Sunday 7 April 2019

A Blueberry Polyculture, Fastest growing plant in the Temperate Zone? and a New Garden - Week 1 The Polyculture Project

We're super excited to welcome our 2019 Polyculture Study team and get going with the study . Leo and Misha who are travelling Europe popped in for a week and Misha and Philip have arrived who will be staying with us for the duration of the study. Next week we will be joined by Ronan, and the week after that Leonor.

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Aponia - The Market Garden

On the first day Leo, Misha and I got straight to it with some perennial polyculture planting in the market garden. The productive polyculture includes an upper canopy of Prunus tomentosa - Nanking Cherry shrub layer of  Vaccinium corymbosum cv. - Blueberry  and Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry, ground cover  Ajuga reptans - Bugle with Tulipa sp. - Tulip , Galanthus gracilis - Snowdrop bulb layer with native herbs around the perimeter of the bed and in the basin of the Swale 

The polyculture is planted on the berm of a swale that we can fill from a perennial stream that makes it very easy to water the bed during the dry season. Here is an illustration of the polyculture (not including the bulb layer, that can be distributed evenly among the spaces between plants).

The polyculture plants ready for transplanting into the swale 

After planting we watered well and mulched it with straw

Ataraxia - Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden

Over in Ataraxia we continued to plant out the Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus  beds for our biomass trials. Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus  grows well on marginal land and needs little fertility, it is a C4 plant, and thus exhibits greater photosynthetic efficiency and lower water use requirements than other kinds of plants. It has very low nutritional requirements. These attributes should make this plant an excellent "grow your own" mulch option.  You can read more about our biomass trials here.

We divided clumps planted last year separating the rhizome pieces with new shoots emerging.

We forked over the bed to relieve compaction using these excellent handmade broadforks from Gligans.    

and planted the rhizome pieces, planting  these approx. 30 cm apart in 3 rows across the bed. 

After planting we water well and apply a thick layer of mulch to the surface. The emerging shoots will have no problem pushing through the mulch.

I also started planting out an overflow swale in Ataraxia, planting eight Vitis vinifera cv. - Grape vines on the north side of the swale. I found a local grower with a cultivar called 'Moldova' that is reportedly a very good desert grape resistant to many diseases and suitable for bio growing  This cultivar was created in Kishinev Institute of Vine and Wine in Moldova. We'll be offering this cultivar from the bionursery this Autumn and will add more plants to this swale over the coming weeks

The idea is to train the vines to grow as a four- cane Kniffin system.  This system is characterised by four canes, two on each side of the trunk, trained onto two trellis wires. In addition, four very short canes (termed renewal spurs) are also retained. The renewal spurs contain one or two buds and are very important in the training system. The buds on the renewal spurs provide shoots and ultimately the canes for next year's crop. (original source)

A New Garden - Phronêsis

We are starting a new garden this year and continuing with our Stoicism theme we have named the area Phronêsis,  a word that was knocking around back in the days of the ancient Greeks and refers to a type of wisdom relevant to practical action.

 We started the initial topography survey where we will be building a forest garden during our upcoming Design and Build - Forest Garden Course - 25-28 April . This forest garden is dedicated to  Joost W. van der Laan who very generously donated to our Polyculture Project Crowdfunder last year.

I found this excellent example of succession at work in the new garden. The Northern border of Phronesis is dominated by Prunus spinosa - Sloe, a thorny pioneer shrub that establishes relatively quickly on grasslands and can creep in from woodland edges via underground suckers (rhizomes). Herbivores such as deer, sheep, goats, cattle etc. will browse the new spring growth but do not eat the lignified woody part of the plants. This encourages growth from the center of the plant to emerge and results over time in very dense compact shrubs . It's the same effect you find when you trim a shrub. The thorny nature of this plant results an impenetrable barrier for the livestock and excellent nursery site for tree seeds that may make there way into the scrub. Tree seeds that germinate in the pasture will quickly be eaten by herbivores but the seeds in the scrub are protected and as you can see in the photo below this self seeded apple tree is emerging healthily and tall. 

Over longer periods of time (10 - 40 years) the emerging trees grow larger, and the leafy crowns will shade out the pioneer shrubs killing them off  with the area eventually transitioning over to woodland. The Prunus spinosa - Sloe  can move away from the shade via the aformentioned suckers and will spread further into the grassland and in this way grassland will eventually revert to woodland. If you look closely you can see the small clumps of  Prunus spinosa - Sloe and Rosa canina - Dog Rose (that play the same role as Sloe)growing among the grasses below.

Forest Garden

Prunus persica - Wild Peach  blossoms are very impressive this year with this 5 year old tree putting on quite a show. Looking forward to the first fruits in August. 

I'm not sure if this is guttation or dew but whatever it is it looks magical on the already beautiful Akebia quinata - Chocolate Vine.  Guttation is the exudation of drops of xylem sap on the tips or edges of leaves of some vascular plants. Dew on the other hand condenses from the atmosphere onto the plant surface.

Guttation happens at night when the soil is very moist and the roots absorb water. If there is too much water, root pressure causes the water to squeeze out of the plant and onto the tips of the leaves or the blades of the plant. As water from soil passes through the guttation process, it picks up minerals, enzymes and other chemicals and is called xylem sap. (original source). It has not properly rained here for at least 4 weeks but this plant is located right next to water tank and outside tap so perhaps it has managed to access the water? 

It's always a pleasure to witness the blossoms of  Prunus spinosa - Sloe shown here growing under Juglans regia - Persian Walnut in our perennial polyculture trial garden - Ataraxia. These plants obviously have no trouble growing under Walnuts - here is a list of other plants we have observed to be largely unaffected by negative allelopathy often associated with Walnuts. I found this interesting article regarding walnut negative allelopathy. It seems there is still much to learn.   


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  1. The relationship of the sloe and roses acting as a nurse plant to young trees to protect them from browsing is amazing and one I have noticed here in Idaho in the USA. We have naturalized dog roses and Himilayan blackberry that have the exact same nurse plant relationship with both native and naturalized trees here in Idaho. We have very heavy browse pressure here from deer and elk and young trees that grow in the open get eaten down to nubs and eventually die, but the ones that grow in thickets of rose and blackberry are protected because of all the thorns and they too eventually get shaded out by the trees that they help protect. This is a very interesting phenomenon that I have yet to see anyone else talk about until now. This is very interesting and exciting. This is an excellent post.

    1. Thanks Travis, great to hear of the same process occurring around you.

  2. Yeah it's very interesting. I'm actually taking advantage of this relationship on my property and instead of buying deer cages I'm planting my trees among the canes of roses and letting nature protect them from the deer which saves me a lot of money. I talk about this and a lot of other things on my blog if you're interested.

    1. great tx for sharing your blog, the photo of the mobile home in the snow is great :) looks like an amazing location

      All the best