Paul Wheaton on Polyculture


On one of my previous blogs I touch upon what to plant for your chickens’ foraging needs, which is really about polyculture.

Polycultures are self-organizing, multi-organism plant communities. All plant eating animals, like chickens and people, are designed to eat plants from a polyculture … they eat plants, not from rows and rows of the same thing, but from a mix of a dozen or more species.

A polyculture of plants. Photo by Tyler Lundens.

Every plant has special nutrient needs and every plant exudes an excess of nutrients that it mysteriously has superpowers to find/build/whatever.

The mycelium in the soil has no leaves and depends on developing a bartering relationship with plants to get sugar. The mycelium offers nutrients. The sugar water from a carrot is loaded with nutrients that the carrot has in excess. The sugar water from an oak tree is loaded with something completely different.

The carrot gets a bit of the oak excess and the oak gets a bit of the carrot excess. Because the oak’s roots cover a bigger territory, it gets far more diversity than the carrot. And the oak ends up inadvertently sharing some of that with the carrot.

We have barely scratched the surface of what we know for human nutrition. And we have studied human nutrition ten thousand times more than chicken nutrition. Human nutrition is based on humans eating from a polyculture and eating the meat of animals that consumed a polyculture.

Rather than pretending that we know all there is to know and growing things in a harshly organized fashion, I suggest that, instead, we grow things in a diverse polyculture of 50 or more species. I suspect that by doing this, the vegetation will become far richer in nutrients (both known and currently unknown) than if we attempt to infuse the soil with known nutrients.

On this video, I try to explain some of these ideas ….


So, basically, a polyculture is a mixture of plants all exuding their “unique goodness” and trading it with other plants. These mixtures can form guilds, which are plant groupings with similar habitat and nutritional needs. A guild can act to boost soil fertility, conserve water, diversify food yield, create habitat, and reduce root competition.

Michael “Skeeter” Pilarski talks about his food forest garden, a polyculture with beneficial weeds:



Paul Wheaton is is the tyrannical ruler of two on-line communities. One is about permaculture and one is about software engineering. There is even one for Missoula. Paul has written several permaculture articles starting with one on lawn care that he presented at the MUD Project 17 years ago, including articles on raising chickenscast iron and diatomaceous earth. Paul also regularly uploadspermaculture videos and permaculture podcasts. In his spare time, Paul has plans for world domination and is currently shopping for a hollowed out volcano in the Missoula area, with good submarine access.

See all of Paul’s contributions to Make it Missoula here.