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polyculture vs monoculture - it's complicated!

gary gregory


Joined: Apr 09, 2009
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
I just planted 200 onion plants, with 400 more to go.   

My climate is oak-savannah.   No rain from may 1st to nov 1st.   I use drip tape for

irrigation which requires straight rows.   The onion's water gets turned off 2 weeks

before harvest.   I don't see any way to do this as a polyculture bed.   I have planted

the onions close together.    6 rows by 20' long spaced 4" apart.   Adjoining beds

will be beets, chard, etc. with the rest of the onions beyond those beds.       I don't

see any way to inter-plant a variety of plants with the onions.    How do the

rest of you handle this?


Gary
Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
At the moment, my "Hazlip" bed has potatoes, garlic, and onions, along the sides of my 4' wide over 10' long bed.  On top was recently sown with calendula, lettuces, turnips and beets.

This is one of many ways.
Froggi VanRiper


Joined: Mar 15, 2011
Posts: 6
I have read that chamomile is a good companion plant for onions.  It is low-growing, so it doesn't compete for sunlight, and it provides beneficial insect habitat as well.  You can broadcast it after you have set the onions.  (I have no personal experience with this, just got it from reading.  Maybe try a small test plot this year, and see what kind of results it yields?)
Brenda Groth
volunteer

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
    
    8
my onions were planted under my fruit trees last year..and I have perennial onions under some apple trees..there are other plants planted in among them every year..

I don't do any rows, used to with things like corn but am not doing corn now as I'm on a low carb diet..so dont' need even to do that now.

I prefer no rows..but it does mean remembering what you plant where..and keeping an eye on things so you know when to harvest and things like that..but I saved a lot of time, money and had healthier plants since I've not done rows.

Only real pest problem I've had was squash bugs on my pumpkins last year..so I'm considering how I might plant them somehow out over my pond so that the squash bugs can feed the fish and frogs and turtles maybe on a raft or over a trellis??


Brenda

Bloom where you are planted.
http://restfultrailsfoodforestgarden.blogspot.com/
                                      


Joined: Jan 01, 2010
Posts: 172
Location: Amsterdam, the netherlands
    
    1
hey,
let me start by saying i have no experience with drip-irrigation.

but like someones else said, emilia hazelip type of beds (maybe combined with buried wood á la holzer, since you hae long dry periods) are quite suited for growing polyculture in rows.

Choose between 2 and 5 crops, and choose them well. (which above and below ground space they have), onions and carrots are classic combo. But can well be mixed with something like celeriac or lettuce.

Yes you plant in rows, but your rows (beds) are a bit wider and contain about 3 to 5 crops. So take celeriac seedlings and put one left of the drip-tape and on a longer distance than normally, say 1,5 or twice normal, put one on the right side of the drip tape, start alternating this with onions and carrots, and maybe even a herb.

you will in the end have a thick ground cover of carrots and onions who can grow close together, with the celeriac growing through and become higher here and there.

Now, i dont know how far the dripwater will go, probably not far. So i dont know how wide your beds (rows) can be. But i bet that your rows can be wider than you thought, specially using several plant species in a row, because your soil has less evaporation due to the covering of earth... specially using hugelbeds.

even if just planting in newly cultivated rows, not wider beds, carrots and onions can be planted close to each other: carrot, onion, carrot, onion.

edit:
i dont know either if celeriac or carrots grow in yer climate come to think of it...


land and liberty at s.w.o.m.p.
www. swompenglish.wordpress.com
                                


Joined: Feb 15, 2010
Posts: 34
I'm all for biodiversity, but in this case where your onions need to dry down in the field for 2 weeks, I don't see what else you could plant. What is the goal you're trying to achieve by doing this interplanting? To me, it seems okay to have localized areas of monoculture within a large diverse area. This even occurs in nature. I've seen some of the polycultures with stylized pictures of roots fitting together perfectly underground, when in reality the roots expand much more than people seem to think. There is an older book written with accurate root drawings, and if you used that your carrots and onions wouldn't match up so well, like the ones depicted in "Gaias Garden." I think there could be value in interplanting annual veggies, but from most of what I've read, I'm unconvinced. It mostly seems like things that seem good together to the author, rather than something that has been properly studied with attention to yields, disease, etc.

