Monday, July 6, 2015

polyculture and why smaller isn't less

32 vegetable beds, 36 fruit trees, artichokes, grapes, blackberries, blueberries, herbs, flowers and eggs.  it works out to around 0.057 acres (not counting aisles/space between trees or animal housing) of our 6 acres in cultivation.  the number doesn't sound like much but there's a lot going on out there. 
if we were only growing one kind of crop on 0.057 acres we probably wouldn't have much to show for it at harvest time.  and since we're growing food for home use it doesn't make sense to only grow one kind of crop.  we like variety in our diet and i'd get bored only growing zucchinis and tomatoes.
polyculture is a very good way to pack a lot of crop diversity and productivity into a small area of cultivation and it also allows for some creative solutions to the challenges of making the most of a small space.

1 of the 15 varieties of squash planted this year

not only do i grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits but i'll often interplant many different things in a single bed.  the beds in the kitchen garden are a mix of onions, herbs, asparagus, lettuces, greens, beans, strawberries, sunflowers, etc.  there are annuals and perennials happily growing together.  

1 of 7 varieties of pole beans twining up 1 of 3 varieties of kale in the kitchen garden

to get as many varieties of fruit trees as possible into a small area i decided to grow the apples, pears, and figs as espaliers on free-standing trellises.  and to make the most of the space under the trellises i put in 3'x3' vegetable beds next to each tree.  each of those beds has been planted with a mix of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. 

borage planted next to one of the espaliered fig trees and the edge of a 3'x3' veggie bed to the right

this 3'x3' bed has strawberries, two varieties of kale, 3 varieties of lettuce, 2 varieties of pole beans, asparagus, sunflowers, sage and oregano

sunflower and scarlet runner bean sharing a trellis with 1 of 4 varieties of pear tree

to have a steady and reliable food supply it's important to have a good foundation of perennials to rely on if/when there are gaps or failures in the annual crops.  in addition to the fruit trees, we've got asparagus, several kinds of perennial herbs, artichokes, perennial onions, leeks, grapes,  jerusalem artichokes, perennial kale, tree collards, perennial arugula, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.  and i'm always on the lookout for other perennials that will work for us.

perennial onions (potato onions) and perennialized leeks with lettuces, greens, herbs and sunflowers

we're lucky to be in a climate where we can grow and eat out of the gardens all year.  and with the wide variety of plants we're growing there's always something ready for harvest, always something in flower for the birds and insects, and always something new that's ready to go in the ground.

a pair of buckeyes enjoying the onions

it may be small but there is a lot of planning, researching, creative thinking, and physical work that goes into this little place.  it's me and a shovel and a wheel barrow.  it's demanding and challenging.  and it's the most rewarding and enjoyable life i can imagine.