A tip about starting polycultures

Found this old post by Anni about starting a polyculture in a way that limits slug damage and gives plants the best start in life.

Anni's perennial veggies

I have just remembered that my first attempt at a polyculture a few summers ago was a resounding flop.  As I encourage people to grow in polycultures I had better pass on some tips regarding my mistakes so you don’t end up repeating them and getting discouraged.

My first attempt was to sow seeds a mixture directly into a prepared seed bed, just as you might for annuals, whether veggies or flowers.  However in our damp and slug ridden garden this was asking for trouble – and I got it.  No sooner had a brave seedling popped it’s little head above the ground than an army of slugs ate it.  It was a wet summer (we have had a lot of these in recent years) and the whole thing was a wash out.

My strategy now is to have plants already growing and providing cover.  These range from “weeds” to green manures to plants selected…

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A little green helper

I’ve been dismayed lately by the numbers of aphids being farmed by ants on my edibles.  I do try to be patient, to wait for the predators to move in and for balance to be re-established, but …

aphids on kale July 17

Aphids on kale

… I was starting to wonder whether I should intervene.  If I pick off the affected shoots, will the ants just move somewhere else?  Should I make life a little less cozy for them?  I was just thinking perhaps I should do something, when I went out to have another look:

insect eating aphids on kale July 17

Green insect eating aphids

Do you see what I see?  A tiny green insect, like a narrow shield bug.  I think s/he was at the dinner table 🙂  Perhaps I have help after all.

Into July …

Just a quick progress post.  Remember that I left the polyculture bed to the mercy of the slugs to see what would happen?  Now look at it!

Polyculture bed July 2017

Polyculture bed July 2017

Meanwhile, over in the perennial seedling pots:

Fennel and lovage have germinated.  I’m still waiting for the seakale and the salad burnet to put in a showing.

Patience, patience …

The transcendent edge

Anni Kelsey got me thinking about edges, and here is another thought-provoking post about ‘edginess’ …


Edgy folk are defined by their openness to experiment and novelty of all kinds. This openness to meta-physical and material evolution crosses over to permaculture in a popular, transcendence-inducing topic called theedgeeffect. Simplyput an edge is a junctional area between two ecological zones, which attracts bio diversity as these borderlands combine the qualities and species of the two zones that meet here, often leading to the evolution of micro climates and new species.

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Back to perennials …

I have been battling a little to get my annual polyculture established.  Here’s how it was looking before the slugs and the cats got going on it:-

young annual polyculture end May

Kale red winter, rainbow chard, red orache, and cosmos

I raised the plants in troughs with copper tape around the edge to deter slugs:

cosmos and chard in trough May 2017

Cosmos and rainbow chard raised in a trough

I had to remove the protective mesh which I had balanced on top to deter cats because it was damaging the plants.  Naturally, a few days later there was a big hole in the middle of the bed.  Some seedlings had roots exposed and some were buried.  However, as cats are a fact of life, I’ve taken some steps to recover from this.  After doing my best to save the seedlings, I thought to myself ‘the problem is the solution’.  I needed to cut down some sweet rocket that had finished flowering.  I need LOTS of twiggy bits to deter cats.  So I chopped up the rocket stems and pushed them in all over the bed.  (I just have one nagging concern that they might take root.)  I’ve also mulched the bed again with chopped up clover and grass clippings so there is no bare soil.  There is also a fair bit of slug activity, but I’m deciding to let nature take its course.  I need to be patient and give the plants a chance to recover and get their root systems established.  I’ve got more young plants left, but constantly pulling up old ones and replanting new ones just repeats the process.  They need to be left alone.  I always overplant anyway, so the plants that do survive will probably have enough room for once.

I also have a sore lower back.  Hardly surprising with all this stooping to replant seedlings and faff about with mesh.  I think my back is telling me that there is an easier way.  Think perennial!  So – I am redoubling my efforts to increase the number of perennial vegetables that I grow.  I put my thinking cap on, and came up with these:-

perennial seeds June 2017

Seeds: salad burnet, bronze fennel, lovage, and seakale

They are now sown into pots.  If they grow, I only need to plant them out once.  Thereafter, I just need to give them plenty of mulch and compost.  Much kinder on my back.  Much kinder on the soil.  And a stronger plant that can shrug off slugs.  And perhaps I’ll feel more kindly towards cats.  I defy them to dig up a fully grown fennel.

The ‘Garden Room’ border — Anni’s perennial veggies

In permaculture edges are regarded as valuable spaces, having the properties of the two areas they border. Most of my growing spaces could be regarded as edges, but in particular those round the house. All the way round the sides and back are narrow borders into which I have crammed many different edible polycultures. I […]

via The ‘Garden Room’ border — Anni’s perennial veggies

Great post from Anni – it’s got me thinking about edges.  One to ponder while I’m thinking about my own growing space.