[permaculture] [Fwd: [SANET-MG] Polyculture 'Modules' for Small Farms]

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lfl at intrex.net
Sun Oct 30 21:22:16 EST 2005

Subject: [SANET-MG] Polyculture 'Modules' for Small Farms
Date: 	Sun, 30 Oct 2005 21:15:57 -0500
From: 	Joel Gruver <jgruv at HOTMAIL.COM>

Hello folks,

I think you will find the following article of interest... I was on a
brief tour of this experiment about 2 months ago... unfortunately it was
raining steadily (Hurricane Katrina) so we didn't get a very long or
close look...


BTW This article is currently prominently featured on the Soil Science
Society of America homepage !



*Polyculture ‘Modules’ for Small Farms, Suburbia: Fewer Pests, $90,000
an Acre?
Kurt Knebusch
knebusch.1 at osu.edu <mailto:knebusch.1 at osu.edu>

Joe Kovach, OARDC, OSUE; Ohio IPM Program
kovach.49 at osu.edu <mailto:kovach.49 at osu.edu>

WOOSTER, Ohio — Carefully designed polyculture systems, grown on small
farms or even in suburban yards, could self-limit pest problems and
gross up to $90,000 per acre, says Joe Kovach, head of Ohio State
University’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program.

Together with Loren Harper and Rosa Raudales, both also of the program,
Kovach has planned and planted four different polyculture systems, or
“modular ecological designs,” each combining the same wide mix of
high-value fruits and vegetables, annuals and perennials, tall crops and
short ones, into 45-by-60-foot plots.

The goal: To see which system works best based on yield, economics and
pest reduction — and to make, by selling retail, $10 per linear foot, or
$90,000 to $100,000 per acre.

“We’ve known in pest management that polyculture systems seem to have
fewer pest problems than monocultures, and when there are problems,
they’re usually less severe,” Kovach said. “We wanted to see if we could
come up with a primarily fruit-based system that, if we arranged it in
the correct way, would see fewer pest problems.”

At the same time, though, “With a goal of $10 per linear foot, we’ve got
to be productive,” he said. “We can’t mess around.”

Polycultures, as opposed to monocultures, grow two or more crops
together, not just one.

Kovach’s four designs, even more diverse than typical polycultures,
combine apples, peaches, green beans, tomatoes, strawberries,
blueberries, raspberries and edamame soybeans. But each design tests a
different arrangement. The first has solid rows, with each row having a
single crop, and the crop height switching from row to row: for example,
a row of high apple trees, a row of low strawberries, a row of high
peach trees, a row of low tomatoes.

“There’s some hint that architecture might have an impact on insect
pests that occur,” Kovach explained, “so we decided we’d use tree and
shrub crops alternated with lower-growing crops.”

The second design mixes more than one crop within a row but keeps the
high crops and low crops together in their own rows. Apples, peaches and
raspberries, for example, would line up in a row, then green beans,
strawberries and tomatoes in the next, as a way to roadblock infestations.

“The concept,” Kovach said, “is that insect pests seem to move down
rows. So if you’re an apple pest, you might stop at the peaches. A peach
pest might stop at the raspberries. A raspberry pest at the blueberries.
And so forth.”

The third design goes a step further. It mixes the crops within a row
and also alternates heights in the row. A single row might grow apples
then strawberries, peaches then green beans, raspberries then tomatoes.
Kovach calls it the “checkerboard” system.

The fourth design adds raised beds to the equation — “kind of our
souped-up future strategy,” Kovach said — with mixed rows planted within.

All four designs employ drip irrigation, disease-tolerant and -resistant
varieties, fencing against rabbits and woodchucks, staggered planting
dates for the annuals and maturity dates for the perennials (allowing
for early, mid- and late-season harvest and season-long production), and
newer, less-toxic pesticides if and as needed, with sustainability, not
100-percent organic production, the goal.

“Once we find this optimum design — and this is where the ‘modular’
aspect comes in — we’ll know how much food you’ll get from one plot,”
Kovach said. “Maybe one is all you need for personal use. Or maybe you
run a roadside stand; you could have maybe three in a series. Or maybe
you sell at a farmers’ market; you could have, say, six or eight.”

Small farms near cities could gain from such setups, Kovach said. Fewer
inputs, a steady lineup of high-value crops, and proximity to thousands
of hungry consumers would make the farms even more successful.

Homeowners, whether for food, hobby or both, could use the modules too.

“We have a lot of these suburban houses that have five-acre lots,”
Kovach noted. “People spend a lot of time mowing their lawn. This could
be an opportunity to do something else.”

Finally, he said, the modules would ramp up local production, a plus in
terms of tastier food and lower transportation costs.

The project, funded by the Ohio IPM program, a joint effort of OSU
Extension and the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and
Development Center (OARDC), will continue for the next five or six years.

The test plots — 16 in all, four replications of all four designs,
covering a total of 1.5 acres — lie on OARDC’s Wooster campus.

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