I'd also like to address something from on of the other replies, as I find it to be a very common misonception in the PC community.
Joop Corbin - swomp wrote:
Now, i dont know how far the dripwater will go, probably not far. So i dont know how wide your beds (rows) can be. But i bet that your rows can be wider than you thought, specially using several plant species in a row, because your soil has less evaporation due to the covering of earth... specially using hugelbeds.


Increased plant density increases water use, because the water lost through transpiration exceeds the water lost through evaporation from the soils surface. The plants are actively drawing water out of the soil and then loosing some of it from transpiration as compared to just evaporation from the bare earth. You've effectively increased your surface area for evaporation (transpiration just being plant based evaporation) so water use will rise.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
barefooter wrote:
I'm all for biodiversity, but in this case where your onions need to dry down in the field for 2 weeks, I don't see what else you could plant.


You could plant any annual, such as flowers or herbs, which will survive with the natural moisture as well as not minding irrigation during the growth period of the onions.  So any drought-tolerant annual flower or herb should be fine. Or even a biennial herb such as parsley which would keep the bed occupied after the onions have been harvested.


Idle dreamer

Jeff Mathias


Joined: Feb 19, 2009
Posts: 118
Location: Westport, CA Zone 8-9; Off grid on 20 acres of redwood forest and floodplain with a seasonal creek.
    
    1
barefooter wrote:
Increased plant density increases water use, because the water lost through transpiration exceeds the water lost through evaporation from the soils surface. The plants are actively drawing water out of the soil and then loosing some of it from transpiration as compared to just evaporation from the bare earth. You've effectively increased your surface area for evaporation (transpiration just being plant based evaporation) so water use will rise.


Hi barefooter,

I see this statement or a version of it repeated every so often and something about it has always bothered me. I believe this is a bad extrapolation taken from a poorly designed experiment. Don't get me wrong if you just add more lettuce to a conventionally produced lettuce farm I think you would find increased water usage.

As best as I can tell rarely in a balanced natural setting will you find this to be true. In fact it appears to come from various university studies where the land area to be studied has a predefined range and scope. Or much worse a lab experiment created unnaturally with few if any of the natural support systems even given a second thought. Every study I have looked at generally creates a defined area first and foremost and rarely if ever is anything outside of that area even looked at again.

For example most studies I looked at create something like a 5ft by 5ft square and only ever take measurements from that square. So water my have transpired up from the soil in the 5x5 and the majority redeposited just a few feet away but because it no longer resides in the area of study it is effectively considered "POOF" gone.
Further since increasing plant density in the study area appears to increase the problem; It is believed that increased plant density increases water usage. Unfortunately what I find is that the increased plant density in these studies generally does not come from polycultures and certainly not permaculture based polycultures, or even well thought out polycultures but instead is usually more of whatever was already there or nearby.

There is in fact much evidence supporting the opposite coming to light in recent years especially from the grass farmers. As the grass based farmers increase their field diversity, their fields are not in fact using more water but less as is shown by the extended seasons they are achieving as compared to their direct neighbors.

"Study books and observe nature. When the two don't agree, throw out the books" -William A Albrecht
"You cannot reason a man out of a position he has not reasoned himself into." - Benjamin Franklin
Mekka Pakanohida


Joined: Aug 16, 2010
Posts: 383
Location: Zone 9 - Coastal Oregon
barefooter wrote:
I'm all for biodiversity, but in this case where your onions need to dry down in the field for 2 weeks, I don't see what else you could plant.


Yes they do have to dry, but they do not have to be in the field, that is a common misconception.
                                      


Joined: Jan 01, 2010
Posts: 172
Location: Amsterdam, the netherlands
    
    1
i think onions and carrots are not just a nice thing thought out in the autors head. carrots and onion have been grown for ages together (that is, in our part of the world). they have this nice thing about repelling each others foe's:
carrot fly
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrot_fly
and
onion fly 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onion_fly

about the spacing of plants, well a friend and me are having the same argument, him applying this non-intensive kitchen garden style, based on this conception that more spacing leaves more water per plant, and me, not convinced of this using cover crops between bigger vegetables. (also seeing the state of the soil being uncovered, but i guess you can cover with mulch between the plants.)  gardens are too far apart and in too much differing surroundings for any scientific comparison. though i think one of us will get convinced when the other will get way better results during a dry hot spell...
                      


Joined: Jan 27, 2011
Posts: 70
Interesting discussion.

