Increasing diversity in production systems
The second key Regenerative Agriculture Principle that we delve into with our farmers’ regenerative farm plans is Biodiversity. One of the farm or production based principles under that heading is Increasing diversity in production systems. Growing multiple species together in cropping and pasture systems have been shown to be more effective than monocultures in drawing carbon down into the soil, increasing the number and species diversity of soil biology, improving soil structure, and of course providing improved forage quality for grazing livestock.
Growing multiple different species in your veggie patch will do the same things - plus you can select plants that provide particular beneficial characteristics for your veggie crop, such as providing pollinator and beneficial insect habitat, fixing nitrogen, providing a groundcover to outcompete weeds, and providing crops with multiple plants to harvest in the same bed. So what does this look like when applied to your veggie patch at home?
Above are before and current photos of my current brassica crop. Back on the 15th of April I renovated my veggie bed that was growing corn last season, and planted my brassica crop in there - purple sicilian cauliflower, sprouting broccoli, early cauliflower and a sneaky purple brussels sprout that my partner is yet to discover I have planted.. I chose some companion plants to go with the brassicas specifically for some of the benefits they will bring by growing alongside them.
Firstly I chose cereal rye, after an interesting observation when I was down visiting Col Bowey at Green Range last spring. Col had planted a mix of forage brassica, cereal rye, vetch, serradella and ryegrass. They had run out of cereal rye on the last couple of passes, so there was an area that didn’t have the rye coverage. It was in November and there were lots of diamond back moths around, and in the areas without the rye there was a lot of moth damage, whereas the rest of the paddock was still fairly untouched. This could have been because the cereal rye was providing habitat for beneficial insects that eat the moth larvae, or because the plants were less stressed because the rye was providing more cover for the other plants.
Another plant I chose was vetch, which I grew last year under my garlic. It ended up being too prolific for the garlic crop, as it twined up over it and I had to give it several harsh haircuts to keep the garlic happy! Vetch is a nitrogen fixing legume that makes nitrogen available in the soil for other plants, grows vine-like along the ground and outcompetes weeds, and has beautiful purple flowers that my bees absolutely love.
I also chose to plant blue cornflowers, which lots of beneficial insects are attracted to, as well as for my bees, and as a cut flower and a dried flower for decorating cakes and sneaking into my sourdough bread mixes.
Above are before and current photos of the cereal rye. I actually think I may have planted this too thickly - it is so vigorous that it’s already above the height of the broccoli! Next time I’m going to try scattering one or 2 seeds every 30cm or so, rather than block planting in the middle of the row. Remember that the best way to improve your own regenerative practices is to run your own trials!
Here you can see that the vetch is establishing well under the broccoli, and will soon be covering the ground before it starts to wind it’s way up the plant. I’ll keep an eye on it and give it a trim if need be, otherwise I’ll just wait and see how this mix goes together!