The great polyculture experiment #1

English: Lettuce. What a gastronomical delight...

Monoculture-tastic: a field of lettuce. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After years of planting veg in nice neat rows, one crop at a time, I’m finally giving polyculture a proper go. Polyculture just means growing a mix of vegetables together, rather than planting out many rows of one crop.

Because the weather has been so grim, my plastic mini greenhouse  was just about overflowing with  seedlings. Mangetout, climbing beans, lettuce, courgettes, squash, pumpkins, sweetcorn – all looking a bit pale, desperate to get in the ground.  The  fact that so many different crops were just sitting there, ready to go, gave me the final push to really give a largeish polyculture bed a go.

There are supposed to be lots of advantages to polyculture growing – like being able to cram in more plants, because the different root systems and nutrient needs mean that neighbours are not all competing for the same things.  Pests may be  confused by the happy jumble of plants. ‘Companion’ plants that benefit each other in some way can be tucked in together. The lovely folks at the Permaculture Association did some trials last year to test out whether polycultures really were more productive – initial results look good- and they’ve also produced a great leaflet explaining how to grow your own polyculture bed.

It’s a jungle out there…last year in the veg garden.

So, raring to go, I duly ripped out last year’s gone-to-seed spinach and purple sprouting broccoli, and planted out my new patch. There was a bit of method to the madness – I made a small ‘key hole’ bed in the middle, with salad round the edges for easy harvesting, and planted taller crops – beans, sunflowers – nearer the north end, so they didn’t shade everything else. I have to say the result was a bit underwhelming – the tiny plants looked a bit forlorn just plonked in higgeldy piggeldy in the (mostly bare) soil – and the birds had pretty much shredded the lettuce and mange tout by teatime. But – I have high hopes that, if we can just have a few days good weather, the little plants will get going. My lovely mother-in-law was very polite about the scrappy looking bed – but, I think, pretty unconvinced. So, the great polyculture experiment is on – watch this space!

6 responses to “The great polyculture experiment #1

  1. Pingback: Three sisters – nearly | Alderandash·

    • Hi there – I had mixed success with polyculture growing last year, partly because I just wanted spending enough time in the veg patch – but the sweetcorn/squash mix really did work brilliantly, despite the neglect! I’ll post a bit of an update on how I got on with this soon. Best wishes, L

    • I’m just experimenting with this way of growing myself …it’s an interesting question. I think you’re right, I think blocks growing closely together can achieve a similar thing. That said, I have seen polyctulture veg beds where the plants really do densely intermingle, much more like a natural planting scheme – although I think they often have more perennial veg in the mix. I tried mixing like this a bit last year and found that it worked well for some things, but not others (mainly small things like carrots that got a bit lost!) Although it did mean that I didn’t worry too much about crop rotation, as there was ‘a bit of everything, everywhere, including plenty of flowers’. I have found that some things like sweetcorn underplanted with squash/pumpkin do seem to work really well for me (no weeding the sweetcorn – hurray!) I’ll be experimenting more this year. I do grow some things in more traditional rows – I’m really just trying out different ways of growing, to see which work for me.

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