Monday, 14 November 2022

Polyculture Profiles - Perennial Productive Polyculture- Asparagus, Garlic Chive, Strawberry - Plutus

We are starting a new section of the blog where we publish polyculture profiles, some of which we are growing in our gardens and some of which we are planning to implement in the near future. 

We'll start the post by introducing the format for our polyculture profiles and then go on to look at a simple 3 species, perennial polyculture that produces a bounty of asparagus for us each year provides habitat for wildlife is easy to establish and requires relatively low maintenance. 

Introduction to Polyculture Profile Layout

The polyculture schemes as presented are offered as a starting position as opposed to a finished article. It’s also worth noting that how a polyculture performs will vary considerably from site to site due to climatic/micro climatic and edaphic factors, the plant material used, and your own establishment and management practices.

The Profile Layout 

The polyculture profiles are presented in the following way:

Polyculture Name - The working name for the polyculture and the polyculture category i.e Productive - Support or Infrastructure.

Intro - An overview stating the primary purpose of the polyculture and a brief description of the key features

Compatible Climate(KCC) - Indicates the climate zones that are suitable for growing the polyculture. Based on the K√∂ppen Climate Classification system to indicate the climatic compatibility. In areas at higher latitudes be aware that your light levels will be lower so your canopy density should be thinner. i.e wider spacing, fewer plants. Microclimatic conditions should be well considered when assessing the compatibility of the polyculture for a site.

USDA Hardiness - Indicates the hardiness zone that the polyculture can be grown in. I have used the hardiness of the least hardy plant in the polyculture for the lower limit and often this is just one plant. For growers in colder areas, this plant (or plants) can be replaced with a hardier species that more or less match the role the plant serves so do not rule out trying a polyculture based on this information alone. You can find the individual hardiness of each plant in the species list table further on in the profile. more on plant hardiness here.

Water Needs - Indicates the general water/irrigation requirements of the polyculture

Light Preferences - Indicates the general light preferences of the polyculture

Soil Preferences - Indicates the preferred soil conditions of the polyculture. The plant combinations and spacing I am using are generally based on working in a soil that is in optimal or near-optimal condition to start with as we always prepare poorer soils in advance of planting. On soils that are in moderately good condition (anything scoring over 40 on the soil health test) I’m confident these planting schemes will work.

Suitable pH - Indicates the preferred soil pH of the polyculture. All of the polycultures we grow are on soils with a pH in the range of 5.0 - 8.5

Layout - Suggests possible layout options for the polyculture based on the Spatial Layout options

Overview Image - An illustration of the design. This image often depicts the polyculture in the early stages of development and will include the broad dimensions of the design area and labeled positions of the species and features

Functional Components - Summarizes the potential functionality of the polyculture in the following areas:

  • Production Potential - Summary of production potential
  • Fertility Potential - Summary of fertility potential
  • Habitat Potential - Summary of habitat potential

Access - Describes the access within the polyculture

Species List - A table listing all of the plant species used within the polyculture, and how many of each species is required (per unit depicted), the botanic and common name, the family, USDA hardiness zone, forest garden layer, and function

Maturation Phases - An illustration of the polyculture design when initially planted and when mature. Sometimes other intervals of the growth development stages are included here

Planting - A diagram of the planting layout indicating distances between plants and planting location within the planting zone. For some polycultures, you will also find suggestions for layout variations in this section

Flower/Fruit and Maintenance Table - This table shows the flowering and fruiting times for each of the species included in the polyculture and specific maintenance tasks for each species. It also contains a section providing information on the general maintenance tasks required for the polyculture in the following categories

  • Trim and Prune - When and what to trim and prune
  • Irrigation - When to irrigate
  • Access - When and how to maintain access
  • Mulch - When and what to mulch

A word on the flowering and fruiting times on the calenders. During long cold winters in locations at high altitudes or regions of high latitudes, plants will not follow the sequence as indicated on our calendars. In our gardens at approx. 580 m above sea level on the 42nd parallel north, the calendars are an accurate representation, although there is a lot of variation within the month each year.

All establishment and maintenance information provided is based on using starter plant material i.e, rhizomes and cuttings and 1st or 2nd-year-old saplings. If you are using mature plants or older plants you need to account for differences i.e, fewer plants may be needed, more irrigation and fertility provided to support older/larger plants, and possibly staking and supports if very large plants are used. I always recommend using starter material as it will very often outperform larger plants in the long run, requires less input and attention to establish, and is significantly more cost-effective especially when planting at scale.

Aside from the essential maintenance for some of the amenity plantings and more ornamental polycultures, the level of maintenance required will always depend on the level of tidiness preferred. Generally speaking the less tidy you are the more attractive to wildlife your polycultures will be but there is merit in keeping some areas tidy, namely providing plenty of space for air circulation, allowing more even light distribution within the plant layers, and checking plants that may dominate an area thereby reducing biodiversity. It is much easier for the majority of people to connect with a garden that shows at least some order. Having beautiful, as well as productive and biodiversity-enhancing polycultures, is an important factor when recruiting and inspiring new growers.

Ok, let's look at the polyculture profile 

Polyculture Name - Plutus - Perennial Productive

Intro - Plutus is a three-species perennial vegetable polyculture of Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus ,Allium tuberosum  - Garlic Chives  and Fragaria x ananassa - Strawberry that we have been growing in our market garden (Aponia).

