What is a Polyculture?

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What is a polyculture? It is a term that is becoming more popular in the homesteading circles, but what is it? By definition, a polyculture is “the simultaneous cultivation or exploitation of several crops or kinds of animals.” From Oxford Languages. But what does that really mean?


Polyculture is using plants and or animals that benefit each other and growing them together. In gardening this is often called companion planting. The idea is to create a synergy where everything benefits each other and improve the soil/environment. After a polyculture is established, they should be self-sustaining.


In an orchard, that can be planting smaller plants around the trees to naturally deter pests and attract pollinators. You can also use animals to graze or fertilize the area. Using a polyculture system, you can improve plant health and eliminate pesticide use. 


At my home I am in cooperating this concept more and more. My new orchard area is starting as polyculture with plants around the base that attract the pollinators but deter the pests. You also want to make sure the plants are not competing for nutrients but benefiting each other. So having plants that fix nutrients, like nitrogen, that the trees need to produce fruit. 


I also allow my chickens, ducks, and geese free range. This does make starting small plants challenging and require extra protection, but they are excellent at consuming the bugs and slugs that harm the plants. They also fertilize at the same time!


Developing a polyculture is not a one-year venture, especially if you are looking at trees. You must have a long-term vision and be willing to work with the area for a couple years before it is ready to self-sustain. After the polyculture is established, you have a very productive garden, with minimal work required. 



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