I have less time for writing at this time of year, because I’m mostly occupied with sowing and with readying the ground at the allotment for the plants.
So far I’ve sowed leeks, chives, beets, chard, lettuce, kohl rabi, celery, celeriac, tomatoes, peppers, pepino dulce, tomatillos, peas, aubergines, spinach, red orach, winter purslane, chervil, parsley, basil, dill, shiso, rue, oregano, marjoram, spring onions, hyssop, and various squashes. I need to get on with the carrots and parsnips pretty sharpish, and hurry up with the back garden Bean Cave, too.
Other tasks have included transporting water butts and getting them set up, assembling greenhouse staging, and testing out a fire barrel I hope to use for biochar.
I have also been doing some reading, though, particularly about no-till, continuous cultivation grain growing. The “classic” method for this as set out in Masanobu Fukuoka’s “One-Straw Revolution” is to grow rye, barley or winter wheat in the winter, followed by rice in the spring, using the residues (i.e. straw) from the previous crop to mulch the current one. Could I do this on part of our allotment?
Well, the rainy season in Britain is really at the wrong time for rice, at least going by the last few decades. I could use legumes for the summer part of the rotation, but even the tall peas and beans I favour don’t generally produce a lot of crop residue, at least compared to something like wheat. Corn, on the other hand, seems like it should be possible… so I am thinking about alternating winter wheat with a three-sisters style polyculture of corn, squash and drying beans, underplanted with clover, and maybe with some sunflowers thrown in for good measure and increased carbon. That will be a tight schedule, though: the wheat may not be ready to harvest until July but I’d want to plant out the corn, squash and beans in early June, and even if I interplanted I’m not sure they’d get enough light. I think if I’m harvesting the wheat by hand or we have a good warm spring it might be possible. Another option would be a much simpler rotation of winter wheat followed by broad beans, which do have higher crop residues; but I tend to prefer overwintering my broad beans for an early crop, rather than fighting with the blackfly later in the season, and I’m not so fussed about eating them that I want to grow an entire bed of them, if I’m honest. If the wheat harvest is later — say, August — then I could follow it directly with peas, which don’t mind the cooler autumn temperatures so much.
The other thing about growing winter wheat followed by a three sisters polyculture is that I am always looking for more space for squashes, and it would keep that ground occupied right up until time to plant them.
Of course, if I don’t want to eat the wheat — if I’m growing it entirely as a winter cover crop — then I can simply cut it down whenever I’m ready to plant the next thing. There is something to be said for that approach, as I’d still get to use the biomass to build up the soil; but the idea of growing an edible crop like wheat and then not actually eating it is extremely frustrating to me.