Friday, 9 March 2018

Invertebrate Biodiversity Survey Results - Polyculture Study 2017

May 2017 results
By Christopher Kirby-Lambert – 27/02/2018

You can find photos from Chris's May Survey here

A sample of invertebrates from the gardens- Photos by Chris Kirby-Lambert  

1. Survey Timing and Conditions
Field survey was carried out on the 2nd (Market Garden) and 3rd (Perennial polyculture trial garden) of May 2017. Both plots were surveyed in the morning between approximately 09.00 and 11.00. Conditions during both surveys were warm, sunny and calm.

2. Survey Plots
2.1. Market Garden

The Market Garden is a well-established and relatively complex plot supporting a range of habitats. Roughly 2/3 of the plot area is given over to agriculture. Half of this is polyculture beds used to grow a variety of vegetable crops. The other half is a forest garden. The market garden has been divided into three sub-plots for the purposes of sampling:

Sub-plot 1 - Forest Garden: Young planted fruit trees over a mix of native grass and herb species similar to that found in the Permaculture beds. There were some more mature trees providing shade in places but much of the sub-plot was open.
Sub-plot 2 - Polyculture beds: Rows of cultivated ground for a variety of vegetables. The plots were still straw over bare soil during the May visit. There are numerous wooden growth supports present in the plots which were noticeably being utilised by dead-wood nesting bees and wasps. Between plot rows there are grassy pathways with fringes of native flora, dominated by red dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum). A pond is present at the edge of the area and is surrounded by a patch of coarse grassland with a significant herb component and numerous flowering plants. Overall, the flora in the non-cultivated areas is closest to that observed in woodland glades and rides nearby.
Sub-plot 3 - Scrub: An area of relatively dense scrub and small trees containing a mix of species but dominated by Prunus sp. and Malus sp.. There is also a large Walnut - Juglans regia shading much of the area. The understory, where scrub was not so dense as to shade it out, was composed of grasses and woodland herbs. There is a damp area due to run-off from the neighbouring road that has been planted with Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) and reed (Phragmites australis), although this is still in its infancy. Deadwood is fairly limited in this sub-plot.

2.2. Perennial polyculture trial garden

A recently acquired plot of land composed of coarse, unimproved grassland with scattered Rose (Rosa sp.) bushes surrounded by a well established hedge dominated by Elm (Ulmus sp.) and Hawthorn (Cratageus sp.). A large mature Walnut is present in the corner of the plot. Previous management was by goat grazing. Since acquisition of the plot a reasonably sized pond has been dug, but not yet filled, and several polyculture beds have been created. This plot was divided into two sub-plots for the purposes of sampling:

Sub-plot 4 – Grassland: This is currently a homogenous area supporting coarse unimproved grassland with a relatively limited herb component. Scattered low rose (Rosa sp.) scrub was present across the plot. The most frequent flowering plant in the sub-plot during the May survey was a speedwell (Veronica sp.) which occurred in localised but dense patches throughout the sub-plot.
Sub-plot 5 – Hedgerow: The plot was surrounded on three sides by a large, mature, hedge. The principal tree species present were Elm (Ulmus sp.) and Hawthorn (Cratageus sp.). There were also significant components of smaller shrubs, predominantly bramble (Rubus sp.), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and rose (Rosa sp.). Although deadwood was present it was generally sparse and of small diameter.
3. Target Groups
  1. Coleoptera (beetles): This encompasses a vast range of species with widely differing ecologies, however, the basic ecological niches of many groups are well established and they have been relatively well studied in Europe. In addition the group as a whole is well known to the surveyor and many species are likely to be identifiable to species. In practice the most frequently encountered beetle group in the survey plots by a wide margin were leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae). These species are invariably phytophagous (plant-eating), feeding on living plant tissue. They are often specific to certain plant species or families and so are generally ecologically informative. Weevils (Curculionoidea) were also collected in some numbers and have similar ecological niches. Other groups of beetles collected include saproxylic species that depend on deadwood resources for larval development and tend to feed on pollen from flowers and predatory species.
  2. Hemiptera; Heteroptera (true bugs): Another group that has been relatively well studied in Europe and is relatively well known to the surveyor. The Heteroptera include a wide range of families with varying ecologies. Most of those encountered were predominantly phytophagous and ranged from generalists to specialists on particular plant species.
  3. Hymenoptera; Aculeata: The aculeates include bees (Apoidea), ants (Formicidae) and a number of wasp families, all groups that are well known to the surveyor. Ants are ground or tree nesting and mostly predatory (although some European species will eat seeds). Bees feed on nectar (as adults) and pollen (as larvae) so are entirely dependent on flower resources for food. They nest variously in dead wood, bare ground and soil, and moss (many species are cuckoos, stealing the nests of the host species). Wasps are predatory and nest in a similar range of habitats as bees.
  4. Diptera (true flies); larger Brachycera and Syrphidae: Select groups of flies were recorded. These groups were limited to those that are known to the surveyor and may be ecologically informative in the current survey.