All I know is that bare soil warms and dries faster in the spring. From my experience with conventional grain crops; if a field is turned or disked in the fall after harvest, the soil will dry faster in the spring (allowing farmers to use equipment with less fear of compaction). Often if the soil is not covered with crop residue, it will have a tendency to be warmer as well (thus allowing faster germination).

My thought is that soil covered with growing plants would generally lose less water than bare ground. As long as some thought is given to their individual water requirements, and their complimentary nature.

Mariah Wallener


Joined: Feb 02, 2011
Posts: 144
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
The latter part of this discussion reminds me of Steve Solomon's advice on dry gardening (Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades). He recommends doubling planting spaces to reduce the need for watering. I won't go into detail here, but will point out that he is talking annual veggies only, using raised beds, and regular hoeing to reduce weeds until veggies have grown sufficiently.

In a related topic, he strongly advocates planting cover crops rather than tilling and leaving bare. In our cool, very wet springs bare soil won't dry out as fast as soil that has been planted with, say, fava beans b/c the beans are taking up the moisture and transpiring it into the air.

As much as I am looking forward to doing permaculture on our farm, I won't be getting away from annual veggies any time soon. Of course, I'm not looking at planting 400 onions, so perhaps a different ball game. But I'm planning on interplanting my veggies in zone 1 perennial keyhole beds, around the edges, using 1 or 2 companions in the immediate vicinity (within inches) while being planted on the edge of a perennial polyculture.


Permie Newbie. ruralaspirations.wordpress.com
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
I don't think it's an "either/or" situation.  There's no reason one can't have a lot of annuals in a permaculture situation, especially if we want to eat what most of us are used to eating, annual vegetables.  Personally I'm including lots of both annuals and perennials in my plantings.  There are probably going to be a lot of beds I keep just for annuals, because  it is inconvenient to work around perennials.   
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
Ludi wrote:
I don't think it's an "either/or" situation.  There's no reason one can't have a lot of annuals in a permaculture situation, especially if we want to eat what most of us are used to eating, annual vegetables.  Personally I'm including lots of both annuals and perennials in my plantings.  There are probably going to be a lot of beds I keep just for annuals, because  it is inconvenient to work around perennials.   


yup! good post. my forest garden is full of annual plants. it wouldn't be as productive without them that's for sure.

im not for the strict beds though, WAY too much work to keep them going good compared to a natural style or "wild" farming method.


The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Mariah Wallener


Joined: Feb 02, 2011
Posts: 144
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
Soil, can you expand on your last comment?

I've often wondered if it wouldn't be easier to interplant annuals in our (2 acre) woodland, taking advantage of the clearings to give them access to sunlight. In that woodland there is naturally huge amounts of humus, leaf debris, and the soil is in far better health and thicker topsoil than in the open field areas (where I dug an annual bed last year). Yes, it's farther from the house but I walk our trails in the woods pretty much every day so it wouldn't be a chore to pick up some dinner along the way.

Digging a bed by hand in our rocky soil (we don't have machinery) was damned hard work, and I ended up with sunken beds by the time the rocks and boulders had been removed, so now have to truck in topsoil and manure to fill them up. Then will have to wait until everything is growing around it and my guilds are complete. Meanwhile I've got two acres of woods full of Good Things.
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
I've often wondered if it wouldn't be easier to interplant annuals in our (2 acre) woodland, taking advantage of the clearings to give them access to sunlight. In that woodland there is naturally huge amounts of humus, leaf debris, and the soil is in far better health and thicker topsoil than in the open field areas (where I dug an annual bed last year). Yes, it's farther from the house but I walk our trails in the woods pretty much every day so it wouldn't be a chore to pick up some dinner along the way.


well i wasn't even talking about taking it that far( but i do that and will explain in a bit). what i meant is, to grow in raised beds you have to build the beds,fill the beds, you have strict planting space, and so on. when you can just grow in the ground and do away with all that work, any dirt can be turned into good soil with minimal effort and the right methods for the area. Geoff Lawton showed those who cant understand the concept that it is possible with the greening the desert project he did. as for the wild veggies, if you have high critter populations, dont expect the forest to burst with wild foods right off the bat. i have areas that are fenced off with a living hedge sort of deal along with some piled deadwood in the gaps. here the wild "veggies" do quite well. the thing is the forest soil is more fungal dominant, where as the fields are bacterial. growing in the canopy gaps like your saying is best for annual plants that go in the veggie plot usually. though youll be surprised what can grow in shade. i also walk my trail, and by the end i usually have something to eat for the next meal.

