Thursday, 25 August 2011

Polyculture garlic.

Poking through the Vetch and Heartsease is this years garlic.
This is a secondary post on our garlic crop and how we bring it to harvest.
I hope to explain in this post about the polyculture in a mono looking crop. In the first instance the young garlic sprouts from where it is planted all by itself. This makes it look for all the world like a monoculture but this is done to give the young sprouts a chance to shine in the early days.
Vetch is sown with the crop and emerges at the end of winter. By early spring the vetch is a danger to the garlic because it shades the young plants (as in the photo above and below).
The vetch is removed by hand by breaking off the plant above ground level. The part of the plant pulled off can be used in compost or as a mulch either on the garlic bed or other beds. We feed some to the chickens and cows to supplement their diets.
The cleaned beds allow the spring warmth to grow the garlic as the Sun penetrates to the plants. The guinea pigs also continue clearing the paths of grass and weeds.
Most importantly the roots of the vetch, complete with their nitrogen nodules remain in the soil to nourish the garlic as growth speeds into the Summer.
The pink specks shown on the roots of this vetch plant are the nodules formed by this legume  as a nitrogen store and the loss of the top will release the roots and nitrogen into the soil and feed the garlic.

Garlic does not get many mentions in compatibility on the companion planting guides, but the vetch seems to grow well with it and provides important nourishment as the garlic grows.
The vetch will be back and will produce more nitrogen nodules as Summer blazes but the vetch will serve to shade the garlic and protect the soil till harvest when the tops and the roots will serve to replenish the soil for the next crop.
The situation arises where soil fertility has the opportunity to be greater after the harvest than before the crop is planted - sustainability (the real type)