Saturday 15 April 2017

Polyculture Study 2017 - Starting the Growing Season - Update 1

After a long cold winter it's great to get started on the third year of our polyculture study and to welcome this year's team to the project.

Gabriele and Fergus are the first to join us, along with old friends Ute, Simon, Kartini, Marlene and Karl, who have purchased some land within an area we are working towards protecting. We've been pretty busy developing the new perennial polyculture garden, preparing the beds in the market garden and clearing plots for some new tree plantings.

Here's a review of what we've been up to in the market garden so far and in a future post I'll write about developments in the new trial gardens.

But first just to let you know we've revamped our Online Store where you can find Forest Garden/ Permaculture Plants, Seeds, Cuttings, Bulbs, Rhizomes and Polyculture Multi-packs along with digital goods and services such as Online Courses, Webinars, eBooks, and Online Consultancy and finally we've added a Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree order form for Farms, Orchards, Nurseries, and Large Regenerative Landscape Projects. If there is anything in the store you would like to see but is not there, please let us know. We hope you enjoy the store and find something you like :) It's your purchases that keep our Project going. Thank you. Enter Our Store Here

Plants, Seeds, eBooks, Consultancy, Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree Orders for Permaculture, Polyculture, Forest Gardens and Regenerative Landscapes.

The Market Garden 

This year we'll be running three annual polycultures trials in the market garden, the usual Zeno, some changes to last year's Epictetus polyculture, and a variation on that theme called  Aurelius.

Produce from the gardens will be offered in veggie boxes from mid June - late November and we still have room for few more subscriptions. so if you are interested in a weekly fresh box of fruits and vegetables please send us an email.

Starting the Season - After the last harvest and end of season tidy up in November the market garden has been left to grow wild until the beginning of the new season in April. As you can see in the photo below a range of native plants establish on the beds providing some winter ground cover, excellent pollinator forage and a good supply of biomass that we chop and drop on the surface before applying the new mulch and plant out the crops.

The native plants on the edge of the beds are encouraged to grow throughout the year. They provide a partial buffer to the snails and slugs venturing in for our leafy crops, habitat to a range of ground dwelling invertebrates and a continual source of biomass as we mow them throughout the growing season and apply the trimmings to the surface.  

The annual beds have some excellent patches of native annuals providing early pollinator forage and habitat to a range of invertebrates.
Our first step of the new season is to take soil samples for lab analysis. It's encouraging to see Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) levels increasing and pH stable within the optimal range for vegetable production.  Even more encouraging is the jump in levels of P and K from the November analysis before any compost has been added to the beds and after harvesting over 330 kg of produce from the beds last year. See here for detailed report of last year's records.

Nitrogen mg/kgPhosphorous - Potassium mg/100g
March (before adding compost)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
November (after final harvest)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
Nitrogen mg/kgPhosphorous - Potassium mg/100g
March (before adding compost)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20

Soil analysis from March 2016 - March 2017  

A soil examination is used to assess observable properties of the soil. We use the Northern Rivers Soil Health card to do this and since records begun in 2015 we are seeing year on year improvements. See here for our records. The simple test looks at drainage, structure, soil biology, ground cover aggregate stability and more.

Gabriele and Fergus looking at the soil structure from one of 5 samples taken from the beds 

The next step is to get the beds ready for the incoming crops. First we apply a hand trowel (70-100 g) of wood ash (the remains of our winter fuel) per m2 of bed. You can read more about the benefits of wood ash in our previous blog post here. The beds are then lightly forked over to relieve compaction and remove any rhizomatous plants that may have established (such as nettles and mints) minimising the spreading of these plants in the cultivation zones. The rhizomatous plants go on a compost pile while all of the other local volunteer plants are cut at the base and applied as mulch to surface of the bed.

Forking over the beds to relieve compaction
Next we added compost to two of our beds, a wheelbarrow full is applied to the surface (approx 80L) of 3m2 of our beds i.e 26.5L /m2.

These beds will be used for two vegetable polycultures we are testing - Epictetus and Aurelius. The other four trial beds will host a polyculture we call Zeno. Two of the four beds will consist of the polyculture and two beds will be the same plants but planted in blocks (see below).

As there is still a thick mulch cover on the Zeno beds and the soil analysis shows high levels of  P and K, compost will be added to these beds when we plant out the crops as young transplants as opposed to blanket covering the entire beds with 20L per m2 as per usual.

We've had the tomato seedlings growing since late Feb inside the house under an LED grow lamp. It's good for keeping the seedlings upright indoors for initial stage before thinning and the 15 W lamp 50 cm by 50 cm can grow on 1000's of seedlings. The units cost around €25 each from ebay and has lasted 3 years so far without problems.

The first week of April we set up a hoop tunnel and transplanted the 4-6 cm high tomato seedlings. When they reach  15-20 cm in the hoop tunnel, around early May, we planned to plant them into their permanent positions. Unfortunately, I set the hoop tunnel up in the wrong place and an untimely wicked wind from the North flayed our plans and destroyed nearly all of the 450 or so tomato cultivars. So this year we'll be buying tomato transplants from the neighbours.  

Left - Right - Tomato seedlings under LED - Gabriele tilling the hoop tunnel bed before the seedlings go in - Fergus planting out the seedlings

The other crops such as beans and squash for the Zeno polyculture and control bed we'll grow in flats this year. In previous years we have sown in nests into the mulch but the cool and wet springs resulted in many of the Fabaceae (bean)  and Cucurbitaceae (squash) seeds (squash in particular don't tolerate heavy moisture) rotting in the ground, hence the change of plan.

Ute and Fergus filling the flats with a 50% compost 50% sand mix 
We're using flats with 28 cells of 70 x 70 x 80 mm per cell. Approximately 6 L of medium is needed to fill each tray. The medium we use is 50% compost 50% river sand which makes the trays quite heavy, but works really well for raising seeds and rearing on plants.

Many of our leafy crops were sown in a hoop tunnel in late March and will be planted into the beds when they reach 15-20 cm high. We're dense sowing a variety of salads directly into the beds for "cut and come again" greens and beetroots, swedes, parsnips and carrots as they don't appreciate transplanting.

Brassicacae hoop tunnel.

For a full list of annual crops we're growing in the gardens this years see below.

The Forest Garden 

The perennial plants are nearly all in leaf now and many are in flower. We've been topping up the mulch around the young trees including some new autumn plantings,  two Bulgarian cultivars of Apple 'Karastoyanka' and 'Aiviana' and two plum cultivars 'Angelino' and 'Santa Rosa'

A new nitrogen fixing element has been added to the forest garden Alnus cordata - Italian alder, that we'll be experimenting with on fast coppice cycles on one half of our irrigation swale.  Wild garlic has been planted into the Plum/Hazel thicket which hopefully will share the space with the existing Ivy, but provide a good spreading cover in the area during the spring in years to come.

Alnus cordata - Italian Alder 

The fruit trees in the gardens are all very busy reproducing and not at all shy about it either :)

Left to right - Peach - Plum - Crab Apple - Jap Quince and Pear 


Upcoming Forest Garden Courses 

If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands-on experience come and join us for our Desing and Build a Forest Garden Course. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers, and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

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Want to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes?  Join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course from May 1st to Sep 13th, 2023. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

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