Digging a bed by hand in our rocky soil (we don't have machinery) was damned hard work, and I ended up with sunken beds by the time the rocks and boulders had been removed, so now have to truck in topsoil and manure to fill them up. Then will have to wait until everything is growing around it and my guilds are complete. Meanwhile I've got two acres of woods full of Good Things.


haha i can relate to that, when i first had the idea of building soil as taking rocks out, adding good soil and im done. i cleared this 10x30 patch of most of the big rocks( bigger than a kids hand) and when i was done there was 6-10 inches less there. thats when i realized that i was just wasting my time. if i can mention it since it sounds like you would like wild farming foods, use you small close to the house garden for things like multiplying plants, growing plants for seed, plants for dividing. so that they can be planted out in the forest where they wont need as much care. for example, growing some broccoli near the house to let go for seed will give you a few hundred if not thousand+ seeds to toss into the forest or make seedballs. and at the same time it will look beautiful when it blooms. so most of your "work" is right at home, and your daily walk to the forest becomes your daily walk to the grocery store.
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
Plant onions next to the pathway as border not in the middle of the bed. As far away as possible from the drip irrigation. You can even grow them with corn that way...


Life that has a meaning wouldn't ask for its meaning. - Theodor W. Adorno
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14839
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Michael Pilarski ("Skeeter" takes us on a tour of his three year old food forest, complete with many species of beneficial weeds.  As he mentions each species, I try to include some comments, such as their purpose in the video.




sign up for my daily-ish email / rocket mass heater 4-DVD set / permaculture playing cards
Hugh Hawk


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
Awesome stuff.  Pretty impressive growth for three years.  Where is he located, what sort of climate?

Any info available on how this food forest was started?


Please set your climate and location to display
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
Somewhere in Washington state?

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14839
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Tonasket, Washington.  East of the cascades.  Apple country.  Kinda desert-ish.
Paul Cereghino
volunteer

Joined: Jan 11, 2010
Posts: 844
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
    
  13
I bet given the location, there was irrigation involved during establishment, or he's working a floodplain.  It sounds like he supressed competition during establishment, probably to reduce competition for water, and planted in rows to initiate the forest.  Linear installation may help with irrigation (if drip), and maintenance, if he's using clean cultivation.  All speculation.

Skeeter's business model (sale of diverse dried and extracted medicinals) fits extremely well for the food forest model, he is essetially transitioning from wildcrafting from collection sites to wildcrafting in a landscape of his own creation -- he is developing value added products, and direct marketing or working through a personal network of retailers. 

I think the fundemental challenge with polyculture, is trying to be competetive on labor efficiency (your primary cost of production) in a food market dominated by annual crops and machine harvested staples... you end up with some kind of minimum tillage truck farm - and not making a whole lot of money, particularly if you are paying for land. 

The tool is also called a rice knife (serrated blade), which seems to work better than a kama (strait blade) on dryish stuff. 


Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute
Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
Hugh Hawk


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
Yeah I had the same thought about the rows, Paul.  Convenient for irrigation, also for access perhaps.  Be interesting to know what his long term plan is - which trees will get chopped down and which will form a canopy, and whether the understory composition will remain substantially the same.
Tyler Ludens
pollinator

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
    
  20
"Tonasket, WA Weather

Tonasket, WA climate is mild during summer when temperatures tend to be in the 60's and very cold during winter when temperatures tend to be in the 30's.

The warmest month of the year is July with an average maximum temperature of 85.90 degrees Fahrenheit, while the coldest month of the year is January with an average minimum temperature of 21.30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperature variations between night and day tend to be relatively big during summer with a difference that can reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and fairly limited during winter with an average difference of 13 degrees Fahrenheit.

The annual average precipitation at Tonasket is 11.50 Inches. Rainfall in is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. The wettest month of the year is June with an average rainfall of 1.43 Inches."  http://www.idcide.com/weather/wa/tonasket.htm

So, quite dry but with low evaporation and evenly-spaced rainfall.
Jordan Lowery
volunteer

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
    
  11
i love skeeter videos. thanks paul
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14839
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Gonna do a podcast interview with skeeter in a coupla hours.  If you want me to ask him any questions, post to this thread:

http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/10428_0/tinkering-with-this-site/questions-for-skeeter-michael-pilarski

Hugh Hawk


Joined: Aug 21, 2011
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
Quite an unusual climate given how dry but cool it is, even in summer.

