Are Polycultures the Future of Food Growing?

Permaculture magazine
Wednesday, 14th February 2018

The Polyculture Project aims to research perennial polycultures over three years, exploring mulches, nitrogen-fixation, soil fertility and biodiversity. Are polycultures the future of food growing?

The Polyculture Project is set up by the Balkan Ecology Project in Bulgaria. Since 2005, Paul Alfrey, Sophie Roberts and their two boys Dylan and Archie have been experimenting with polycultures, biodiversity and growing food. They have been trialling market garden beds and polycultures, recording time and fertility inputs and then yields of produce.

They have polyculture market results here: www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/polyculture-market-garden-study-year-3-results

They share their polyculture plants here: www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/how-much-food-can-you-grow-polyculture

They explain their herb and vegetable guilds here: www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/permaculture-design-vegetable-herb-guilds

To further their polyculture research, a crowdfunder has been set up for a three year study in collaboration with Christopher Kirby-Lambert, Ecological Consultant and Entomologist, Sofia University and Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The aim of the perennial polyculture research garden, is to find out:

  • How productive are fruit and nut trees/shrubs and perennial vegetables when grown in polycultures?
  • What are the best plants to grow for mulching these polycultures?
  • What are the best trees to grow for nitrogen fixation within the polycultures?
  • How does polyculture growing influence soil fertility?
  • How does polyculture growing influence biodiversity?
  • What are the costs in time and money of growing in polyculture?

You can find an overview of the perennial polyculture trial garden HERE.

The basic information:

- There will be 3 biomass beds: Nitrogen Fixing Trees and Shrubs; C4 perennial grasses; Fast growing herbaceous perennials.

- 3 productive beds: hazelnut, asparagus, currants; hazelnut, jostaberry, comfrey; cornels and eleagnus.

- The space is 12.5m by 28m.

For details on the crowdfunder, how to donate and how the money will be used, visit: www.thepolycultureproject.com/crowd-funder.html
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Why Polycultures?

"​Industrial agricultural practises often result in destruction of habitat for many organisms. We believe this is unnecessary, and want to provide healthier models of agriculture that can provide nutritious affordable food while at the same time promoting biodiversity and general ecosystem health. Industrial methods are heavily researched and funded, and there is a general belief among many farmers that this is the only practical way of operating. Following 12 years of cultivating polyculture gardens we are seeing that small scale biologically cultivated polyculture gardens are a realistic and practical way of providing food for humans whilst preserving biodiversity in the environment. Furthermore we believe this type of agriculture can help create thriving local economies that strengthen community and enhance the amenity value of an area. Little data exists showing the productive capacity of polyculture systems and the economic viability of them. There is a big need to fill this gap and provide solid data and concise coherent models that can be replicated easily and provide real solutions to the environmental damage caused by industrial agriculture. This project intends to go some of the way in filling this gap." Balkan Ecology Project.

Useful links

For more information on the crowdfunder and the project visit: www.thepolycultureproject.com/crowd-funder.html

Find a range of articles from Paul Alfrey HERE

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