Polyculture/Guild Trials 2016 - Home Garden Records

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by permaship, Nov 14, 2016.

  1. permaship

    permaship Junior Member

    Nov 5, 2009
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    Hi All,

    Here are the results from our polyculture/guild trials 2016

    For the previous three years we have been testing the practice of growing vegetables and herbs in polycultures (or what is known as guilds within permaculture circles). We have been using our home garden for these tests and recording the inputs and outputs from the growing seasons. Our aim is to discover whether or not growing in polycultures offers benefits over conventional methods of growing, and to see to what degree we can obtain good yields of nutrient dense food whilst providing habitat for garden wildlife.

    You can view this post with photos and tables click on the link below

    Garden produce and wildlife

    What follows is a description of the garden layout and planting scheme, an overview of our cultivation practices, the results from year three of the study, our record keeping methods, and some notes and observations from this year.

    If you would like to see the results from previous years click below:
    Home Garden Year 1
    Home Garden Year 2

    Last year we started a scaled up version of this study looking at polyculture growing for a market garden. The results from year 2 will be coming soon. You can read more about that study here

    The Polyculture Market Garden

    Garden Overview

    Climate: Continental Temperate
    Latitude: 42°
    Elevation: 580 m
    Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
    Co-ordinates:42°42′N 25°23′E

    The Polyculture beds on a mid spring morning
    Garden Layout

    Garden area: 66.5m2
    Cultivated beds area: 36m2
    Paths: 30.5m2

    Path and Bed Layout
    The Polyculture Planting Scheme

    Below is a typical representation of the polyculture planting scheme within a bed.

    Vegetable Guild/Polyculture

    In 2016 the following plants were grown in the 6 beds (36m2)

    11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Black Krim'
    11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Tigerealla'
    11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Mixed Saved Seed'
    11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Rozova Magia'
    11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Anna Russian'
    11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Ukranian Purple'
    66 x Basil - Ocimum basilcium 'Sweet Genovese'
    27 x French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Cobra'
    27 x French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Local'
    2 x Courgette - Cucurbita pepo 'Black Beauty'
    4 x Yellow Bush Scallops - Cucurbita pepo
    6 x Butternut Squash - Cucurbita pepo 'Waltham Butternut'
    4 x Swiss Chard - Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla ' Rainbow Chard '
    4 x Sunflower - Helianthus annuus
    12 x African Marigold - Tagetes erecta
    12 x French Marigold - Tagetes patula
    6 x Pot Marigold - Calendula officinalis

    Polyculture Produce

    The table below shows the floral species composition of each bed including the different cultivars and the dates that the plants were sown or planted. Beans, courgettes and winter squash were sown directly into the beds, tomatoes, basil, chard and marigolds were grown from seed indoors reared to approx 15 cm tall and planted outside around mid spring. Sunflowers and pot marigolds are self seeded.

    Other plants such as volunteer nasturtiums were also growing within the beds. The yield of these plants are not considered in these records. Also not included are the native wild plants that are encouraged to grow around the perimeter of each bed. Many of these plants provide excellent fodder for our chickens and rabbits as well as mulch material when chopped and dropped on the beds.

    Polyculture Cultivation Practices

    In the early spring when the temperatures are warm enough for the chickens to be outside during the night, we place a 1 m x 3 m bottomless chicken coop with 8 - 10 hens inside onto one half of a bed. The chickens will live there for 3 or 4 days and each day we throw them in kitchen scraps, grain and weeds. The chickens relentlessly scratch among the soil and mulch picking off the eggs of slugs and larvae as well as pupae of various arthropods. They also forage for seeds in the soil and thereby reduce the emergence of undesirable plants in the bed. The chicken's scratching mixes up the organic matter we throw in daily and the birds contribute a valuable supply of droppings as they go.

    After 3 or 4 days we move the chickens onto the next half of the bed and the process repeats. The area the chickens have just moved from is forked over, soaked well (or we wait for a rain) and usually 20 L of compost per 1.5 m length are applied i.e 80 L per bed). A 20 cm layer of Straw mulch (approx 3/4 of a bale) is then laid to cover the surface. The mulch provides good habitat for toads and lizards (in the spring, summer and autumn) which are well positioned to pick off any slugs that venture in for the young seedlings.

