Midwest Permaculture

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Hi Friends... One of our students sent a quick email to me and Bryce and asked the question:
"One of the principles for soil fertility was to avoid bare soil. How are direct seeded vegetables like carrots, peas, etc. handled in that type of situation."

Not being one to give a quick answer, Bryce wrote the following which I thought many of you would enjoy reading and even gain some fresh insights. 

Here you go... From Bryce (coauthor of 'Integrated Forest Gardening':

Ruth Stout liked the straw bale method primarily so she would not need to keep bending over to work the garden. This methodology can also work to reduce weeds but has the drawback of tying up N in the top layers of soil until the straw has rotted down. Root crops or other direct seeded species are planted by pulling back any mulch , planting, and remulching at the appropriate time as plants grow, but be careful of crown rot after heavy rains.

In the biointensive garden method popularized by John Jeavons, the bed is planted in a grid like way using every square inch of available space so that  plants cover the soil growing so they they are touching one another. Fast maturing crops  are planted between slower ones, a sort of companion planting  on a grand  scale. I did that for years and it works but the intensive double digging is definitely not Permaculture design.Hand weeding is a weekly thing here as there is a lot of chickweed. With the absence of chickens (due to municipal statutes) there is only so much of it that we can eat. Weeds are either chop and drop as a mulch or get composted. Pathways between the beds are primarily grass with some arugula and clover mixed in. Clover has the added benefit of providing a detour food for rabbits who will eat the clover before anything else.
. Following are a few of the ideas that work well for us. 
After redesigning our garden beds here we have moved on to using a combination  style with perennials, biennials, and annuals so as to minimize tillage. Any tillage now is done with only the edge of a hoe and only to dig up stubborn roots of kales or to transplant. Some loosening of the soil in small spots is needed to plant lettuce or radish seeds. 5 foot wide raised beds on contour with earthen side walls not wood. Some of the combinations  are grape arbor with bread seed poppies (annual but self sows year to year), potato onions, perennial leeks, clary sage, winter savory herb, and various biennials such as kale tucked in here and there.  The side walls are held together with Herniaria herb, rupturewort, a perennial mat growing herb that has proved to be great in preventing soil erosion for us year round. We had tried white Dutch clover but because of its vigor in spreading it was too precocious for in the guild.

 Other raised beds here include one with haskap shrubs with gladioli, saffron crocus, and hot peppers, and a border of potato onions and perennial leeks. Some clary sage is in their also as is a groundcover of lingonberry. Another raised bed has Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry) with understory of strawberries, Baikal skullcap, Tuscan kales and short vines of Codonopsis (poor man's ginseng) on short bamboo poles. N is provided with spot plantings of flowering sweet peas. Along the edges of the beds is a fence with plantings of black currants with catnip and perennial peas (edible root). A smaller bed includes two tomatoes, one hardy orange tree, a French tarragon, parsley root, and base of self sowing hardy sylvetta arugulas.

The last of the vegetable garden beds is a salad garden with thyme, chives, self sowing parsley, mustards, bread seed poppies, Nigella, along with spot plantings of lettuce, turnips, and radishes.
 We do however have 1800 sq feet of community garden that is used for row crops where we grow grapes with rhubarb ground cover, asparagus, and all the usual annual crops such as tomatoes, 3 sisters guilds, peppers, garlic, and root crops. All are in mulched wide raised beds on contour so as to minimize runoff.

We have elderberries and currants at the north end of the garden with a mushroom shade house. Beneath all of that are a bed of shredded leaves, wood chips, and bark which are home to mushrooms, It is possible also to do a straw mulch with wine cap mushrooms as the mulch for many garden veggies and its detailed in Paul Stamet's book Mycelium Running.

In the forest garden we use bark mulches and strawberries as the ground covers. Numerous fungi enter on their own to break down the wood  making soil in the process.

I know that this is a longer post than simply giving a short terse response to your question but it seemed that perhaps the topic could be enlarged on so as to go beyond biennial roots and annual legumes only. The weather is warming by you and you are probably getting ready  to put some of those peas and carrots in the ground soon. I hope that this post helps out with questions asked and even some not yet thought of. 

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