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Which "alternatives" plants to carbon production ?

 
pollinator
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Hello permies,

Since I will be focusing on biointensive next season, and since I don't have enough surface to be autonomous from my food production and also want to produce medicinal plants, I want to experiment a few things which are not specifically mentioned in the grow bio-intensive resources, as far as I know.

You need about 60% carbon plant to get enough bio-mass for compost. 30 for calories, and 10 for vitamins, medicinals, etc. I might go toward 50% carbon, at least if it's all grains. However this year I grew milk thistle, and the plants got pretty big, and didn't seem to make a stem too hard for composting (maybe I'm wrong, but I'm not gonna dig up the compost pile yet to find out).

I want to produce a lot of medicinal plants (in general, not really any specific one), and I am not a huge fan of growing grain yet.

To sum it up: what plants would make great alternative for carbon production ? Bio-intensive use grains, pseudo-grain, cereals; but are there other interesting plants that could fit a similar purpose ? Ideally they would be annuals. holy thistle seem like a good one; artemisia annua produce a stem that is too woody... If it's not a "classic" grain, it's a valid answer here.
 
pollinator
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Hi Mike,
I'm having a little trouble following your question, but I'll take a stab at throwing out some information and see if it matches what you want to know.

You mentioned carbon production. Since carbon is the primary building block in the cell walls, any plant that grows big and fast would meet this requirement. Corn, buckwheat, tomatos, hybrid poplar, all come to mind depending on the application.

You mentioned needing 60% for compost... do you mean as a ratio for good compost? I'm not following the 30 and 10 you mention for calories. All of those plants could compost just fine. The buckwheat and tomatoes probably a little faster and easier, but a good compost pile can handle the bigger or woodier stuff. If it doesn't compost all the way, just throw it in the next batch.

If you can clarify your question a bit more, I can try to provide more information.
 
Mike Lafay
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I think it's one of the problem with the lack of clear categories on the forum; I chose the category bio-intensive for my thread, hence the curious question and specification.

Bio-intensive gardening is a method where you also focus on growing healthy soil. The ratio I mentioned, 60/30/10 mean that basically, you try to grow about 60% of carbon-crop, 30% of calories crop, and the rest is plants that are mainly for the minerals or vitamin, or even other uses.

Carbon crops are those that produce some calories, but which produce a lot of bio-mass that when mature, has a lot of carbon that you can use to make compost for the garden. Wheat is one: correct calories but not a lot, and a LOT of biomass. Calories crops are those that gives the most calories, much more that carbon crops, but they give little to no bio-mass. Potatoes gives a lot of calories compared to wheat, grown in the same space (1 square feet of potatoes gives much more calories in less time than one square feet of wheat). But you get a tiny amount of biomass from potatoes. Then, the other crops, most often referred as vitamin/mineral crops, are things like lettuces, cabbages, carrots... you can't survive on eating those only in term of calories (5kg of carrots would gives you decent calories for a human for one day, but I assume you are not a bunny). However they gives precious vitamins and minerals.

There are some green manure used to avoid empty beds, and anything that can be composted for the nitrogen is of course used. But with the ton of carbon you get from the carbon crops, you actually have enough to make very good compost, with good carbon to nitrogen ratio.

Corn and buckwheat completely fulfill the definition of a carbon crop, as well as wheat, rye, amaranth, quinoa... Tomatos are more in the vitamin/minerals (10%), when they die in autumn there's not that much biomass and it's more nitrogen rich than needed for the carbon part of the compost. As for poplar, well I can't plant tree since I'm renting.


EDIT: An example, I think milk thistle might be interesting (it's not mentioned anywhere in the resources I have on bio-intensive; yet its seeds are medicinal as well as its leaves, and produces huge stem which seems good for composting, so it could serve as a carbon crop.
Hopefully it clarify the original post.. If you have more question I can answer them, although I was the one asking questions at first
 
Matt McSpadden
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Hi Mike,
It's all about learning. I understand your question much better now. Unfortunately it also means I don't really have any information to help... but I learned something. Thanks :)
 
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It sounds like the 60/30/10 mix is a starting point and the main priority for the plants in each section. However, for example, the calorie crop would also produce composable biomass and even some medicinal benefits.

Have you thought about corn/beans/squash grown together, know as The Three Sisters, wikipedia:Three_Sisters_(agriculture)?

The corn provides a stem for the beans, the beans provide nitrogen and the squash shades out the soil as a living mulch, helping retain water and suppress weeds.

It’s been discussed here many times - here’s a sample and some of the similar threads at the bottom of each one might also be of use.

https://permies.com/t/30181/sisters

https://permies.com/t/37877/Sisters

https://permies.com/t/16143/sisters

You don’t have to stick to three, some people also include sunflowers or layer in some pollinators.

I think you’d get a good amount of carbon and calories with added benefit of low maintenance and improved soil.
 
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