Wild cultivation at scale

Growth-hacking your seed round

There’s a principle in permaculture that says we should strive to “work with Nature, rather than against it.” It’s a nice idea and I guess that works sometimes, but with establishing a new garden of approximately 16,500 sq. ft., I’ve been hard-pressed to make it work. And the season has barely kicked off.

From satellite view, it looks like this:

Of this, I’m trying to cultivate about 230 feet across, which is my largest gardening experiment to date. There’s simply no way I’m going to be able to maintain this space with conventional kneel-in-the-dirt style weeding. And I’m no longer attempting to run a business or earn any kind of living from this.

So what does you do when you have a field and a feeling?

You roll with it.

The field in question has not been cultivated in I’m not sure how long, but it’s not in anyone’s recent memory. So this means that weeds and moreover grasses have been running riot for years.

I’v set out trying to apply a kind of compromise between “working with nature” and “doing what I want” — which is basically set it and forget it.

Sow and let grow.

In other words: take a bunch of different seeds —

And go to town.

It’s wildflowers, perennials and annuals. It’s grains and cereals and legumes. It’s “ordinary” garden variety veggies. Thrown out in a big field at random (-ish).

A family member came by and harrowed the plot before I got started — just to open up the soil a little bit without totally tilling. Which sounded like a good start until the grass started growing back in — completely undiminished.

Pretty much just looked like it was going to be a big field of grass that choked out all my pretty experiments.

Though, if you knelt down and looked closely, you could see some of the desired germination happening:

The grass, we finally decided, had too much of a head-start against these little emerging seedlings. So we had another family member come in with a rototiller and apply a rough clumpy finish. This knocked back the grass hard, cutting everything up.

It’s unclear yet what the fate of those tiny emerging seedlings will be: if they will push through from their new positions, or will fade away.

The field now looks something like:

And close up for you dirt lovers:

It’s rough, it’s choppy. If you’re planting directly, you would want something much finer. But I’m on an experimental kick, and was hoping to potentially be able to preserve the viability of some of those little sprouts.

We’ll see how it goes; it’s only been a couple of days.

So the above was germination from my first phase of mixed sowing. I immediately followed up with the remainder of my stock to set another layer into the soil seed bank.

And above that I sowed two big sacks of oats, and one of sunflower in a band near the back. This over-sowing (which I actually did already in the previous seed-round too) has a two-fold purpose: oats because they grow fast, easily and don’t have tough rhizomatic root systems like most perennial grasses do. I’m hoping to eventually out-compete the grasses already there. And also to give the birds something to eat that’s more visible/obvious target than my mixed “fancy” seeds.

Anyway, success or failure remains to be seen, as our temps are not quite high enough for widespread germination across the board. I have another smaller test field of a sort of similar method from last year now entering it’s second season. The goal is basically to create a forager’s garden, combining human desire and folly with whatever Nature’s rhyme or reason decides to call forth out of the assembled possibilities.

Worst case scenario is all the grass grows back and I have to start over next year. I think the likelihood of that happening across the whole field uniformly is low, but we’ll see what my simulated “weed pressure” can do to fight the grass down and force some spontaneous plant communities to agglomerate.

I’m also planning to, throughout the season, supplement with whatever organic materials I can, added to the top of the soil. Given the square footage, I’ll never be able to cover all of it equally, so I’ll just do it in clumps and patches and try to work alongside Nature to figure it out. I guess I’m not exactly fighing Nature, but it remains to be seen at this point what ultimate effect “working with it” will have in this scheme of mine.

Will keep you posted.