Thursday, 29 November 2012

100% Food Self-sufficiency, part III - Using polycultures

I am planning 7 patches for experimental polycultures for next summer. It is heavily focused in cereals and pulses, because it is aimed towards plant self-sufficiency.

Each patch has around 30m2 (about 320 square feet, 18 feet per 18 feet), to provide what I calculated to be the enough of my yearly seeds. Even if it is not enough, this is just a first trial.

This is also aimed at a great diversity of annuals. So these are 7 patches, during summer season: 

  • Patch 1: the 3 sisters: corn, runner beans, pumpkin (perhaps amaranth and sunflowers)
  • Patch 2: modified 3 sisters (requires less water): sorghum, cowpeas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, chia
  • Patch 3: similar to last but different species: millet, peanuts, mung beans, sesame
  • Patch 4: the rice patch (plenty of irrigation): rice, corn and a water tolerant legume (sweet peas?)
  • Patch 5: the potato patch: potatoes, bush beans, possibly quinoa
  • Patch 6: wheat patch: wheat, lentils, chick peas (could be also sunflowers and quinoa)
  • Patch 7: vegetable patch, composed of salads, celery, brassicas, onions, garlic and turnips

Some crops were hard to fit, like the tomatoes, that like humidity, but supposedly do not go well along the corn, otherwise that would be my first choice for it.

These patches, in a Mediterranean climate, could be also cultivated during winter. I don't think that is pushing the line too hard!

These patches would then be replaced, in winter, with:

  • 4 or 5 Patches with polycultures of wheat, oats or rye, with broad beans and peas
  • 1 patch with other winter vegetables like kales, carrots, onions and buckwheat. 
  • Remaining area can be planted with buckwheat, alfalfa or clover, or simply given a rest
When that grain is harvested (around mid spring), the same summer crops patches (mentioned above) would be cultivated again, but by rotating the patches! 

Even with using a polyculture, we want to replant different species from one summer to the next, so that pests do not accumulate, and the soil gets exausted. This follows the principles of Native Americans.

What the Native Americans can teach us...

When the Native Americans were growing the 3 sisters polycrop (actually they grew more than just corn, squash and beans), they would first slash burn a piece of forest, to cultivate the polycrop for a few years (probably not more than 2 or 3), they would then plant fruit trees (like avocados, bananas or mangos) and let it evolve towards a forest garden. A few years later, they would plant hardwood trees and let the original forest recover again. They would then slash another piece of land to restart the process. In a cycle that would probably last a generation.

Most ideally, in the 7 patches described above, most the crops would be sown with seed balls. We want to apply Fukuoka principles, in addition to other Permaculture principles. Around the patches, we expect to plant perennial shrubs, fruit trees, nuts, berries and plenty of compost crops and nursing crops. 

Do we continue the patch rotation ad infinitum or do we let it evolve towards a forest garden?

If our land is large enough, we can also plant some perennial crops and trees within the patches, to let them evolve towards a forest garden (like the Native Americans did). Otherwise, I expect that the rotation of the polycrops is enough to assure that the soil does not get depleted over time. Furthermore, if you plant nursing/ccompost crops around the patches (mesquites, elaeagnus, comfrey, tansy), you use that cut and throw that biomass to fertilize the patches every year.

If you do not want to rotate, but you also do not want to plant perennials, then...

If you have a warm climate between April and October, then you can cultivate the seven patches with summer and winter vegetables, pulses and cereal. Ideally, grains would be sown by October (could be in seedballs) and harvested by late May (or mid June). By then (or even earlier if you would throw seedballs into the growing cereal fields), we could start the summer crops, which would then grow until September or October, when the new grains would be sown again.

We do not need to grow winter cereals in all the patches, just some of them. In some we can grow winter vegetables (such as onions, broccoli, turnips, salads, radish, carrots, peas, broad beans). It could be something like this:

Patch1: the 3 sisters (which has corn) in summer, followed by potatoes/broad beans polycrop in winter
Patch2: the modified 3 sisters (which has sorghum), followed by oats/peas polycrop in winter
Patch3: the similar patch (containing millet) in summer, followed by rye/broad beans in winter
Patch4: the rice patch in summer, followed by vegetables polycultures in winter
Patch5: the potato patch in summer, followed by wheat/peas polycrop in winter
Patch6: wheat patch in summer, followed by winter vegetables polycrop in winter

As a last comment, one could also transform everything by growing instead multicaule tillering perennial cereals. Then, the system would be half perennial!

In the rice patch, we can also not only use corn, but also taro, if the growing season is long enough.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paulo,

    since first read your post often come back to re-read... have been experimenting some of your suggestions, lets see how that goes. Regarding the potato patch, another legume to consider is the peanut since they both benefit from hilling up and there are some peanut cultivars with upright growing habit. They also seem to be quite compatible on some other aspects if appropriate cultivars are chosen.