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Permaculture, Intercropping, Agroforestry, and Agroecology. Page 3

Below is the description of an experimental garden/orchard based upon the concepts from permaculture, intercropping, agroforestry, and agroecology in the central coast ranges of California.

The experiment was started in late 2008. The area was an old apple orchard in the early part of the 20th century, until the Great Depression of the 1930's, when all the apples were removed. In the 1960's, the land was then planted to sudan grass, (Sorghum bicolor) pasture, and fallow. The land is sloping to the south, 40% grade, at around 1500 ft. elevation, with somewhat eroded clay loam soil. Indigenous vegetation nearby is from the chaparral, central oak woodland, and coastal sage scrub plant communities. Two terraces were created on the slope to reduce erosion, and the area was separated into several planting zones: vegetable gardens, orchard, cover crop alley and wildland, which will mimic the habitat zones just described earlier on permaculture page 2. Concerning pesticides, new research seems to verify that using broad-spectrum insecticides skews the natural balance of predator and pest species, and so increases pest problems. So, no insecticides will be utilized in this experimental plot.

When choosing plant species to place in the permaculture garden/orchard, invasive plants of the world were checked first, (global invasive species database at For the orchard, many species of nitrogen-fixing plants were considered, and many were rejected as too thorny, or terribly invasive. In California an indigenous apple (Malus fusca) occurs, and its nitrogen-fixing companion is alder (Alnus tenuifolia ssp. tenuifolia), so that species will be tried first. If that choice does not work, perennial lupine (Lupinus albifrons) and lotus (Lotus scoparius) may be chosen as the nitrogen-fixing companions of apple, with the additional nitrogen added by indigenous annuals clover (Trifolium spp.) and trefoil (Lotus spp.).

Other companion /intercropping plant choices for the orchard area were dictated by lack of thorniness, edibility, and the fact that the chosen genera (Pyrus, Prunus, Vitis, Humulus) were natural companions of the domestic apple's major original wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, and some of the natural companions of the European wild apple, Malus sylvestris. Herbaceous understory will be added later, including strawberry (Fragaria species), another companion of the wild apples.

Choices for companion plants for the garden area were made, using concepts from agroecology, intercropping, and agroforestry, which many times followed traditional farming practices. Some examples were kale, swiss chard, onions, carrots, and parsley for the lower alluvial garden area and corn, beans, squash, summer savory, and purslane for the upper alluvial garden area.

Below a dirt driveway, near the top of the slope, and above the small upper orchard terrace, an upland planting of indigenous plants, including toyon(Heteromeles arbutifolia), coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), coyote bush (Baccharis consanguinea), scrub oak (Quercus berberidifolia), California lilac (Ceanothus species/cultivars), mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus alnifolius), and manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens), was planted, to start. This is a mixture of long-lived plants, in association with shorter-lived, plants and pioneer, and nitrogen-fixing species. When setting out a drought-tolerant wildland planting, mixing pioneer species with the long-lived species, to act as nurse plants seems to help the planting to become established with the least loss of plant material. Also, correct mulch on top of the ground cools the soil, conserves moisture,and provides organic material from which the mycorrhizae extract nutrients. This area should add stability to the site, add nitrogen for the fruit trees, and provide cover, food and nesting sites for beneficial organisms.

Grains and beans in the garden. - grid24_12
Beans and grains in a straw mulched garden.

Below the semi-wildland planting , one small terrace was created on the upper portion of the fairly steep slope, to plant an apple orchard row (Riverbank Area). This upper small terrace was used for an interplanted row of apple (Malus x domestica and Malus sieversii), plum (Prunus domestica), pear (Pyrus communis ssp. communis) trees, grape (rootstock Vitis girdiana/topstock, Vitis vinifera"Cabernet Sauvignon"), and olallieberry (Rubus hybrid), utilizing principles from permaculture, agroforestry, intercropping, and agroecology, to start. Research has shown that a minimum of 5 species constitute a plant community. For example, plants grown separately, each in their own one gallon pot, will use more water and nutrients than they would all growing together in a 5 gallon pot, because they share nutrients and water. This is a wonderful example of cooperation, not competition.

