With all respect, I think you nailed it on the head when you suggested that you are "pontificating."
When I first came to Washington State, I visited some of the wineries in the Yakima River Valley. There was one wine maker who had, if I recall, an apple wine that he thought was very special that year. He commented that that year, the apple blossoms occurred at the same time that many of the other flowering plants on his property blossomed. He found that as he made his wine, it had a wonderful flavor to it unlike other wines he had produced in previous years--a flavor very reminiscent of the variety of flower he had in abundance on his property. Variation in flavor that occurs with successive annual crops is something common to those who make wine. He suggested that somehow, the fruit from his apple trees had picked up something of the "essense"/pollen/nectar/resins from the other plants directly--perhaps as a result of the action of the bees during pollenation?? Perhaps just from the air itself via plant respiration?? I'm sad to inform you that he had definitely planted his apple trees in rows, Paul. I saw them myself. What can I say??
In Yunnan Provence, China, there is a traditional style of tea that is actually "aged." This style of tea (camellia senensis) is called "Pu Ehr." This has become a very popular tea. It is very high in anti-oxidants and is considered by many to be very health giving. The legend is that in years past, the tea was actually burried in the ground for a season in order to age and ferment it. The tea is often then pressed into cakes for storage. Nowadays, growers involve themselves directly in the processing of the tea and actually add fungal innoculants to help "age" and fermant the tea. People who enjoy this tea appreciate the fact that if they save their cakes for a few years, the taste of the tea improves. There are some who suggest that the best teas of this style that they remember tasting from years past were teas that were picked from tea plants that were surrounded by Camphor trees. They believed that some of the quality of the Camphor, the aroma, the flavor, found its way into the tea and would then become apparent to someone drinking the tea. These tea afficionados lament the fact that many if not all of the Camphor trees that were interplanted with the tea have been cut down or otherwise lost many years ago, and with them, some of the very best tea they remember tasting. Sorry to say, Paul, the tea and the Camphor trees were probably planted in rows.
My conclusion is that you have interesting ideas, but they are not new and they are not exclusive to forest "Polyculture." Again, I appreciate your excitement about this, but to claim that you have discovered the cure for Cancer is still a stretch for me, too.
I, too celebrate the concept of plant diversity. I think that it is marvelous. I look forward to increasing plant diversity in various ways whenever I can. I will still probably plant my carrots in a roll. Sorry...
I agree with you. I have been through areas that have been clear cut. It can almost make one ill to see this. I understand that this is poor management--there are better ways. No where have I implied in anything that I have written in this forum that I wish to see clear cutting happen. If I have an open space with nice sunlight, chances are that I might use this space to grow sun loving vegetable plants that I can eat, and I will most likely grow them in rows.
It can be interesting to read about carrots. There have been many varieties that are still found wild in many places around the globe. Most of these have either dark roots or white roots--the orange carrot root that we typically associate with the carrot today was intentionally developed. So has its sweeter taste profile and its smaller inner core or heart which can be tough sometimes. I've read that most of the carrots that we grow in the west are descendents of four varieties of carrots that have been given to us from the Dutch who initially "developed" them. One of the benefits of the orange carrot is the fact that this color is associated with Beta Carotine--a substance that turns into Vitamin A in our digestive process. I've read that Years ago, many peoples in various regions of the world were suffering from Vitamin A deficiencies--their traditional diet just didn't include enough Vitamin A or Beta Carotine. Foods like the orange carrot, and the Chinese Cabbage, or Boc Choi which contain increased levels of these nutrients were instrumental in improving the nutritional status of whole nations--enabling them to survive when before, many simply died of complications of malnutrition. Pictures I have seen of Cabbages grown in China have been pictures of Cabbages grown in rows.
There is also interesting documentation of how the land in ancient China was distributed among the citizens. There is not much aerable land in China--the land is mostly mountain of dessert yet, by careful administration of the available land, they have generally been able to grow enough food to feed their large populations. Its interesting to read about this history. One book that has been recommended to me is "Food in China" from Yale University Press--I forget the author's name. I have a copy somewhere, but I can't find it.
Here in the Northwest, Nash Huber is famous for his carrots. I have been told that he has painstakingly selected his best producing carrots over the years and saved the seeds from these. Over the years he has selected for varieties that are best suited to his specific growing region. My own friends have remarked to me how delicious his carrots taste to them. I believe that Nash grows his carrots in rows.
I have a friend that lives in Acacia, Maine a few miles down the road from Elliot Coleman's farm and gardens (part of the once Homestead of Scott Near). My friend has gardened for years, yet she looks forward to the summer season when she can go to the local Farmer's Market and buy carrots from Elliot Coleman because she says they are the best darn carrots she has ever tasted--better than any she's ever grown herself. I believe that you can read about the techniques that Elliot Coleman uses to get fabulous results with his carrots in his gardening books--I believe that he grows many things in rows--there are pictures in his books. I don't believe that Elliot Coleman has made any claims about his carrots curing Cancer.
Everything I read suggests that soil is truly a mystery. Many wonderful things happen in the soil. I have come to appreciate that many of these wonderful things are the result of micro-organisms, both fungal and bacterial, as well as slightly larger multi-celled creatures, benefitial nematodes and worms and such. We talk on and on about plant diversity and its benefits... What about Micro-organism diversity?? There are so many varieties that it has been impossible to identify or name them all. They can be found by the billions in every teaspoon of healthy soil. (I've seen estimates that suggest that the biomass from micro-organisms in the soil can reach the equivalent of 12-13 cows per acre.) They are said to be responsible for what makes plants grow--they break substances down so that the next generation of plants can recycle them for their purposes. I have to confess that I am more interested in introducing diversity of micro-organisms via good compost to my soils than to crowding as many different plants as I can in one area. I think that it is Okay to grow carrots next to other carrots because I can feel confident that the soil between the carrots has had plenty of love and plenty of nourishing from the good attention I might give to the soil.
Okay, I should confess that I typically grow things like carrots in patches and not actually in geometrically straight rows... Oops. But I often leave a path next to some of the carrots so I can get to them quickly. Of course, I often interplant this carrot patch with other things and I rotate the carrot bed to other places in the garden to access other soils--I don't believe that one must keep carrots in the same place from year to year though I do know that many organic greenhouse growers grow the same crops in the same place for years on end without difficulty. They make sure that they add plenty of Micro-organisms to there growing areas in addition to compost, etc. so that the soil will benefit from their "cleansing"/digesting action.
I think that nature is truly wonderful, I'm glad to be alive and glad to be able to learn more and more about its mysteries and to even enjoy a few mysteries for what they are without having to try to understand everything. I like the "laboratory" of discovery that a garden can be... I think I'm still going to stick with rows, when its appropriate to do so...