If you have ever driven passed any of our fields south of Strathclair, or seen pictures on our farm Instagram page, you have probably seen some pretty strange looking crops at the Green Beach. In the last couple of years we have grown sunflowers, safflowers, Japanese millet, sorghum sudangrass, feed beets, hairy vetch, all kinds of clovers as well as barley, oats, peas, wheat, flax and rye. Sometimes you might see many or nearly all of these in one field at the same time! The fields with long lists of crop species are strictly for cattle feed, likely to be grazed in the fall or winter. Some of the tamer mixes with only 2 or 3 crops may be combined, separated and sold, however. So why do we make such a ‘mess’ of our fields with all these different seeds? Read on to learn the method behind the madness!
At Green Beach Farm & Food, we are following the principles of Regenerative Agriculture. One of the principles of Regenerative Agriculture is Diversity – with plants, animals and soil biology. We have discovered there are a number of benefits to having a variety of plants growing in a field at any one time. The first thing we noticed was that the increased level of competition actually reduced the weed pressure. We noticed this in a silage mix of oats and peas that we planted and chose not to spray, but had very acceptable levels of weeds in the crop. This effect becomes more pronounced as we increase the number of crop species in the field. You might think of this as ‘sowing your own weeds’. We also think of these ‘polycrops’ as a form of crop insurance – if we have a number of different seeds in the ground, some are bound to grow no matter what mother nature throws at us. We have also seen different seed in a mix catch well in high spots, while others thrive in the low-lying areas, giving as a fairly even forage crop across the whole field that we may not have had if we only planted one crop.
The diversity of plants above ground will support a number of insects and pollinators, drawing in natural predator species that will help to control any insect pests. Conversely, the diversity of plant roots below ground will support a variety of organisms in the soil, reducing the ‘room’ in the soil for soil borne diseases. The big picture goal with our ‘funny looking’ fields is to mimic the native prairie, as there are no ‘pests’ in a healthy prairie, just feed for the animals!