ACTIVITY 6.2: Polyculture Design

a community of multiple plants and animals
that is designed for functional interconnection

Design a polyculture incorporating the species and knowledge you gained in Activity 6.1: Niche Analysis. Present your design on a one-page, poster-like display.

1. Consider the lessons on ecosystem design and principles to help guide you. Describe the following design categories:

    • Polyculture Name:

    • Polyculture Goals: Describe 3–5 goals for your polyculture design.

    • Consumers/Animals: What animals and other life forms are present? Who will your polyculture attract? How do humans interact?

    • Decomposers/Abiotic Factors: What soil and environmental (abiotic) conditions are needed?

    • Producers/Plants: Plants, Niche Analysis, etc.

2. Include on a single sheet of paper the above information:

    • The polyculture information from the above design categories.

    • Draw, sketch, or illustrate a depiction of your polyculture, with the following criteria:

      • Draw the polyculture TO SCALE to show the mature size of your plants. It's fine to use graph paper.

      • Show the polyculture from a plan (top) and elevation) (side) view. The plan view will show the size of your polyculture in horizontal space, and the elevation view maps the size in vertical space.

3. Take a picture, scan, or image file of your poster. Include this document with your niche analysis, and answer the following questions in your final submission

    • What is the context of this polyculture? Where would it work, and where would it likely not work?

    • What is your concept? In other words, what theme or idea did you organize your design around?

    • What questions remain? What aspects of the design are you unsure about?

Some ideas to get you started:

    • Pick a plant you want to grow, and assess what it needs. Then pick plants to support its health & vitality.

    • List out all the plants that get you excited. Put them each on a piece of paper and organize into groups based on structure & beneficial connections.

    • Design polycultures to meet a specific objective such as multiple farm income streams over multiple time scales, a backyard garden providing a range of food & medicine yields, as many useful plants I can grow that will tolerate shade, or at least two plants in each of the forest garden layers.   

Examples of polycultures created by past students:

    • Tye Dye Polyculture (all plants grown and harvested for dyes)

    • Free Range Chicken Polyculture (plants to reduce feed needs)

    • Farmacy Polyculture  (all medicinal plants for common ailments)

    • Smoothie Polyculture (all the plants needed to make a delicious drink!)

More traditional examples of polycultures include:

  1. Fruit Crop Support (adoption of Apple Guild from Mollison)

      • Juneberries (Amelanchier Canadensis/Anifolia) or Apple supported by:

      • Daffodils (Narscissus spp) attract early pollination and suppress grasses

      • Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) for disease suppression

      • Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) for nutrient accumulation

      • Clover (Trifolium spp.) for Nitrogen Fixation and ground cover

      • Chives (Allium spp) and Horseradish (Amoracia lapathifolia) for stinky tea

      • Stropharia (Stropharia rugosa annulata) for decomposition

  2. Jugalone Tolerant Polyculture for multiple incomes over multiple timescapes

      • Black Walnut – 40 to 50 years – Timber/Nuts

      • Black Locust – 10 to 25 years – coppice for fence posts/firewood

      • Paw Paw – 5 – 10 years – delicious niche-market fruit

      • Gooseberry/Currants – 3 – 5 years – delicious niche-market fruit

      • Garlic – 1 year – storage allium, high value

      • Chickens – 1 year – meat or eggs, maintain pest & grass populations

      • (OR substitute sheep/cows and graze pasture on rotation…)

      • (misc groundcovers, nutrient accumulators thrown in)