Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Companion Planting or building a ecosystem

Companion planting for high calorie gardening – building an ecosystem.
This goes with article on crop rotation.

When you look at nature it is seldom one sees just one plant growing in a large area. What you are likely to see is a diversity of plants competing for light, water, nutrients. Many times a plant will have a certain environmental niche that they fill. This allows for a diverse ecosystem. When it comes to farming most of the time we are talking monoculture, meaning only one species planted in rows. This developed for a number of reasons but most reasons were related to the need to weed and cultivate. Planting in straight rows allowed for the use of plows, cultivators, etc. to be used between rows of plants.  It also made it easier to hoe and harvest many crops because the plants generally developed at the same rate. This was important with crops that will be harvested and stored such as potatoes and grains. That said, these crops can be planted in small groups or as mixed crops. A classic example is the three sisters (corn, beans, and squash) that can be grown together. There are also systems that employ slash and mulch to grow crops such as beans.

When one thinks of high calorie gardening one is looking at organic production and manual farming methods. The goal is to produce a range of different plant families to minimize the risk if any one crop fails. One wants to grow, harvest, and preserve food for both livestock and human consumption. Since it is manual labor based we are looking for a far greater return of calories than the energy used to grow, harvest, and preserve the crops we grow. For the most part I have been writing about annual crops. However, high calorie gardening fits in well with Permaculture. “Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, environmental design, construction and Integrated Water Resources Management that develops sustainable architecture, regenerative and self-maintained habitat and agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems”. Permaculture systems can create an ecology of perennial trees, bushes, berries, herbs, etc. while creating spaces to grow annual crops that are rotated based on plant family groups.

Permaculture is the ultimate form of companion planting because you are creating a functional ecosystem using a diversity of plants, each with its own niche that they can occupy. It depends on the relationship plants have to one another in a functioning ecosystem. As was noted in the book “Gardening without digging”, you can fight your environment or you can co-operate with your environment. “No need for bad-tasting crops that grow well or things we love that always die. No need for a tangled mishmash of crops that can’t be easily harvested and shade each other out.” This means planting for beneficial insects, growing cover crops, coppicing & pollarding for wood while planting around coppiced or pollarded trees.  Since it is such an extensive subject I will list some resource for permaculture and classical companion planting.  Just remember that by using Annual family groups and crop rotation you can create a companion planting system that works with permaculture systems.

Some of the Historical figures of ecosystem gardening

Masanobu Fukuoka's natural farming philosophy. (1938-2008)

Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer (1962-today)

Ruth Stout
Gardening Without Work and no-dig methods in the 1950s and 1960s.

Australian Esther Deans promoted no-dig gardening methods in the 1970s
Dean wrote the books No-Dig Gardening and Leaves of Life

Australian P. A. Yeomans in his 1973 book Water for Every Farm, keyline design

Toyohiko Kagawa who pioneered forest farming in Japan in the 1930s.

Mel Bartholomew concluded that gardening by rows was inspired by our farming system in which room is needed between the rows for machinery. He developed square foot gardening. (1981-2010)

Robert Adrian de Jauralde Hart (1 April 1913 – 7 March 2000) was the pioneer of forest gardening in temperate zones.

Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture by J. Russell Smith (1929)

F. C. King, Head Gardener at Levens Hall, South Westmorland, in the Lake District of England, who wrote the book "Is Digging Necessary?" in 1946

A gardener from Middlecliffe in the UK, A. Guest, who in 1948 published the book "Gardening Without Digging"

Bill Mollison

Toby Hemenway

Main permaculture Internet sites

My personal favorite permaculture discussion group.

Cincinnati Permaculture Guild

Cincinnati’s Hub for Sustainable Living

Worldwide Permaculture Network

Earthaven is an aspiring ecovillage in a mountain forest setting near Asheville, North Carolina

The farm Summertown Tennessee

permaculture institute New Mexico

Agroforestry Research Trust

UK permaculture Association

Urban Permaculture design

Balken Ecology Project

Napal farmers manual

Learning About Permaculture Design from Organic Annual Vegetable Farmers

Maximum Yield Cropping System (MYCS) intercropping with mixed species

If You Plant It, They Will Come – Friendly Pollination Practices

How Plants Repel Insects – an Observation of Monarchs, Brix and Nutrient Dense Plants

Classical Companion Planting

Organic weed management site UK

Trap Cropping in Vegetable Production: An IPM Approach to Managing Pests

List of beneficial weeds

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