Compatible Climate (KCC) - B (with irrigation) C - D

USDA Hardiness - 5-10

Water Needs - Irrigation required for production

Light Preferences - Full Sun/Dappled Shade

Soil Preferences - light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) - Fertile

Suitable pH - acid, neutral and alkaline

Layout - Island - Belt - Strip - Block

Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus 'Washington' ,Allium tuberosum  - Garlic Chives  and Fragaria x ananassa - Strawberry  in the second year after planting Plutus

Overview Image

Aerial photo of our market garden (Aponia) with overlay. Plutus is located in the area circled red

Functional Components

The Asparagus can be considered the canopy in this design with Strawberry forming a ground cover to prevent weeds and the Garlic Chives planted on the south edge to take advantage of available light.

Production Potential - Asparagus can be harvested from April through to June and Garlic Chives can be cut from April-August. Garlic Chives are quite happy in dappled shade but by mid-summer the Asparagus plants can get very tall and the leaves tend to drape over the Chives. The Asparagus row that runs parallel to the chives can be contained with wires to avoid them smothering the Garlic Chives. The Strawberry ground cover will provide a small harvest of berries but nothing substantial, their main purpose being to provide ground cover. Strawberry leaves are rich in iron and vitamin C and can be harvested for teas and salads.

Habitat Potential - When left to flower Garlic Chives are extremely attractive to a range of Borgs, furthermore, the biomass cut from the Asparagus in winter and piled onto the beds as mulch provides suitable cover for many insects and spiders. We keep the bed area free from volunteer plants but encourage native growth in the pathways and alongside the edge of the beds. This wild growth provides a range of habitats for wildlife both above and below ground.

Allium tuberosum - Garlic Chives in flower in September - always attracts many species of flying insects in our gardens


The polyculture is situated on a raised bed with pathways surrounding it and two keyhole paths to access the wider section of the bed. The pathways double up as irrigation channels that we flood during the dry season to irrigate the crops.

Plutus just after planting - Volunteer growth on the edge of the bed can be cut throughout the growing season providing mulch for the beds. We generally leave the wild growth untouched from Oct - March each year.

Plutus in the second year after planting out - Summer

Species List

Plutus in the second season after planting. F.vesca - Strawberry ground cover is forming well between A.officinalis -Asparagus

Maturation Phases


Example of planting distance between rows and plants

Flowering, Fruiting, and Maintenance Calendar

If you would like to read a little info on how we established this polyculture see below

 These polyculture profiles are part of the Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course that we run annually and where we cover polyculture design-build and management in great detail. If you enjoyed this post and would like to learn how to design polycultures, join us for the next course. 

Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 

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

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code RLD2023 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know, the very first of its kind. If you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!

How to establish the Perennial Vegetable Polyculture Bed

Here's how we set up the bed:

The first step was to cut the existing vegetation down and pile it next to the bed for mulch. We wait until mid-spring before cutting the existing vegetation, especially if it consists of hollow stems used by beneficial insects to lay eggs in. This gives the eggs a chance to hatch and move on to do their work in the garden.

Next, we forked over the area to relieve compaction and remove deep-rooted plants that will easily grow through a mulch. Following this we tilled the area with a Rototiller. We could have applied sheet mulch directly on top of the existing vegetation and planted in the autumn, but we had Asparagus seedlings that needed planting out so decided to go this route instead. There will probably be more weeding to do in the first year this way and we will lose some of the great natural soil structure, but it will recover by this time next year and this will be the last tilling this bed sees for a 1/4 of a century if not longer. The bed area is already quite fertile as it has been fallow for the previous 5 years with regular harvesting for hay, so we did not add any blanket application of compost.

Area rototilled using a Honda Mantis handheld machine. It took around 2.5 hrs and 300 ml of fuel to clear the area. The large clods with roots were removed by hand as they quickly clog up the tiller. Totally recommend a more powerful machine for this type of work

We then established the access and water channels which consist of paths/irrigation channels on either side of the bed and two keyhole paths in the wider sections of the bed. The bed is kinda pear shaped (literally). We are flood-irrigating this bed using a diverted mountain stream that runs along the pathways. Capillary rise draws the water into bed and gravity draws the water down. With the keyhole paths in place we can expect thorough infiltration of water into the bed and around the roots of the plants.

Keyhole pathways enable access into the center of the wider sections in the bed and allow water to permeate into this wider section

The next step is planting out. The asparagus were spaced approx. 45 cm apart and Chinese chives were planted in between the asparagus on the south edge of the bed. We then placed strawberry runners among the asparagus, the idea being to provide a ground cover and bee fodder but I'm sure we'll get a few strawberries too :) The shallow-rooted strawberries (no more than 20 cm) should not compete with the deep-rooted asparagus, the roots of which may reach depths of up to 2m. The garlic chives root in clumps around 30 - 40 cm deep.

Finally, we top-dressed each asparagus and Chinese chive with 2L of compost watered each plant well, and mulched in between the plants.

2L of compost added around the base of each plant, watered well and straw mulch applied

All in all, it took around 5 hrs for 4 of us to prepare and plant this bed and we can expect a supply of food for probably the next 25 years. With some weeding, each year and irrigation applied during dry periods it seems like time well spent :)


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