In the dim dark Ag. Science past, I researched intercropping – growing cereal crops (annuals) into stands of lucerne (a perennial) in the mixed farming areas of central Victoria. The theory was that farmers could benefit from a cash crop (grain or hay) whilst also retaining/establishing/improving their lucerne pastures. Potentially doubling their return in a season, since animals could be grazed as well as the cereal harvested. The key was working with plants that had differing root patterns, nutrient needs, growth habits and timing.
I was reminded of that work when examining our garlic crop today.
Q: Where’s the garlic?
A: Under the mulch!
Our barley mulch has sprouted and outgrown the garlic. Luckily it’s grown mostly in the mulch layer and the roots haven’t penetrated the soil, so it hasn’t really been competing with the garlic – except for light! – and the wet season has meant enough moisture for eveyone. Normally garlic doesn’t do at all well with competition. Plus, luckily, a few feeds of fish emulsion during the winter. Another benefit (?) is that the cockatoos haven’t found the garlic to chew and destroy, so netting not needed this year.
It looks like a good barley crop! Had me thinking that perhaps we should pull it up before it sets seed and keep it to use as mulch at the garden. A potential double crop! Hopefully we will get a decent yield from the garlic as well, because that was the main aim of the exercise. Small spots where I did get in and weed a bit, shows large the benefit of weeding your sprouting mulch!
The other bed which was sown to oats, lentils and broadies (or faba beans when you see them growing en mass on a broadacre scale) has grown really well, all except the lentils, despite a (non-mulch) weed burden. The oats and beans are taller than me. I’m thinking rolled oats, porridge, anzacs!
Looking at the garlic today I was also reminded that it was that dim dark ag science past, especially the lucerne intercropping trials, that steered me towards organics and then biodynamics. Those trials (replicated plots and at several sites – locations chosen in part on the quality of the nearest bakery) involved covering individual lucerne plants with literally thousands of chinese takeaway containers (easy to get in Bendigo in the early 90s) and then spraying the plots with chemical to ensure that there was a certain number of lucerne plants in each. Seemed a good idea at the time … I’d never have thought of garlic intercropping though.
Posting the November Notes now, since the Festival of Gardens is imminent. Get into the garden early this month and don’t forget the mozzie repellant (citronella, palmwood, lemon balm, lavender are some good herbs/oils – Penny Woodward will have more in her pest repellent plant book and on-line). You can also try this recipe. See you in the, swot, whack, garden.