Well, we know what a polyculture is NOT. The current system of farming is called monocropping or monoculture and it looks like this:
Seems kinda nice, eh? all bucolic and country-like…yeah, if you think of the country as a pesticide-filled hell.
The entire system– and it is a system!–is based on machines and flat huge spaces and petroleum.
A monoculture is one plant, one type of plant and ususally one variety planted over and over to create a vast sea of the same thing. Think: lawn. Think: no diversity whatsoever. Think: a plague of locusts.
A polyculture is different in that the idea is you interplant to form a diverse and joyful neighborhood of plants who all live together. You need less inputs, ideally no more than a little compost and sweat and all the different plants rotate spaces to mix it up a bit. Because plants from different botanical families uptake various vitamins from the soil you can reduce or avoid depletion. It is a bit more like what would occur in the natural world. I like to let plants flower, bring in pollinators and beneficial bugs, make seed, provide natural shade. And with no poisons many “good” bugs are able to thrive! Without creating an imbalance in the first place little or no extra input is needed to correct the soil.
I especially enjoy mixing herbs in the rows of Brassicas-Umbels like Dill and Wild Carrot, Cilantro going to flower then seed, Dandelions and Chammomile…it makes for a nice space for humans as well as helpful bugs. Towards the back areas I’ll encourage a lot of Honeybee forage to thrive-a lot of which doubles as great medicinals for us!
Ultimately, polyculture is the way of the past and the way of the future. It is the path of least resistance. It is beyond the basic philosophy of organic. As a space to work it is fun and healthful and beautiful. It is the one straw revolution, seed balls, deep mulching, seed saving, cover cropping, water collecting, permaculture, herbal medicine and food mixing it up at the ball till we can’t tell one from the other…