4. Survey Methodology
The field survey methodology utilises a number of widely used collection techniques that, in combination, collect species from most groups present on a site. The use of these techniques is dictated by the habitats present on each plot and roughly follows Natural England’s Common Standards Monitoring (CSM) guidelines1. These guidelines are intended for use in monitoring the quality of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) in the UK. See Table 1 for a breakdown of the survey methods used on each sub-plot. The total survey time devoted to each sub-plot was the same.

4.1. Field survey techniques
Sweep netting
A lightweight folding circular aluminium frame 40 centimetres in diameter was fitted with a net bag supplied for sweep-netting by GB Nets and attached to an extending lightweight aluminium handle. Net strokes were reasonably rapid, and penetrated as far into the vegetation as possible without the stroke being seriously slowed by its resistance. A maximum of fifty sweeps (counted as single strokes of the net) was taken before examining the catch. The sample was initially examined in the net, noting or capturing large, fast-moving or readily identified species. The remaining net contents were then emptied onto a white tray, and the material in the tray examined for smaller and slower animals. 10 minutes of survey time was devoted to sweep-netting per sub-plot.

Targeted netting
Large, active, species, especially those prone to visiting flowers, resting on leaves, or with regularly visited and recognisable nests, are often most effectively recorded by netting individual animals. This is particularly effective for solitary bees and wasps, but also for some groups of flies. When utilised 30 minutes survey time per sub-plot was devoted exclusively to it. On those occasions, the net used for sweep-netting was employed.

Vegetation beating
Samples were taken from tree and shrub foliage, ivy, and dense, tall herbaceous vegetation by holding a net under the foliage and tapping the branches or stems above sharply several times with a stout stick. The sweep net currently in use was most often employed for this purpose. For high vegetation and larger branches, a net with a lightweight folding frame 55 centimetres in diameter and a long bag was also used. This net has the advantage that substantial amounts of foliage can be inserted, or a substantial length of tall vegetation placed next to the net, before sampling. Material was initially examined in the net, then emptied onto a white tray for further sorting. When utilised 30 minutes survey time per sub-plot was devoted exclusively to it.

Active search
Features of significance to invertebrates which are not sampled, or not necessarily adequately sampled, by sweeping, beating or suction sampling were investigated by close examination and hand searching. Attention was particularly paid to: accumulations of plant litter; dead wood; the ground beneath wood, stones and other debris; fungal fruiting bodies; tree trunks; the undersides of plant rosettes; and bare wet ground. When utilised 30 minutes survey time per sub-plot was devoted exclusively to it.

4.2. Lab methodology

Voucher specimens of all encountered species in the aforementioned target groups were collected and retained. Specimens were collected using a pooter, or individual tubes in the case of larger individuals, before being asphyxiated using ethyl acetate. Collection of specimens was limited to the minimum required to ensure a reasonable chance of identification. Specimens were stored in plastic boxes layered between tissue paper and frozen to preserve them until lab examination could occur.

All collected specimens were examined in the lab using a 7-45x magnification binocular microscope. Attempts at identification have been made using a combination of relevant reference books, scientific papers and web-based resources. Whilst the aim of the identification process is to reach a confident species level determination, in practice this has not yet been possible for many species. Most species have been determined to at least genus level, and identifiably different species within a genus have been differentiated numerically, e.g. Bombus sp. 1 and Bombus sp. 2, when species level determination has yet to be achieved. This methodology means that there is the potential to underestimate diversity by missing cryptic species that are near identical in outward appearance to others in the same genus. The identification process will be an ongoing endeavour and specimens will be re-visited periodically in an attempt to identify, with a reasonable level of confidence, the exact species present on the plots. All collected specimens are either glued onto card or directly pinned and labelled for future reference.

5. Results

6. Notes on May results

The May survey recorded a total of 179 species in 33 families from the targeted groups.

