Polyculture Farming


So what the heck does that mean anyway? Polyculture means more than one culture –  and in farming, it means you raise crops and animals, in a synergistic environment that BUILDS on itself, instead of CONSUMING.

If you delve into gardening books, you won’t get far in most of them before they start babbling about soil building and the sad state of a garden that is left too long without adding some kind of chemical fertilizer. The books that are aimed at vegetarians are the worst – they tell you that the best you can hope for is a 90-99% sustainability in a farm that tries to sustain itself with crops alone. They tell you to plant “green manure” crops, and till them under, to help replace lost nutrients. They tell you that you’ll “just have to” put on some kind of chemical fertilizer to make up the difference, and they say it in sort of an apologetic way, as though they really tried but there is no alternative. They’ll sometimes make a brief mention of animal manures, as though they are something shameful, or they’ll make a derogatory remark about them, and then move on as though they have been satisfactorily dismissed and now they can get on with the business of REALLY gardening.

And it is all hooey. Complete and utter tripe… garbage… balderdash… manure! The myth of 99% maximum sustainability is just that – a myth. On both ends.

First, because if you use plants alone, you can’t even achieve that, in spite of what they say. You can, at best, achieve perhaps an 80-90% sustainability. In other words, you are going to lose 10-20% of your soil fertility per year, and have to replace it with something besides just plant derived matter.

Second, because there is NO limit to the sustainability and soil building factor. If you choose polyculture farming, and add animals to the mix, you can achieve higher productivity per acre, and you BUILD soil at a rate which HAS no limit.

Of course, if you overload your land with too many animals, the land is decimated and becomes barren. So, ideally, you have a balance of animals and crops. And the simplest way to do that, is the most natural way… the way things used to be. Just grow ALL the crops that the animals eat, on your own property – and use the animal wastes to fertilize those crops. This achieves the highest degree of sustainability, and results in an enhancement to the soil of between 2 and 10% per year. It gets better and better, the longer you do it in balance.

  • The plants feed the animals with hay, grain, legumes, and veggies, and you with fruits and veggies.
  • The animals feed the plants with manure, and you with meat, eggs, milk, etc.

The garden and fields produce abundantly. The animals are healthy and produce better when fed crops raised without chemicals. The land is rejuvenated and vibrant. You and your family dine on the healthiest and freshest foods in the world. And it is all done without chemicals.

And all this happens on LESS land than it would take to sustain the same life with just green crops. Let’s illustrate:

It takes about a quarter of an acre to provide a vegetarian diet for a single person for a year – this assumes INTENSIVE cropping in a single growing season (it takes about half that if you practice year-round growing). This includes green manure crops to provide fertilizer – about half of your space has to go to producing green manure. It takes more than that for factory farms, which do not use intensive growing methods, and waste far more space, in spite of the fact that they do NOT provide space for green manure, and they use chemical fertilizers.

Now, there is a book out there that claims you can produce the “food” for one person on a vegetarian diet in about 4000 square feet per year. But he does not include grains or legumes in the amounts necessary. He just includes the vegetables and fruits, and a token amount of beans and peas. So his assumptions are different, and do not include what we are including. But the same rules apply – what he does in 4000 square feet can actually be done in less than half that space.

Ok… so how about if you take the green manure crops, and replace them with rabbit forage, and three rabbit hutches? You can now grow all of your vegetable and fruit needs, and you can grow all of your rabbit food, in about a SIXTH of an acre, instead of a quarter of an acre. You use the rabbit manure on the crops, so the crops produce better than they could with green manure alone. So far, win-win. And we haven’t even taken the reproductive abilities of the rabbit into consideration, and we haven’t even provided you with meat to eat yet.

So, if you start those rabbits reproducing, the equation gets even better… Let’s start breeding them – assuming 2 does and one buck. They’ll produce enough rabbit for you to eat one rabbit per week – very likely more, if you breed them about every three months.

It will take a little more crops to produce the meat, because you’ll have to feed those babies until they reach butcher age (at about 9 weeks). But those babies will also produce more manure for the garden, which means your soil fertility can be further enhanced, and your crop productivity can increase a little more. And since you are now eating meat, the amount of crops you need drops by about half – and the amount the rabbits need is less than that. So you now have the ability to provide for your needs on about an EIGHTH of an acre (about 5200 square feet), using intensive single season cropping. If you use year-round cropping, you can do it on about a third less – around 3200 square feet, including the space for the rabbit hutches. And you might just have some extra rabbits to sell. This means you could do it in a 50X60 foot back yard.

If you add in chickens, it gets even better. Now, you can feed the chickens on the garden waste and on redworms, grown in the rabbit manure. Chickens help control the harmful insects in and around the garden, giving you increased productivity across the board. They also provide you with eggs, So your needs for vegetable, fruit, and grains decrease a bit more, and your health improves with the variety. And of course, they put additional nutrients back into the soil, making anything they take out, completely replaceable. But since chickens eat so much that neither you, nor your rabbits can eat, they’ll make your garden more efficient just because more of the food in it gets eaten. Your garden gets healthier too, because you no longer have to use pesticides.

There’s a funny thing about chickens. It seems that if you have enough hens to make sure you have eggs through the winter, you are going to have way too many eggs through the spring, summer, and fall. Traditionally, the “egg money” from the farm was the mother’s spending money, to use for the things that her husband did not think to budget for. People do still buy farm fresh, naturally raised eggs – and if you raise those chickens without commercial chicken feed, but with foods you grew yourself, your eggs will be of unbeatable quality, and the egg money will be pure profit. If you choose the right breeds, they’ll also reproduce – giving you additional meat, or chickens to sell.

The equations are not quite as attractive once you get into raising larger animals –  but they are not as distorted as people think they are. Properly managed crops and fields can easily produce more than we assume they can – astronomically more. Of course, natural pasture is easier to manage, and it is simpler to just let your cows, goats, and sheep graze without having to intensively manage the crops for the fields. But if you chose to do so, they could be fed abundantly on very little ground, with nothing brought in from outside.

Humans are, and always have been, omnivores. The human body was designed to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and animal products. When animal products are tainted with chemicals from modern production and preservation methods, they become a means of carrying higher amounts of toxins and poisons into the body – hence the supposed “harmful” effects of animal fats and some other products – it isn’t the animal product at all, but how they were produced that is causing the harm. But when you produce them yourself (or get them from clean sources), they improve health and longevity, and strengthen the body and the immune system (the Weston A Price foundation has information regarding health benefits of butter, eggs, pork, beef, etc). Polyculture farming, then, provides a means to supply humans with optimal health, and it provides a means to enhance our stewardship over the land, putting back what we take, using less land to provide for our needs, and to responsibly care for farm animals.

Polyculture farming works because it is the way nature intended for us to provide for our needs. A truly synergistic environment, where you stir the pot, and it bubbles up with way more than you put into it.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.