Musings on Polyculture — Part 2

Anyway, here are the musings. For some reason the book The Elephant and the Flea by Charles Hardy came to mind. Hardy talks about the decline in conventional full-time jobs and the  shift to what he calls “portfolio work”, a collection of different bits and pieces of self-employed, part-time, temp paid work and volunteer work.  Hardy says:

“Already, by 1996, in Britain 67 percent o f British businesses had only one employee, the owner and in 1994 so-called micro-enterprises employing less than five people made up 89 percent of all businesses.”

Hardy suggests that we are moving from an economy dominated by large corporations (elephants) to one where portfolio work predominates (fleas). Though Hardy doesn’t say this, the elephants aspire to  a global scope of activities while the fleas tend to focus more locally.

I’ve certainly moved for working for an elephant for the life of a flea. Right now my portfolio of activities include:

  • paid work as non-profit consultant
  • contract work for a specific non-profit
  • volunteer work for a program that one day may turn into a paid position
  • unpaid work on this blog
  • networking
  • creating a permaculture homestead

All of these positions revolve around the interest areas of sustainability and permaculture.

When I worked for the corporation I did one thing, paid work for the corporation.

What’s my point?

  • Elephants are dependent on both peak oil and global capital to survive. They are more likely to collapse should these “petroleum-based fertilizers” no longer be available. They are more susceptible to such diseases as credit default swaps and stock price drops due to global currency fluctuations.   We see that today. As the stock market crashes or Italy (or Greece or whoever) defaults on their debt, the elephants fall.  Main street is only affected to the extent that they have bought into a parasitic reliance on the elephant or the resource systems supporting the elephant. (Rapidly rising oil prices affect us only to the extent that we haven’t invested in renewable energy sources.)
  • Portfolio life requires a different view of networking.  In the corporation, you as the individual tie into the network established by the corporation. This network is basically the energy circulation system of the elephant; the network that keeps the animal functioning. To the extent there is networking outside of the corporation, it is with other elephants – suppliers, regulators, distributors. As a flea, you are part of a  networking ecosystem on your own.  Networking is critical but the network tends to be more multipurpose. Fleas who attend at networking sessions with a lot of representatives of elephants, tend to be undervalued.

Fleas need to create out a local ecosystem composed of a variety of “plants” of various sizes and types: an internet community,meetup groups, traditional non profits and small businesses. Fleas need to seek out enterprises that are either physically local or “conceptually local”, online all revolving around the common theme. These enterprises will offer a nourishing environment with minimal energy expenditure.

  • Portfolio life is less secure, at least initially. Hardy says:

“Many will choose to live all their lives as fleas, valuing the freedom of independence over the dubious security of employment.”

I’ve found this to be true at least initially. But once you set up the network ( like once the mixed vegetable garden takes hold), it should require less energy to maintain, be more resistant to the shocks of rising oil prices and produce a greater yield.  This portfolio life is another strategy of the finance and economic petal of the permaculture flower.

Musings on Polyculture — Part 1


Musings on Polyculture — Part 1

Yesterday I stumbled on the concept of mixed vegetable gardens courtesy of Anni’s Perennial Veggies. First let me provide a little background. In the natural ecology of the forest we can see a structure.

Woodland Structure: Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust

Ecologists name seven layers: the vines, grasses, ground level plants, the herbaceous layer, scrub, small, low trees (sub- canopy) and large trees. (canopy) This system which encompasses a variety of plants is a polyculture as opposed to a monoculture where only one species is dominant.

The forest garden tries to emulate this concept by establishing a variety of food producing plants which replicate this pattern of the diversity and layering of plants in the forest.  The mixed vegetable garden replicates this pattern of plant diversity and  levels using traditional annual vegetable

Anni's Polyculture courtesy Anni's Perennial Veggies


The Permaculture Association UK  has developed instructions on this method of planting which they say was originally developed in Nepal and have adapted to UK conditions.  Toby Hemenway’s book, Gaia’s Garden lists a few polycultures.  This Mixed Vegetable Garden pamphlet  identifies  plants by  plant families and layer and encourages you to develop your own polycultures.

UK Permaculture is currently running tests to assess the benefit of this approach in the UK.  Planting 12 crops: onions, kale, beans, peas, corn, spinach, beets, radishes, lettuce coriander, rocket (mustard greens) and marigolds, they suggest you:

  • sow your onions in the ground and start your beans and kale indoors in march (UK planting times)
  • plant your peas outdoors and start your corn indoors in April
  • plant out all of your transplants and sow all the other seeds in May.

You sow basically once and then pick everything as it comes in. I’ve been thinking about my fall garden and so I kept searching for the fall planting times for the cool weather crops using this mixed gardening method. There is no fall planting! You plant  the lettuce and greens in March and harvest through the summer until October without a second planting (!!!) Like in a forest, the shade from the canopy and understory protects the ground cover.

That’s almost unbelievable to me here in Georgia . I’m guessing that the UK is part of the temperate deciduous forest biome just like we are here in the southeastern US.  I’m in hardiness zone 7, most of the he UK is in hardiness zone 8 (another surprise .  I would have guessed it was much cooler.  A little research shows that the metro-Atlanta region has more rain than the UK and is a little cooler.  Central GA  does have much more sunshine, almost double the annual hours of sunshine in the UK.]

In summary, with the mixed vegetable garden:

  • the work to sow the garden is less than with a traditional garden
  • the polyculture is more resistant to pests and diseases
  • the polyculture has fewer weeds
  • the yield is greater than that of the traditional garden

This is something I really want to try next year.

Also see Musings on Polycultures pt 2.