The most species rich of the target groups were the Coleoptera with 94 recorded species in 19 families. The Chrysomelidae (leaf beetles) were by some margin the most diverse group of beetles recorded with a total of 29 species. Other relatively species rich groups were the Curculionidae (true weevils) with 17 species and the Apionidae (seed weevils) with 11 species. All three of these groups feed on living plant tissue. All of the remaining 16 families of beetle were represented by fewer than 10 species. These families are a mix of phytophagous (live plant), saproxylic (dead wood) and carnivorous feeders. The Coccinellidae (ladybirds) are perhaps worthy of mention here too; 9 species were recorded, several of which were abundant throughout. Many species of ladybird are significant and voracious predators of aphids and can noticeably limit their population. In the context of the current study, focussed as it is on food production, the observation of large populations of a number of species may be of relevance.

The aculeate Hymenoptera were the second most speciose group with a total of 44 recorded species. The most species rich family were the Formicidae (ants), with 12 recorded species. The ants were most diverse in areas with woody vegetation such as bushes and trees and it seems that more than half of the species recorded are associated with such habitats. Species from the families Apidae (9 spp.), Halictidae (9 spp.) and Megachilidae (7 spp.) make up the majority of the bee species recorded during the May survey. The Apidae recorded consisted of a mix of species that nest in burrows in exposed ground (Eucera spp., Amegilla spp. and Melecta spp.), species that nest in hollow plant stems (Ceratina spp.) and species that nest colonially in burrows or moss (Bombus spp.). The furrow bees (Halictidae) are all ground nesting species whilst the mason bees (Megachilidae) nest in either dead wood or walls. Mining bees (Andrenidae) were less diverse in terms of species richness (4 spp.) but one species of mining bee (currently labelled Andrena sp. 3) was the most numerically abundant bee species recorded during the May survey.

37 species of Heteropteran bug were recorded during the survey. The ground bugs (Lygaeidae), 13 spp., and shield bugs (Pentatomidae), 11 spp., were the most species rich groups of bugs recorded. The Lygaeidae feed largely on seeds whilst the Pentatomidae predominantly feed on sap from plant stems. The Coreidae (6 spp.) Nabidae (3 spp.) and Rhopalidae (3 spp.) were all significantly less diverse but included species that were abundant on both plots.

6.1 Plot 1 - Market Garden

Sub-plot 1 – Forest Garden
  • Highest species richness of any sub-plot (79 spp.)
  • Coleoptera are by far the most diverse group (52 spp.)
  • High diversity of phytophagous Coleoptera (30 spp.) due to diverse food plants
  • Diverse flora and structure - rough grassland, tall herbs, young trees, shrubs
  • Reasonable diversity of nectar feeding Hymenoptera (pollinators) due to abundant nectar sources
Sub-plot 2 – Polyculture beds
  • Significantly lower species richness than Forest Garden (47 spp.)
  • More intensive food production than forest garden means that structural and floristic diversity is lower
  • Both planted and wild plants in polyculture beds provide a good nectar source when in flower
  • Abundant nectar feeding bees (14 spp.) which act as pollinators
  • Wooden growth supports provide nesting sites for wood nesting bees and wasps, particularly mason bees in the genus Osmia
Sub-plot 3 – Scrub
  • Lowest target group species richness of sampled sub-plots (32 spp.)
  • Predominantly homogenous young shrubs and trees with one or two more mature trees
  • Some flowering shrubs present early in the year provide a decent source of nectar and pollen, providing food for a range of invertebrate species
  • Phytophagous species predominate (16 spp.)
6.2 Plot 2 - Experimental Polyculture

Sub-plot 4 – Grassland
  • Relatively high species richness (54 spp.)
  • Relatively simple in structure, being predominantly rough, previously goat-grazed, grassland with scattered low shrubby bushes
  • Patches of Veronica sp. attract numerous nectar feeding bees (14 spp.)
  • Most of the remaining species are phytophagous (22 spp.), feeding on either leaves or seeds
Sub-plot 5 – Hedgerow
  • Relatively low species richness (40 spp.)
  • Mature hedgerows with mature elm and blackthorn predominant
  • Blackthorn provides good nectar source early in year
  • Some deadwood present providing habitat for saproxylic species
  • Relatively diverse ant fauna (7 spp.), made up of mostly tree nesting species

If you appreciate the work that we are doing please consider donating to our Polyculture Project. If everyone that visits our blog and website were to donate just €1 we would fund our three year research project in no time.


