Three Season Polyculture

Spring 1997

A new type of “three season” (autumn, winter and spring) vegetable garden polyculture is being tested on Jajarkot Permaculture Program Resource Centers in Nepal. An adaptation of this method will be tested with summer crops next. The system is based on a pattern developed by Ianto Evans of Zopilote Association in Oregon and includes, as well, principles of Ayurvedic, biointensive and minimum tillage systems, all adapted to local situations and using local resources. The preparation, planting, harvesting and maintenance processes are as follows:

1. Beds of a size and shape that fit your landscape are prepared. A width of 4 feet enables you to reach the entire area without treading on the bed. The soil should be moist, composted and free of weeds.

2. The following sequence of seeds is sown:

a. Green manure – densely sow mustard, buckwheat and fenugreek.

b. Salad crops – lightly sow broadleaf mustard, radishes, chard and carrots.

c. Aromatics – sow fennel, dill and coriander at a density less than the green manure but more densely than the salad crops.

d. Legumes – sow fava beans and peas at a spacing of about 1 foot.

3. Plant bulbs or seedlings of the Alliums – onions, garlic and leeks – at a density of 6 to 12 inches.

4. Plant seedlings of cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, chards and salad greens at a density of 2 feet.

5. Plant seedlings of marigold and basil within and around the bed.

Cover the bed with a 1/4-inch layer of soil mixed with fine, well rotted compost (2:1 ratio), and lightly mulch the bed with quickly decomposing vegetation, such as comfrey, wormwood or nettle. Lightly water the bed. For a 4-foot by 30-foot bed, the above process took about an hour.

The order of germination, starting just two to three days after sowing, was mustard, closely followed by buckwheat, fenugreek, radishes, onion and garlic, fava, pea. These were all up by the end of one week. Within three weeks of sowing, the chard, carrot, dill, fennel and coriander had appeared, also.

Cropping Sequence and Maintenance

Our first crop is the tender leaves of the green manure cover crops: first mustard (10 days), then buckwheat (20 days) and fenugreek (25 days) were picked. The picking process also thins out the green manure to provide space for other species. As remaining cover crops started to flower, they were cut at soil level and stems and leaves were laid where they were cut. At four weeks, no cover crop remained standing. The remainder of the crops were harvested as follows:

Week 2 Mustard

Week 4 Buckwheat, fenugreek

Week 6 Fenugreek, radish, broadleaf mustard

Week 8 Chard, salad, radish, broadleaf mustard

Week 10 Chives, chard, salad greens, radish, basil

Week 12 Fava, chives, chard, radish, peas, basil, coriander, carrot

Week 16 Peas, fava beans, onions, carrots, radishes, coriander, chard, basil, cauliflower

Week 20 Cauliflower, peas, fava beans, onions, carrots, chard, coriander, basil, cabbage

Week 26 Cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, leek, fennel/dill, coriander, basil

Week 32 Brussels sprouts, cabbage, leek, fennel/dill, coriander, basil

Pest and Disease Control

Diversity is the first line of defense; no single species is offered as a target for pests. The Ayurvedic system uses a mixture of leaf shape, size, color, texture and scent, so plants with these characteristics are purposefully mixed. The scent comes from Alliums, basil, coriander, dill, and other plants; dill and coriander also attract predatory wasps to further protect crops.

Liquid Manure

A compost tea made from comfrey, wormwood, Lantana, elder and other plants soaked in water with a sack of cow dung, diluted 1:10 with water, and sprayed onto the leaves in the early morning sun, or applied to the soil, will supply a high nutrient broth to be taken up by the roots and/or leaves. This can also be used as a pest repellent. (Editor’s note: The compost tea should be made with properly composted manure to avoid contaminating produce with E. coli and other pathogens. For more information about compost tea preparation, see “Enhancing Natural Disease Control with Watery Compost Extract,” by Eric Sideman, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, March-May 1996.)

Edge Functions

Paying attention to the edge design allows us to increase yield and decrease work. Beds can be designed for least path-to-bed ratio. Edges of the beds can be planted with more scented crops, and with comfrey. Comfrey will act as a barrier against creeping weeds and can be cut several times a year to mulch the bed. This will supply up to 60% of the nutrients required after a year, thus avoiding the need to carry biomass from any distance. Larger plants, such as climbing beans, can act as a windbreak, preventing moisture loss while favoring pollinating insects. (Editor’s note: Because comfrey can spread and become a noxious weed if the soil is tilled and the plant roots are chopped – effectively propagating the plant – you should use great care in selecting a spot to plant this valuable but potentially invasive herb.)

The Next Season

In Nepal, the autumn-winter-early spring (September through April) growing season requires that different crops be grown than those of the hot, dry, late spring and monsoon season. The above species are part of the former cycle. In late April to early May, summer crops, including squashes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, beans and pumpkins, are starting. After 24 to 30 weeks of the autumn- winter-spring crops, as the beds empty, a green manure crop of soybeans, mustard, buckwheat, Sesbania, etc., can be sown and then cut and used as a mulch or dug in after four to eight weeks of growth, when the summer crops are direct-sown or transplanted. Weeds should be pulled and well rotted compost or liquid manure, ash, oil seed cake, etc., applied on top of the green manure. Digging the beds has been unnecessary because they are kept well mulched. Digging, in effect, plants weed seeds that have lain dormant below the surface and are waiting for a soil disturbance, something nature designed them to heal.

Reprinted with permission from The Permaculture Activist, No. 34, June 1996 (PO Box 1209, Black Mountain NC 28711).

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