Thursday, August 23, 2012

Polyculture vs Row Culture

Last year I was inspired by reading some permaculture books and decided to experiment with sowing a polyculture planting in part of my backyard raised bed. I based mine on the polyculture sowing described in Toby Hemenway's "Gaia's Garden."

In a broadcast fashion I sowed a couple varieties of lettuce, arugula, spinach, dill, parsnip, radish and a 'brassica mix' which included red russian kale and mizuna.

The idea behind polycultures is that the multiplicity of different plants, especially aromatic ones such as dill, helps to lower susceptibility to pests and disease.

While this may be true, I found my polyculture bed difficult to weed and harvest from. I think this partly stems from the fact that I am a person who likes order. To me, once the polyculture sowing sprouted it represented chaos, and this was difficult for me to get my head around.

The plants grew at different rates and I wasn't able to cut greens as easily as I was used to in the neat linear rows on the farms. What I read about polycultures told me to harvest whole plants instead of cutting, in order to make space for other plants to flourish. I did do this, but there's something I like more about getting 3 cuttings off of my lettuce before pulling it and letting it break down back into the top soil.

I can't help but think: what does this say about me if I didn't enjoy my polyculture experience? Polycultures mimic the diversity, chaos, and beauty of nature and of the forest. Am I dishonouring nature by growing my greens in straight lines this year? My answer is no; through companion plantings, albeit sometimes in straight lines, I maintain the pest and disease resisting characteristics of polyculture plantings. Plus I am producing more greens.

I do grow lots of other crops together; strawberries with onions & spinach, peas with carrots, tomatoes with basil, lettuce, parsley & marigolds. I view my entire backyard as a polyculture. I just choose to grow my salad greens, and some other crops, in rows.

Rows are about efficiency when harvesting, and weeding, and this appeals to the order of my mind. While I may lean towards row culture, especially for some crops, I definitely do not subscribe to monoculture.

1 comment:

Spirit said...

Hi Bonnaroo! Polyculture doesn't have to just be MASH UP. Polyculture can happen in pods, too! Unlike rows, pods or beds, can offer a lot of edge between species and varieties, while still keeping some sense of what is what. To make a pod, draw a circle, and cut it in 4 sectors, or make rows in a wave pattern. In the corners of a rectangle garden, cut a keyhole. There are no rules in nature, but it's always best to keep in mind how far your arms can reach for weeding, harvesting, and watering. A 3 foot reach is average. And of course, we don't just weed for weeding sake. Every plant has a purpose. We weed just when it comes time for harvesting so we can see our desired crop!