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Monday, 12 February 2018

The Polyculture Project Crowdfunder

We're super excited to announce The Polyculture Project, a research project dedicated to developing and promoting practices that provide nutritious affordable food while enhancing biodiversity. With your help we hope to expand and excel our experiments with various regenerative/permaculture practices and publish our records with aim to supply solid empirical data for the community. Please check out our crowdfunding campaign and if you appreciate our work please donate and share the campaign page that you can find here.

What are we doing?

We'll be running a 3 year study in our first perennial polyculture research garden to find out the following:
  • How productive are fruit and nut trees/shrubs and perennial vegetables when grown in polycultures?
  • What are the best plants to grow for mulching these polycultures?
  • What are the best trees to grow for nitrogen fixation within the polycultures?
  • How does polyculture growing influence soil fertility?
  • How does polyculture growing influence biodiversity?
  • What are the costs in time and money of growing in polyculture?
You can find an overview of our perennial polyculture trial garden here  

Rewards for our Donors

  • €5 - €49 - We’ll send you a pdf. copy of our “Essential Guide to Growing Fruits and Nuts ” - and you will be credited as a project sponsor on our website and in all of our publications (print and digital). You'll also receive biannual updates from the project.
  • €50 > - A generous offer from the fine folks of Permaculture Magazine - Get 10 permaculture books, worth £130 for just £25 (+ postage)  and all of the above.​
  • €200 > - 25% discount from our courses or events  and plant and seed orders over €200 (not including postage)  from 2018 - 2020 and all of the above.
  • €350 > - Join the project for a week from July - October and get involved in the day to day running of the project. We’ll provide accommodation to you for 5 days, as much as you can eat from our gardens and a personal tour from the project leaders of the various trial gardens and all of the above.
  • €1000 or more  -  Have one our research gardens named after you or in a name of your choice. Your chosen name will appear on the entrance of the garden, in all future publications, a dedication in our "Polycultures" book expected to come out in 2020  + all of the above.

What the funding will be used for 

 Here is a breakdown on what we will use the funding for.   

Why is this project necessary?

  • A ton of great work has been achieved by the pioneers of permaculture and regenerative design  but in order to achieve wider spread adoption we need to overcome  a fair criticism leveled at the movement, that being the lack of supportive evidence and of working models.   
  • Research and experiments for industrial farming are well funded by the companies that produce machinery, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. They tend to look for data they find useful to sell their products and grow their business. It seems we can't rely on governments or institutions to provide unbiased research or ask questions that relate to localizing food production or beautifying our landscapes  as they depend on the money from these companies to prop them up. But we can undertake this research ourselves. 
  • Our experiments and study will provide clarity and help advance the widespread legitimacy of our community and practices.  
  • We are but one of many organisms that share this planet and our goal is to develop and promote practices that provide nutritious affordable food for us while providing habitat for a wide diversity of other organisms to flourish, something our current food systems are falling very short of.  

Our Trials and Experiments - click on the images below

Please donate what you can and help us build a research center dedicated to permaculture and regenerative practices.  


Sunday, 12 November 2017

The Polyculture Market Garden Study - Results from Year 3 - 2017

This is the third year of our Market Garden Polyculture Study.  Our trials include a comparison between growing vegetables in polycultures and growing them in more traditional blocks as well as our experimentation with annual vegetable polycultures.

Below you will find an overview of the trial garden and the polycultures we are growing, a description of what we record and the results.

Some photos from this season -and here's a slideshow from the season

First of all we'd like to say a huge thank you to the team of volunteers that joined us for the study this year and that make it possible for us to carry out our experiments and research. It was a pleasure to work together with you :)

Thank you Fergus Webster, Gabriele Landi, Chris Mallorie, Abigail and Ed, Ute Villavicencio, Charlie Morton, Chris Kirby-LambertSimon, Kartini, Karl and Marlene, David PavlasevicKathy Donor, William Kunkle, Ben Matz and Rosa Van Giessen. You guys are awesome!

Polyculture Study Team 2017

Garden Overview 

Climate: Continental Temperate
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 565 m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
Co-ordinates: 42.71259, 25.32575

The six longer beds in the left hand corner of the photo on the right are the trial beds (the Aceaes) and the focus of the study.