I wonder how the pumpkins go, they usually need a fair bit of water here, but maybe that's mainly because of the high evaporation/transpiration?
rose macaskie


Joined: May 09, 2009
Posts: 2134
Didnot someone recently start a thread about how scientist had found that the ground was damper were there where roots which is counter accepted ideas.
Bushes and trees normaly have deep roots and practice what is called hydraulic redistribution. We were taught to think of plant roots taking up water to feed the leaves of the plant, however scientist have been able to moniter the flow of water in roots with what has the unlikely m¡name of the bean pulse system unlikely as beans and pulses are vegetables not instruments and when the weather is dry the deeper roots of plants with a two root system, deep roots and shallow ones, feed the shallow ones so keeping the ground under bushes and trees damper than ground that is bare. Not only does the flow in shallower roots get reversed, in the day time, in dry weather, so shallow roots lose water to the ground and deep roots send water down to the tip of  the shallower roots, instead of water moving from the tip of the roots toward the stem of the plants not only does the flow in shallow roots change direction if htere is a thunder storm then the flow in the tap or sinker root can change and be from the top to the bottom of the sinker and tap roots. If there is a summer storm, the shallower roots take up the rain fall but it is passed not t hte leaves or not only to the leaves,but  it is also passed down the tap or sinker roots and stored at some depth. So, if you have trees and bushes the ground at their feet is kept damper than  it would otherwise be kept at least while the water at some depth allows them to keep their more superficial roots supplied with water.
      Also the hypha of fungi store water, they are like tubes that carry water, they store it and they redistribute it they will carry water from a place that has water to one that does not and they interlock with each other providing a big web of water carry ing tubes and all plants except a few varieties, the cabbage family, have micorrhythal fungi, so lots of plants, more micelium or hypha of fungi in the ground and more dampness and air the hypha also hold oxygen and they improve the texture of the ground.

    Another consideration is that not all plants take up the same amount of water, cotton woods, poplars  take up a lot and most dry place trees shut of their stomata at midday so they stop losing water through their leaves.Some plants live in wet places and some in dry ones and dry place plants might help keep the atmosphere damp for wetter place ones and so reduce their transpiration. Its sure as anything going to be cooler and damper where there are plants than in the middle of unshaded hot sand.

L8bloomer if your ground is as you say it is then that is just the time when you need permaculture and a wide variety of plants. permaculture is designed  to bad soils up and well again as fast as possible and with as little money ars possible it is cheaper to plant leguminouse plants that are only an expense once than to keep buying sacks of manure. It is all about the quickest way  to get the soil full of organic material such as having plants just for that purpose tha is why not lal the plants that geof lawton plants when he greens the desert are food producing plants, they are put their to cut and drop and often the plant they advise for this are luguminouse trees that fix nitrogen and so grow better than other trees in poor soils they can do without much nitrogen in the soil.
    Deep roots start to condition your soil at depth, so mix trees with vegetables and then things like dandylions and the japanes raddish daikon send roots conditioning the soil at a depth shallow roots dont reach so that you end up with more soil that nourishes plants for square inch because the depth of good soil is greater. Also permaculture advises the importation of vegetable matter, such as knewspaper and cardboard or bits of vegetation other gradeners or farmers throw away or burn if you have such wastefull farmers and gardeners around you.
    A woman in the town ships of South Africa got the sandy soils good enough to grow vegetables on with a lot of paper and cardboard, things that are availiable in towns. She started very sucessfull vegetable business that grew fast bettering the soil with larg quantities of card and paper. Maybe you can grow trees for their deep roots and just cut them down like you cut a hedge so that you get their roots working the ground with out gettign too much shade, if you dont need too much shade. agri rose macaskie.


   
   

   
Suzy Bean
steward

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
    
    8
Paul and Jocelyn review Gaia's Garden, Chapter 8 (part 1) in this podcast: http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/437-podcast-078-gaias-garden-chapter-8-part-1/


www.thehappypermaculturalist.wordpress.com
 
 
subject: polyculture vs monoculture - it's complicated!
 
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