Thursday 27 June 2019

Mono Cropping Isn't Always A Bad Thing

Now my garden is a diverse place. And not just because it's full of weeds, but because I grow so many types of veg and crops.

The other day though at a talk I was giving some said that I was mono cropping because I tended to grow the same crop in each bed and don't mix. This is true, but generally they're surrounded by different plants in the beds next to them and the beds are only 10ft by 30". 

This did get me thinking though about how people in certain communities seem to make blanket assumptions about how we currently grow crops. The one that I hear a lot is about how mono cropping is a bad thing.

I have to admit that on the surface I completely agree, if we're surrounded by hundreds or thousands of acres of the same crop that is terrible for the local wildlife and it certainly lends itself to sprays and more modern agriculture, but it is a very efficient way of growing food using the current systems that we generally have. Critics don't always have the growing experience to back up their arguments.

I've often read that smaller patches of crops are better and intermixed with other things but there is certainly optimal sizes, as I'm finding out with my small scale grain growing this year. This will vary massively depending on what crop you're growing and how you plan to harvest it. A 10ft bed of beetroot is a good size to grow and harvest, whereas the same size of wheat means that it has to be hand harvested and processed.

As an example I had a huge tub of hull less barley growing on the patio for weeks and weeks. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was stripped by birds in a few minutes. I couldn't help but feel worried about my other little patches I have growing around the garden.

I contacted a grain breeder I follow on Instagram and asked how he deals with pests for these hull less types of grain on a small scale without using nets and other preventative methods. His reply was simple "Safety in numbers, these crops are surrounded by other grains so the predator pressure is spread".

I had issues with my wheat as well, my triple row destroyed in an evening by a hungry rabbit. But I know the same rules would apply here, you have to expect some losses and grow accordingly.

So, although I'm only building my seed bank this year it's already proving quite difficult but I'm hopeful I'll have something to show for it in the autumn (lots of nets needed!). If I do go on to grow some bigger patches of grain in the future I might have to think about what a viable amount would be to allow for losses and to make processing worthwhile, at the moment I doubt it would work in with my current garden bed system.

If you grow grain on a small scale what's the minimum you'd grow?

How do you protect it?


  1. For scientific, recearch and plant breeding purposes I have found out that most facilities here use 2mx5m patches, which makes 10m2, and therefore calculations for example for yield are easy... They even have harvesters made for that size (header width 2m - boy they are cute! made in Italy if I remember right). Of course they usually have several patches of one variety AND they have offering zones around fields.
    But when they want to play safe, they grow they crop in greenhouses (I heard they had found no more than handful of 100yrs old rye seeds, and after few years they had enough seeds to sow a whole field - but those handful of seeds were treated with ourmost care, only few germinated of course).
    If I would grow grain, I would do it similar way, with simple squares of measurements of no more than that 2x5m.

    1. Yeah, Having things like that make it far easier to work out if you're getting consistent yields, etc. I love the idea of one of those small harvesters. They'd be awesome to have around! I think I need to keep a close eye on these grains for a few years and get a good amount to give it a good go in the future on a good sized patch. It might work well down my wide soft fruit isles potentially.

  2. I find the world of bloggers and You Tube channels (many relatively short-lived) focussing on fruit and vegetable growing a little faddish. I have followed your blog long enough to know not to include you in this and there are also some very good examples out there too (if readers happen to be one and see this). But the insistent need for raised beds, the value of forest gardens, lasagne beds etc are questionable in my view. The implication that a mono-culture is problematic in a garden, allotment or domestic scale small holding is frankly ludicrous. One observation I would make is that from what I can see some of these approaches seem to produce relatively low yields. I, as I am sure you are too, aspire to be as self-sufficient in F&V for as much of the year as possible. That’s a challenge for a family of five in your cases as it was in mine when our three children were younger.
    As far as grain is concerned, my attempt at growing hulled oats in a 20’x20’’ area has not been successful mainly due to uneven germination. I’ll be having another go some time, though.

    1. There really are so many people out there that talk a good game and not practice what they preach. I still see myself as a rubbish gardener and one that has so so much to learn and that's why I like sharing it. Each year is completely different from the last and throws up new problems and I think anyone that thinks they have "the answer" is lying as there are too many questions for that to be true.
      Some systems like forest gardening I see only as a way to supplement what you grow, I'm yet to see one in a temperate climate that would support a family year round, permaculture has some great ethics and practices but they still rely on a good veg garden as a base to much of what they can produce. and a veg garden where everything is all mixed together is very tricky to produce enough calories unless it's on a huge area.
      I think I need a new patch for my grain growing, something easily turned over each year maybe.


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