Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Barley Project- Using Premaculture Principles to make decisions about growing food

I have been observing and analyzing the space beside the barn for several years now to determine what will be the best use of it to produce a good yield. Underlying the space is the drain field for our septic system. The previous owner used mowing as their maintenance strategy for the space. The lower edge is the property line. Beyond that on the neighbor's property are fairly mature canopy trees. Along the edge are some understory trees and shrubs which are good habitat for birds, small mammals, snakes and insects. Some of the chickens hid there to escape the marauding dogs that killed one of them a couple of weeks ago.
The soil is a clay loam. It is near the bottom of a slope. It is shady in winter but sunny enough for crops in the summer. The soil stays wet in the winter and is moist in the summer even in periods of little rain. The first summer we prepared beds and grew sunflowers, zinnias and other annual flowers. They did well. The following fall we planted a cover crop of annual rye and red clover with the intention of experimenting with growing organic no-till sweet corn. This worked fairly but I do not think it is the best approach for this area. Around the edges we are planting bramble fruits and small fruiting understory trees but we can't grow woody plants in the middle because their roots could clog up the drain field. Eventually we will be building a grey water system and a composting toilet which will eliminate that constraint.
I re-read Masanobu Fukuoka's book The One Straw Revolution this fall. In it he described growing barley as a winter crop followed by another summer crop. He said this was easy. Easy is good I thought so I decided to try it on a small portion of the space to test it out. I got organic barley seed from Howe Seeds, Inc. Yesterday raked away the weed stubble and scattered the barley seed. I spread a light covering of leaves we got from our neighbor's roadside leaf bagging service to hide them from the birds and provide a little shade and moisture retention while they germinate. It is going to rain in a couple of days so the seeds should get cranking soon. The literature says they should germinate in 2 days.
Why barley?
1. We like to eat barley.
2. chickens like to eat barley
3. Barley straw makes a good mulch
4. Barley straw is used in ponds to control the growth of algae. This could become a source of income for us selling mini-barley straw bales to local garden centers.
One technique used in permaculture is to divide a property into zones that radiate out from the house which in zone zero. Zone 1 is adjacent to the house where the most intensively managed activities occur such as a kitchen garden. Zone 2 would be perennial crops. Zone 3 orchard. We have all the space we need in zone 1 activities so Whatever we do in this space will be zone 2 and 3 uses. This growing season I plan to grow an interplanting of corn, winter squash, sweet potatoes and black eyed peas. The black eyed peas, being legumes, will provide nitrogen to the other crops. We will let them grow to maturity and harvest the dry beans. The squash and sweet potatoes will be harvested at the end of their respective seasons for storage. The corn will be harvested as roasting ears and the stalks chopped at the end of the season for mulch. This combination will provide a heavy canopy over the ground to shade out weeds and retain moisture reducing the meed for intensive maintenance.
If the barley experiment works we will plant the whole space with barley next winter and follow it with the interplanting described above. I am confident it will!

What permaculture principles came into plan in arriving at this plan of action for this space?
These are defined and defined by David Holmgren, co-originator with Bill Mollison of the permaculture concept, in his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability

1. Observe and Interact
2. Catch and store energy - sunlight, water, sustenance, human activity
3. Obtain a yield - food, mulch, straw, income
4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback - experiment, observe results, try again
5. Use and value renewable resources
6. Produce no waste- everything in this micro-system is used to support it
7. Design from patterns to details- We used the patterns of plant succession to design the uses of the space. Forest to understory to edge to open field
8. Integrate rather than segregate- multiple species grown together to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts
9. Use small and slow solutions - small experiments will lead to a productive use for the space
10. Value diversity - we mixed different plants that will attract a diversity of other organisms and produce diverse yields
11. Use edges and value the marginal
12. Creatively use and respond to change


Soul Gardener said...

Thanks. Wonderful Blog. I loved that you included how you went about making farm choices and included the paths to sustainable Permaculture.


Kelly said...

Duane, this sounds great. Thanks for sharing. I can't wait to see how it turns out. I may have to try this next winter.

Robbyn said...

Wow, I love this...can't wait to see how the barley and crop rotation work for you! Those black eyed pea young leaves are an edible green (cooked), too...sounds like if all goes well you'll have some great productivity...can't wait to see how the soil loves it, too :)