Click here for the Polyculture Market Garden location (labelled as Paulownia Garden on our Project map)

Garden area: 256.8 m2
Cultivated beds area: 165.6 m2
Paths: 50 cm wide - 91.2 m2
Six beds: Dimensions - 23 m x 1.2 m  Area - 27.6 m2 per bed

Study Area Path and Bed Layout

The beds are named after common vegetable families in order to familiarize participants with the use of Latin and introduce them to some major plants families. They do not correspond to what was planted in the beds.

The Polycultures 

We are experimenting with many polycultures and have developed a categorization system for ease of reference.  They are categorized by life cycle i.e annualperennial or combi  (annuals and perennials) and further categorized by function. i.e supportinfrastructure or production. Often a polyculture will provide multiple functions, but the primary function is what sets them to each category.  I give all the polycultures nicknames. For example, all polycultures in the annual and production category are named after Stoic Philosophers. 

The study is based on polycultures Zeno and Epictetus - both are annual and production polycultures. As we are looking to see how polycultures compare to conventional growing we include a control for the Zeno polyculture  i.e, the same crops from Zeno but planted in a more conventional block pattern.  In the below illustration you can see the planting plan of the trial beds.

Polyculture Zeno

We've been growing Zeno in the garden for around 9 years now. It's been very successful in our home gardens and in 2015 we scaled it up for the market garden. You can see the last 2 year's market garden results here and three years of records from the home garden here.

Photos from Zeno Polyculture
For more info on plant spacing, management and maintenance of this polyculture see our previous post here.

Zeno Plant List  - The following plants and cultivars were used in this polyculture;

Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Paulina'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Ukranian Purple'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Marglobe'
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Rozava Magia'
French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Cobra'
French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris - Local
Courgette - Cucurbita pepo 'Black Beauty'
White Bush Scallop - Cucurbita pepo
Broccoli - Brassica oleracea - 'Romanesco Ottobrino'
Broccoli - Brassica oleracea - 'Calabrese'
Butternut Squash - Cucurbita pepo 'Waltham Butternut'
Pot Marigold - Calendula officinalis 

We usually grow our own tomatoes from seed and have around 10 cultivars but this year we lost all of our seedlings during a cold and windy spell so we bought them from the local market. Our Basil seedlings were also lost in the cold spell so we replaced the Basil with Broccoli. We did not record broccoli harvests in the records for Zeno or the Control.

Zeno Planting Scheme  

Zeno - Vegetable and herb polyculture/guild 6.5 m section of  planting scheme 

Zeno Control 

The control includes all of the above plants but planted in blocks along the bed (see below). We want to see how the two planting schemes compare, i.e. whether the polyculture will produce more and the difference in the amount of time needed to cultivate them. The fertility inputs for both beds are the same.

Polyculture Epictetus 

This is the third year we have tried this polyculture. It's basically a strip pattern of various vegetables from different plant families arranged to reduce pests and diseases, optimize space and nutrient share whilst respecting the individual plants needs for space and light. 

Epictetus Polyculture

Epictetus Plant List  - The following plants and cultivars were used in this polyculture;

Beetroot - Beta vulgaris ' Bolthardy'
Dwarf Bean - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Rocquencourt'
Kale -  Brassica napus 'Scarlett'
Parsnip - Pastinaca sativa ' White Gem'
Turnip - Brassica rapa subsp. rapa 'Milan White'
Swede - Brassica napus subsp. rapifera 'Marian'
Broccoli - Brassica oleracea - 'Calabrese'
Kohlrabi - Brassica oleracea 'Purple Vienna'
Pot Marigold - Calendula officinalis 

Epictetus Planting Scheme

Example of Epictetus - Vegetable polyculture/guild - 6 m section of  planting scheme

The table below shows the floral species composition of each of the beds including the different cultivars and the dates that the plants were sown or planted.

We have not included a list of native wild plants that are encouraged to grow around the perimeter of each bed that we mow and apply as mulch to the beds during the growing season.

What we Record - Inputs 

Time Input - We record how long it takes to develop, maintain and manage the garden. The time is recorded for each task starting from sowing the seeds, preparing the beds, planting and caring for the plants, harvesting, preparing for market and packing away. The time taken for each task is rounded up or down to nearest minute. Nearly all of the records are based on 2 people carrying out each task unless otherwise stated in the record sheet.   

Fertility Inputs  -  All fertility additives are recorded including; seed sowing mediums, composts, mulch, liquid fertilizers (comfert) and ash.

Gabriele and Marlene adding compost to beds 

Financial Inputs - Costs  - The costs associated with the garden are recorded.  We do not cost the time spent on the garden but do provide the precise time the activities take. Set up and tool costs were included in the first year records. This year we only recorded operating costs. 

