees so you have the opportunity to select the trees that fit your needs the best and stem exclude those that don't. That thins the trees so you end up with the right amount of trees producing the best quantity of nuts or fruit or both that is possible all while feeding the live stock which feeds the "forest".  The first thing you should do when setting up this type of system is water management earth works, they tell you where the alleys will be and also define the tree rows (usually two to three trees deep). Your alleys need to be sized for your equipment, tractors, harvesters etc.  The diversity comes in different trees planted in the same row, multiple crop/ cover crop plantings in the alleys. In one ally you might have alternating rows of wheat and squash as an example or you might have barley, cabbage, lima beans and a repeat of these to the other side of the alley. Most of the time your alley crops will be selected per the animals you intend to graze through. Wheat can be sowed in the late fall and grazed through the winter for example, then in the spring you add squash or another vegetable that will take off after the wheat is harvested.  
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I think that there are different kinds of diversity that we can employ in a market garden.

In my market garden I try to have a few different varieties of each type of vegetable. That's one kind of diversity.

I plant veggies in blocks, but I also interplant other things in there, such as flowers and herbs, to increase the diversity while still keeping the veggies in manageable blocks to harvest.

Planting alternate rows of different veggies that grow well together. I plant a row of tomatoes on the west side of the bed, then plant lettuces on the east side so they get morning sun, but shade in the afternoon. I'll be doing the same with beans and climbing peas as well, to shade heat sensitive plants.

Succession planting different varieties i.e. start with one variety of lettuce, and once the first are harvested, plant a different variety, or a different veggie altogether. Or plant different varieties of lettuce together that can be harvested at the same time (have the same maturation date).

Interplant two veggies that grow well together, and can be harvested together. I can go down a bed and harvest broccoli and kale for market at the same time.

I'm also starting a small food forest/perennial veggie patch at the back (north) of the garden this year. It won't be huge, but it will be diverse!

I plant a variety of flowers and herbs in amongst all of my veggies. This increases the diversity really well, helps to attract beneficial insects, smells good, and makes my garden bloomin' lovely! I love sweet alyssum (smells wonderful and attracts all kinds of things), calendula, nasturtium, borage (go easy - it's a big plant and will happily reseed!), thyme, and summer savory. Then I can snip sprigs of herbs while I'm gathering dinner. Just makes it all more enjoyable.

Hope that helps!


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Good question and one near and dear to my heart.

Diversity and efficiency are always at odds, if they were not than we would have fewer monoculture farms.  

Let play it out: diversity means different tools, techniques and skills so a draw back of diversity is the added complexity to the effiexnt flow of a system.  However we also see that diversity has man benefits to system such as cycling nutrients, sharing space and deterring pests.  

So how do we get these benefits and the actual fruits of the diverse garden without over stretching our wallets, time and mind?

Part of this solution is what I call Umbrella Management-- grouping of diverse species into triads (sections of three beds) based on their similarity of management first and also their companionship second.  This way you streamline the integration of diverse species of annuals.

Then you can use Organized Garden Patterning to integrate perennials in a routine ratio into the garden so it need not interfere with annual efficiency while these profit centres develop.

In essence, we need to organize our diversity for efficiency and then find the best companion opportunities.

We talk about our Guild Crop Rotation in the book to highlight this as well as our mapping and organizing of garden lands.


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Guild Crop Rotation
Understanding Resilience
Understanding Resilience
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