Between the orchard rows, is the cover crop/meadow area (This is actually a wildland area that is being tweaked, to benefit the agricultural component of the whole garden, and so kept in mostly indigenous annuals, to increase pollinators, and nutrients for the orchard area), which is now, a weedy field consisting of mostly filaree, (Erodium botrys almost exclusively, with occasional Erodium cicutarium), some weedy brome, (Bromus madritensis ssp. rubens), Yellow star thistle Centaurea solstitialis, and trace amounts of wildflowers. Diversity will be increased by weeding out the alien species, reintroducing indigenous annuals, and allowing the companion, annual wildflowers to spread, such as species of Lotus, Trifolium, needlegrass (Nassella spp.)(perennial), Farewell-to-Spring (Clarkia spp.), Lupinus, tarweed (Hemizonia spp.), Lagophylla, goldenaster (Heterotheca, spp.) California carrot (Daucus pusillus), California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Chia (Salvia columbariae) etc., using mostly principles from agroecology .

Also, throughout the slope, dotted here and there, is another useful legume, deerweed (Lotus scoparius), a short-lived subshrub, which will be left to grow, and pruned periodically to add more nitrogen to the soil.

The purpose here is to keep this area in mostly annual cover crop, so weeds must be pulled mostly in the winter and spring, recruitment plants such as chaparral/oak woodland/coastal sage scrub shrubs and trees should be pulled. The area will not be tilled. No soil tilling will be done, for a while, to observe how the annual and perennial herbaceous plant composition changes over time, only hand-weeding and/or some high mowing.

The second lower apple orchard row (Riverbank/Bridge Area) was interplanted with apple, pear, alder, hops, and olallieberry, with occasional plum, (again, the native companions of the apple in its wild/semi-wild state) and located just above the vegetable garden. The purpose of the orchard areas are for food, and nesting sites for birds,

One large terrace, created 2/3 of the way down the slope, will be used for the main vegetable garden. The ideal would be to have the vegetable garden at the lowest point, but the area is used as a driveway, so the driveway will be the lowest point. Here plant choices were made utilizing concepts from ecology, intercropping, and agroecology.

Lower Alluvial Area of the vegetable garden- A swale will be created through the center of the vegetable garden, and this lower area will be delineated as the lower alluvial area, to grow kale crops (Brassicaceae family of plants), and carrots, parsley, etc.

Upper Alluvial Area of the vegetable garden-On either side of the low swale area, this upper alluvial area, still in the vegetable garden area, will be planted with intercropping plant groups such as corn, beans, squash or beans and potatoes, or faba beans (Vicia faba), and barley (Hordeum vulgare), or lentils (Lens culinaris) and wheat (Triticum aestivum), or garbanzo beans (Cicer arietinum) and wheat, or peas and oats (Avena sativa). Certain garden flowers, will be interspersed later. This area should provide food for people and beneficial pollinators, parasites, and predators.

The third row of apples (Riverbank/Bridge Area again) will be on the slope below the vegetable garden and will be apple, interplanted with pear, alder, occasional plum, and garlic (Allium sativum) and lettuce (Lactuca sativa), as herbaceous companions, to start. This area is very, very cold, locally called the "tundra". May try hops here, as this species should tolerate much more cold than any Vitis species. The wide range of temperatures between daytime and nighttime here is what may kill it.

Riparian- This is an existing seasonal creek, supporting willows and some riparian vegetation, of rushes, and sedges, which is located downhill, and south of the driveway below the vegetable garden. Purpose: Absorb water, and detoxify pollutants, provide food for pollinators,, parasites, predators, and prevent erosion

Concerning animals in this permaculture/intercropped/agroforestry garden: For this experiment we are using only indigenous animals, such as lizards, quail (California chickens), snakes, and garden is fenced to exclude deer.

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Carrot in garden. - grid24_12
A wild carrot growing in the lower alluvial area of the garden