N.B. We eliminate many costs by growing our own plants from seed, making composts and sowing mediums, growing summer and autumn mulch and saving seeds. We also provide our own support materials for the crops.

Beans germinated in flats 

What we Record - Outputs 

Crop Yields - All produce is weighed directly after harvest. The produce is recorded into two categories, fit for market and fit for processing.

Polycultures Yields

Financial output - Profit -  The market value of the produce is estimated based on the average prices we were receiving from local buyers, veggie boxes and Trustika buyers club in Sofia.

N.B. We do not sell all of the produce from the garden. Some of the produce is consumed by the team or preserved.

What we Record - Surveys 

Soil Analysis - Each spring and autumn we obtain a soil sample and send it to NAAS of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. To take a sample we take approx. a hand trowel full of the top 20 cm of soil from 8 random areas from the beds, mix it together and send 400g "bagged and tagged" to the lab the same day.

Physical Analysis -  Each spring the team carry out a series of 9 tests that are designed to provide an indication of soil health based on observable physical properties of the soil. It's a soil management tool developed by farmers for farmers to track the developing health of soils. You can download the form with instructions how to carry out the tests here.  We have slightly modified the test for our purposes.

Regenerative Landscape Design Course participants working through the soil health test cards

Invertebrate Survey - This year we were joined by Entomologist Chris Kirby-Lambert who undertook three surveys in the gardens. You can find his Outline of Invertebrate Diversity Monitoring Project here and we're hoping to see the results during the winter once the invertebrates have been identified and recorded.  You can find photos from Chris's May Survey here

A sample of invertebrates from the gardens- Photos by Chris Kirby-Lambert   


We'll start off by looking at the results from the soil analysis and soil health tests, then look at the results for each polyculture and finally finish up with the overall garden results.

Soil Results - Mineral Analysis 

Each spring and autumn we take soil samples and send them to NAAS of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The March sample is taken before we add any fertility and the November sample is taken after all of the crops have stopped producing.

The first sample taken in March 2015 in the table below is the base sample taken before work in the garden began.

March (before adding compost)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
November (after final harvest)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
Nitrogen mg/kgPhosphorous - Potassium mg/100g
March (before adding compost)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
November (after final harvest)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
Nitrogen mg/kgPhosphorous - Potassium mg/100g
March (before adding compost)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
November (after final harvest)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20

Soil Results - Soil Health Card 

This year's soil health card test scored 65.6 - an increase from last year's base test of 58.9. The highest score obtainable for this test is 88.

You can find the full results from 2015 - 2017  in the spreadsheet 2017 Annual Polyculture Market Garden Study - Published Records - Sheet 6.Soil Test Cards

Should you wish to use this soil card you can download the Soil Health Card forms with instructions on how to carry out the tests here

Inputs and Outputs - Epictetus 

The total amount of time spent on Epictetus was 28 hrs. The time inputs are recorded into different categories as seen below.

Task Time in mins
Planting /Sowing 458
Garden Care 481
Irrigation 330
Harvesting 170
Propagation 170
Total hrs 28 hrs

The fertility inputs on Epictetus were as follows:

Fertility InputsTotal Quantity
Mulch - Lawn Mower Clipping 540 L
Mulch - Spot Mulching 1 Bale
Wood Ash 6.720kg
Seedling mix for Beans14 L
Compost planting out Kale30 L
Compost for sowing beetroot strips 100 L
Seedling mix for Sowing Parsnips, Turnips, Swedes and Beetroots 75 L
Compost for Propagation90L
Seedling Mix for Propagation87 L
Compost added to beds 460 L

The yield outputs for Epictetus totaled  55.685 kg of produce. This translates to approx  1 kg per m2.   

Crop Weight in g
Dwarf Beans (Fresh) 3095
Broccoli 2240
Kale 2820
Chard 1675
Beetroot 14545
Parsnip 14390
Kohlrabi 6460
Milan White Turnip 3630
Swede 6830
Total 55.685 kg 

N.B At the time of publishing this post (11/11/17) there was still produce in the beds namely parsnips, swedes and kale, the yields of which have been estimated for these records.

Inputs and Outputs - Zeno 

The amount of time spent on Zeno was 37 hrs and 5 mins. 