    Once mulched the stakes for tomatoes and beans are put into position. Large reliable germinating seeds such as beans and squash are sown directly into the beds by pulling back the mulch, making a small nest adding 3 handfuls for potting mix (50% compost 50% river sand) and sowing the seeds directly into the mix. All other plants are reared in pots and planted into the beds when approx 15 cm tall and when the weather is suitable. Any weed plants that grow around the edge of the beds are cut back before they set seed and used as additional mulch throughout the year. Weeds growing within the bed are treated the same way. Note that weeds are not uprooted only cut to ground level. The roots are allowed to decay in the ground or left to regrow until they are again ready to "chop and drop".

    Around July the vegetable and herb plants are all well established with little room for weeds to establish. The attention the beds require after July is mainly irrigating and harvesting until October.

    When the last of the harvest is out of the beds, the stakes are removed and if warm enough the chickens are brought in for another 3 or 4 days to pick through the vegetation. None of the plant material is removed from the beds. What the chickens leave behind is cut into small pieces and applied to the surface as an overwinter mulch. In November garlic is planted in some of the beds. November sown garlic will normally mature in June, however we use the small bulbs that are not worth planting as main crop garlic and harvest them in March like spring onions before the chickens go on, providing a deliciously fresh treat in early spring.

    Inferior Garlic bulbs planted 10 cm apart 5 rows per bed for a spring harvest

    Soil Analysis

    Each spring and autumn we obtain a soil sample and send it to NAAS of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. We can see from the samples rising levels of essential plant nutrients and check our pH levels are within the optimal range for vegetable production.

    Year 3 Results in Summary

    This year we harvested 168 kg of vegetables including tomatoes, basil, beans, garlic, winter & summer squash, chard and sunflower heads, a 51 kg decrease on last year's total.

    The time spent on this garden, including propagating all the plants from seed, preparing the beds, tending the plants, irrigating and harvesting amounted to 57 hrs and 20 mins from March - October. We used 480 L less compost this season than last season.

    Results: Inputs and Outputs

    You can find the full spreadsheet here.

    Table summarizing input and outputs from October 31st 2015 - October 31st 2016

    Garden Produce

    All produce was weighed directly after harvest and unless otherwise stated, all of the produce recorded was in excellent condition and fit for market. Produce not fit for market was composted or fed to our animals and is not included in these records.

    Record Keeping Methods

    The tasks were predominantly carried out by one person, either myself, my partner Sophie or one of our boys Dylan and Archie. A timer is started just before the task starts and stopped when the task is complete. On a few occasions two people were working on tasks at the same time, namely erecting the stakes and planting the garlic. These occasions are recorded in the management sheet of the record keeping spreadsheet 2015 (in the "Notes" row).

    In 2015 we established base times for garden tasks that are carried out each year and we extrapolate from this results for future records. Some tasks differ in quantity each year such as irrigation, mowing and harvesting and we account for these separately.

    Our irrigation system is unique to our garden in that we flood irrigate using a mountain stream, however I estimate the irrigation needs of the polyculture to be 20 L per m² i,e 120 L per bed or 720 L for the entire garden applied once a week in the absence of rain (normally July- September). The time taken to apply 120 L per bed is estimated at 10 minutes so that's 60 mins per irrigation session. This year we experienced a very dry summer with a period of 13 weeks without significant rain. During this period, irrigation was practiced once per week.

    The time for mowing is estimated to be 10 minutes. During dry seasons less mowing is required whereas during wet seasons more mowing is required. This year we mowed the pathways seven times.

    Harvesting times are recorded along with other garden tasks such as tying tomatoes and weeding. so we don't have a base for this task. For this year's results we used last year's figures, but it would actually be less as the total produced harvested is 51 kg less this year. A harvest base time is required for future records.

  2. 9anda1f

    9anda1f Administrator Staff Member

    Jul 10, 2006
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    E Washington, USA
    Semi-Arid Shrub Steppe (BsK)
    Bravo! This is the type of rigorous metrics that validates Permaculture as a design science. We see many students and educators asking about solid data about Permaculture practices and associated yields (such as this recent request: https://permaculturenews.org/forums/index.php?threads/need-of-data.15572/)
    Your hard work, detailed record keeping, and commitment are highly appreciated.
  3. Bryant RedHawk

    Bryant RedHawk Junior Member

    Sep 8, 2014
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    Arkansas Senior Appraiser
    Vilonia, Arkansas, deep in the woods
    USDA zone 7b,8a.
    Outstanding work! This is, as Bill states, wonderful validation for permaculture techniques and design.
    The data is very complete and shows good results. Thank you for doing the work and sharing it.


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