Monday, 18 April 2016

Polyculture Project - Growing Food and Biodiversity

Our mission is to provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity. We aim to achieve this by developing model gardens and farms that:
  • produce a diverse range of seasonal fruits and vegetables
  • enhance biodiversity
  • are low cost to establish and manage 
  • can be replicated easily in any temperate climate.
The last 3 years we have been gathering data to show the productivity of our models (see here) but currently lack a measure of biodiversity to support the casual observation of enhanced levels within the gardens.

This year we are beginning to explore this with three entomological surveys scheduled for April, July and September as part of our polyculture market garden study.  We hope this will provide us with a glimpse into what's going on at that level.

Photos by Peter Alfrey and Ute Villavicencio from the April 2016 Survey 


The Entomological Surveys 


The idea is to monitor two annual beds in the market garden as seen in the below diagram. The lower bed is planted with a  polyculture (Zeno) the upper bed with the same crops but planted in plant groups. For more on the Zeno Polyculture see here.

Illustration of the beds where the surveys are taken showing the different planting schemes  







Our annual herb and vegetable polyculture (Zeno) is designed to not require rotation, to utilize the beneficial relationships between plants and to create diverse and effective soil food webs that increase production. We are hoping to find out whether or not it provides more habitat for invertebrates.

The Market Garden - The surveys were carried out in raised beds labelled Annual Vegetable Guilds 

My brother Peter Alfrey has agreed to undertake the surveys and last week carried out the first survey in the market garden with Polyculture study team member Ute Villavicencio and my son Dylan.

Peter emptying the sweep nets
Not being experts in Balkan entomology, we identified to family/genus level (with abundance and plant associations noted) and took photo specimens of all the species recorded. We hope to send the photos to Balkan entomologists for species identification. Please contact us if you can help us in any way with this stage of the survey.

The April Survey - Methodology


The survey is carried out before any garden preparation disturbances occur. The beds are generally well vegetated by a diversity of native pioneers and the bed margin growth that has established since the autumn of last year.

Photo on left was taken in November 2015 after all vegetables and herbs had been harvested and the crop residue cut and placed on the surface of the beds. Tagetes erecta were left. The Photo on the right was taken one day before the survey in April 2016. The beds were allowed to naturally succeed from Nov - April.

Pit fall traps are set at mid-points in the traditional organic beds where the monoculture patches of crops will be planted. The pitfalls traps are located at the same spacing in the polyculture beds. 


Vegetation (mainly vetches, red-dead nettles, docks and grasses) in one meter squares around the pit fall traps is noted.

Visual transect surveys of all the insects visiting the bed along the whole of the 23 m length is taken for each bed. Each species is collected and photographed.

Pop up field lab :)

The vegetation on the margins is also swept.

Dylan and Ute sweeping the marginal vegetation.
As the beds at the moment are largely identical (at pre-planting stage colonised by native pioneers) the results as expected were similar in both beds. The survey will be repeated in July and September.

For more on this see Peter's blog.  Peter will also be publishing a full report that will be presented along with the study results.

Bio Blitz 


Peter, Ute, Alexandre, Dylan and Stoyan also carried out a bio blitz on one of our new sites. The goal here was to gather a baseline survey of the plot before we begin developing perennial polycultures on the site so we can see how our methods effect the existing biodiversity.

Bio-blitzing one of our new plots that we'll be planting out as part of the upcoming Perennial Polyculture study.
  

We're looking forward to the next survey taking place in July :)


We offer a range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens from our plant nursery including a new range of fruit and nut cultivars well suited to natural gardens. Delivery to all over Europe available from Nov - March 




Have the theory but need some practice?

Join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design Course this Summer.






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