Task Time in mins
Set up202
Planting /Sowing 296
Garden Care 508
Irrigation 330
Harvesting 646
Propagation 245
Total hrs 37 hrs 5 mins 

The fertility inputs on Zeno were as follows:

Fertility Inputs
Total Quantity
Strawbales 31
Compost for
Tomatoes (L)
17.6 L
Seedling Mix
for Squash (L)
10.4 L
Seedling mix for Beans (L)13.2 L
Wood Ash kg6.72 kg
Mulch - Lawn Mower Clipping (L)540 L

The yield outputs for Zeno totaled 154.429 kg of produce - 2.80 kg per m2.

Crop Weight in g
Tomatoes 63320
Tomatoes - (Processing)12835
Beans 26465
Bush Scallops30950
Winter Squash1540
Total 154.429 kg 

Inputs and Outputs - Zeno Control

The amount of time spent on Zeno Control was 37 hrs and 30 mins.

Zeno Control
Task Time in mins
Set up168
Planting /Sowing 454
Garden Care 647
Irrigation 330
Harvesting 408
Propagation 245
Total hrs 37 hrs 30 mins 

The fertility inputs on Zeno control were as follows:

Fertility Inputs
Total Quantity
Strawbales 31
Compost for
Tomatoes (L)
17.6 L
Seedling Mix
for Squash (L)
10.4 L
Seedling mix for Beans (L)13.2 L
Wood Ash kg6.72 kg
Mulch - Lawn Mower Clipping (L)540 L

The yield outputs for Zeno totaled 140.670 kg of produce - 2.55 kg per m2.

Crop Weight in g
Tomatoes 62320
Tomatoes - (Processing)13660
Beans 15295
Bush Scallops12485
Winter Squash2345
Total 140.670 kg 

Some time categories were difficult to assign to each polyculture so I clumped them together into a general task category. It's mainly the time preparing the produce for market as well as soil analysis, initial propagation tasks and end of season tidying up and packing away of the garden.

General Tasks
Task Time in mins
Analysis 20
Set up180
Market Prep2400
Mowing 360
Total hrs 49 hrs 45 mins 

Zeno Polyculture vs the Control 

So this year the polyculture marginally outperformed the control both in yield and in the time inputs.  It's only the 2nd time we have tried this comparative study so it's too early to draw conclusions.

This year's results 

Zeno Control
Total time 37 hrs 5 mins 37 hrs 30 mins
Total Produce 154.429 kg 140.670 kg 

Last year's results 

Total time38 hrs37 hrs
Total Produce130.08 kg 112.57 kg

You can find the above results in the spreadsheet 2017 Annual Polyculture Market Garden Study - Published Records - Sheet 9. Inputs and Outputs per Trial. For date stamped harvest records for Zeno see here and for Epictetus see here.

Inputs and Outputs -  All Beds 

The amount of time spent on all beds was 152 hrs.

Tasks MinutesHours
Analysis 200.3333333333
Set up5509.166666667
Market Prep240040
Mowing 3606
Planting /Sowing 120820.13333333
Garden Care 163627.26666667
Irrigation 99016.5
Harvesting 122420.4
Propagation 66011
Total time input 152 hours 

 % of 152 hours spent on various activities in the market garden.

The fertility inputs for all beds were as follows:

Fertility Inputs
Total inputs for garden
Strawbales 63 bales
Compost 1205 L
Wood Ash 20 kg
Sieved Compost
/River Sand 50 /50
224 L
Lawn Clippings 1620 L

The yield outputs for all beds totaled 350.78 kg of produce or 3.78 kg per m2. 

Produce all beds
Product Weight in gAverage weight in
g per m2
Dwarf Beans (Fresh) 309556.06884058
Broccoli 224040.57971014
Kale 282051.08695652
Chard 167530.3442029
Beetroot 14545263.4963768
Parsnip 14390260.6884058
Kohlrabi 646058.51449275
Milan White Turnip 363032.88043478
Swede 683061.86594203
Tomatoes 1256401138.043478
Tomatoes - (Processing)26495239.990942
Beans 41760378.2608696
Bush Scallops43435393.432971
Winter Squash388535.19021739
Total kg350.784 kg 

Some shots of the market garden

Results in Summary 

The garden produced just under 351 kg of produce from a cultivated area of 165.6 m2.

The time spent on the garden was 152 hrs from sowing the first seeds indoors in February to packing up in late October.

The fertility inputs of the garden were 63 Straw bales, 1205 L of compost. 20 kg of wood ash, 224 L of sowing medium, 1620 L of lawn clippings.

Comments on Results 

Time Input  
  • Not included in the records were other tasks carried out around the site such as making compost, harvesting stakes and support sticks, establishing beneficial habitat such as wildlife ponds, hedgerows/stick piles. 
  • The time for preparing the produce for market i.e quality control, packaging and delivery, was estimated at 2 hrs per week. 
Financial Inputs - Costs 
  • Not included here are the set up costs for the garden. These costs were included in last years results. The costs recorded here are the annual operating costs. 
Financial Output - Income 
  • A polyculture market garden should have a polyculture of revenue. Our study currently focuses on annual vegetable production. We chose to begin our study of annual vegetables as it is the most accessible practice to most people requiring the least amount of investment making it ideal for a novice or curious grower. Other potential revenue from the Polyculture Market Garden includes perennial crops (see here for a perennial polyculuture study we are starting),  plant nursery, adding value to produce and courses and training. We plan to add a record of these activities in the future to represent better the financial potential of a Polyculture Market Garden.   
Design of our perennial polyculture garden, 

Estimated Harvests

At the time of writing this report there are still crops growing in Epictetus. I estimated the harvest weights of the remaining crops based on what we had already harvested.

One of the Epictetus beds at the time of writing - Swedes and Parsnips are yet to be harvested and can remain in the beds until the new year. The kale we grow as cut and come again and there will be little to no growth until the temperatures drops to levels that will kill the plants, in warmer climes they will grow throughout the winter.     

Crop failure :- 

  • Our basil seedlings failed this year as did our tomato seedlings. In Zeno instead of basil we used broccoli although we did not include the broccoli in the harvest records.
  • The tomato plants we bought from the market and the cultivars were mixed up so we could not sow equal number of cultivars in each bed    
  • A cold and wet April and May last year meant that many squash and beans did not germinate. This resulted in less production from beans and squash than would be expected. This year we grew these plants in starter trays under cover. Germination rates were not ideal and we were short of beans. 

N.B. The majority of the tasks were carried out by a volunteer team that had little or no prior experience in horticulture. An experienced grower or with repeated experience of these cultivation methods should be able to reduce the task times significantly.

You can access the full spreadsheet here that includes all of the data entries and task descriptions. (note there are multiple sheets that can be accessed from the blue tabs running along the top of the sheet).

Why are we doing this research? 

If you are reading this you're most probably aware of the environmental damage caused by industrial agricultural practices. We believe this damage is unnecessary, and aim to provide healthier models of agriculture that yield nutritious affordable food while at the same time promoting biodiversity and general ecosystem health.

Polyculture gardens providing food for humans and other organisms  

Industrial methods are heavily researched and funded, and there is a general belief among many farmers and growers that this is the only practical way of operating. Following 12 years of cultivating polyculture gardens we are seeing that small scale biologically cultivated polyculture gardens are a realistic and practical way of providing food for humans whilst preserving biodiversity and general health in the environment. Furthermore, we believe this type of agriculture can help create thriving local economies that strengthen community, provide dignified work and enhance the amenity value of an area.

Little data exists showing the productive capacity of polyculture systems and the economic viability of them. There is a big need to fill this gap and provide solid data and concise coherent models that can be replicated easily and provide real solutions to the environmental damage caused by industrial agriculture. This project intends to go some of the way in filling this gap. 

We aim to address the following questions;
  • How productive can polycultures be?
  • What advantages can polycultures provide ? 
  • How much time do polyculture gardens take to establish and manage?
  • How economically viable are these gardens?
  • How bio-diverse can our food producing systems be?
  • Can we provide clean, nutritious, affordable food whilst enhancing biodiversity?

Want to get involved? Sharing, Feedback and Collaboration

We have our record keeping spreadsheets on Google Drive. These spreadsheets (see here) include all of the data entries and task descriptions (note there are multiple sheets that can be accessed from the blue tabs running along the top of the sheet). If you would like to keep your own records we'd be happy to give you a copy of the spreadsheet, just drop us an email or leave a comment below with your contact details and we will send it over to you.

If you have any suggestions and feedback on how you think we could improve the study or you have heard about or practice similar studies on other guild/polycultures we'd love to hear from you.

If you'd like to join next years study registration is open now 

If you have enjoyed this post and appreciate the work that we are doing please consider donating to our Polyculture Project and help us expand and excel our research into permaculture and regenerative practices. 

Keeping in touch

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For more info and links to research check out the PIRN ( Permaculture International Research Network ) and the Permaculture Research Digest.