I'm sure most of us have been influenced by Permaculture principles. It may even be 'un-Australian' not to have been.
Nonetheless I have major hesitancy about the system -- enough not to follow or apply its tenets like a readymade DIY.
However, Syntropic agriculture -- developed by Ernst Gotsch is another thing altogether.
Organic and syntropic farming are two sisters, starting from the same idea, but the approach to the solution of the problems they come across with has led them to different paths. organic Agriculture aims to replace chemical fertilization (usual in conventional farming) with primarily organic fertilization (composts made from organic waste, green manure, manure, etc.). In Syntropic Farming, we work the design aiming to arrange different species all the way from the implementation of the system and continuing at each step in the conduction of our plantations, managing them to produce their own fertilizer. For that purpose, we plant trees, grasses, and herbs in high density. They should share the characteristic of vigorous regrowth after pruning. A good farmer manages them accordingly. The periodic pruning results – in addition to the supply of light for our crops – in organic matter in large quantities which, on top of the soil, create a prosperous life in it and, indirectly, fertilize our plants.Gotsch.
The differences between Syntropic agriculture and Permaculture is explained HERE.
My experience has drawn me close to the Syntropic perspective but the transition was recent after I began exploring traditional “Milpa” system of agriculture. So traditional that it dates back to the Maya -- but has been practiced in some form or another by the indigenous peoples throughout the Americas.
The Three Sisters method of partnering corn, squash and beans is an example of Milpa.
The Milpa system has been misrepresented in a lot of studies as it isn't simply slash and burn. Indeed, 'forest gardening' is a better description of it and Syntropic more or less integrates that with agroforestry.
A more embracing term is polyculture.
A milpa is a field, usually but not always recently cleared, in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato, jícama, amaranth, and mucuna.... Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the body needs to make proteins and niacin;.... Beans have both lysine and tryptophan.... Squashes, for their part, provide an array of vitamins; avocados, fats. The milpa, in the estimation of H. Garrison Wilkes, a maize researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, "is one of the most successful human inventions ever created."— Charles C. Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.
The relevance of milpa to kitchen gardening is pretty strong I reckon -- what with the plants chosen and the use of space by deploying mixed plantings.
One contact I have integrates Milpa with Vetiver in Nicaragua -- so, of course, I'm all ears.
But then most traditional forms of small & family farming world wide is multicropping as this fav image of mine suggests.
I get a lot of flack because I grow a jungle outback. it seems that this sort of gardening isn't anal enough for usual discourse. But , what Syntropics does is add FORM & STRUCTURE to the mix, even upscale it to a semi mechanical level -- as this video argues.
Indeed, all those Syntropic things flagged here in the vid I already do. I'd like to burn stuff occasionally -- especially harvested branches and logs -- but that isn't neighborhood friendly.
So my chook pen has this big pile of cut branches sitting in it rotting away.
If you consider this approach -- intuitively,you probably follow a lot of its tenets already.
Great info Dave, I still have a lot or reading to do but i think I can understand this system of growing. Ernst Gotsch has got me thinking. He works his patch in Brazil in a similar way to permaculture way but learns when to prune and what to plant at the right time for dense growth. He does not stick to native trees etc., but with what will grow in poor soils without help. He seems to use the pioneer or nurse trees etc with different life and height spans.
Do you think it would make a difference in our backyards? We need acres of land and a group of workers.
That's the key question.
I think the main take away is that cutting back and using the cuttings as mulch is relevant. If we have trees we may tend to mulch-machine the cuttings but really that drops a lot of nitrogen hungry fibre all at once.
My experience with wood chips has not been good. the worms don't like them much. But turn over a log and its another story.
However, laying a lot of harvested wood around the place (and here's an example Syntropics below:)...
is termite friendly (as my wife keeps reminding me) .
So I make sure I lay down any woody bits at some distance from the house. I used to drop brush on my paths to walk on like Palm Sunday, but that made traffic cumbersome.
The difficulty is cutting up timber so it is useful when laid down.
That's the challenge as you need a chainsaw and two people to do the job over a few hours. I cut all trees back as I value the light during the cooler months. But that begs the question of utilizing the timber.
I've found that throwing branches onto the beds makes later maintenance and planting difficult. But I've been doing it for years nonetheless and I have the rot to confirm that it works.
I was hoping that piling the timber in the chook pen would quickly cause break down and collapse of the twigs but that has not been as fast as I had hoped. I throw a lot of stuff (weeds, brush cuttings, etc)into the pen as a rule then harvest what breaks down a few times a year to spread on the garden beds. That way it is more manageable and less prone to re-seeding after the chooks have finished fossicking thru it.
The chooks turn it over and poo on it -- but they leave the bigger bits of timber alone, so I am still challenged to find a use for those (which Syntropics now suggests)
In my context, however, I use Vetiver as a wood log substitute as that ticks a lot of similar boxes.
Indeed, after defining x number of beds with Vetiver hedges I am set to divide some of these beds even more with new Vetiver hedge lines and i'm planting Vetiver cheek to jowl next to my latest attempt at raising fruit trees. (partnering like that is a Vetiver experimental 'thing' in the community.)
More hedgerows also gives me more nursery specimens for later division.
But the key is polyculture -- even obsessively so. AND dense planting in MULCHED beds.
I also think that mass planting -- or, at least, covering everything with growth -- is a key element. On that I can't help myself and squeeze in plants all over the place.
I am criticized for that in-house. Folk don't understand...as I am so misunderstood! (Haha)
More recently I've gone mad planting Prickly Pear hedgerows. I hate to think how many separate plants of spineless prickly pear I have now planted. But they are so easy to grow, manage and reproduce..and I eat them (almost daily). They make an awesome fence!
Just like Rotational grazing, Syntropics says cutting back is good.
Another element -- at least in the Tropics and Sub tropics -- is the importance of actively managing shade. I even manage the Vetiver cut backs with shade in mind. After all Vetiver clumps grow to 2 metres if allowed.
I see where Gotsch has used eucalypts but I always wonder about many natives' herbicidal oils in cases where we rot the wood and leaves.
But the other relevant aspect of cutting back is that in actively controlling tree growth & height you protect yourself and your house from tree and storm damage. I do have one huge Silky Oak -- it dominates the back yard --but everything else is cut back annually.
That tree, by the way, drops much of its leaves just prior to flowering at a time when my mulch supply is low. Thus I get an automatic mulching from on high.
Cutting back is also key to managing shade both for the garden and to improve temperature ambience in the house.
I get slack with cutting climbers --which are mainly annuals -- but they are usually so productive that they don't notice that they lose a few limbs. But all the cuttings make for great , albeit short lived,mulch.
Ernst Gotsch seems to like using Eucalyptus globulus trees as a starter tree which he plants with the intention of taking the top off each year at 5 metres tall. He uses it as a biomass provider and also the roots have another purpose. He can improve the water holding capacity with his forest growing methods, by the use of humidity where it is needed and with appropriate canopy protection.
He is a scientist and can see nature and it's ways of fixing things. I have taken note of which trees and plants he uses and why but I doubt that I can change my ways now.
Dave your practises are similar is some ways as his. He is a mulcher not a composter.
Nice write-up, Dave. I guess you liked it...
Ernst is also scientifically-published, most in Portuguese, so there is further reading at a deeper level than articles and video can do. There is a conference with him on Youtube that is quite good, this may be it if I remember correctly - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zhTsYgfuyQ
He is likely one of the best forest and successional growers in the world and it seems like his system is even working in cooler and drier climates, it all comes down to species selection.
I found this ...you won't believe the photo!
Great reading Dave, I spent a couple of hours reading that site and the different subjects. We are on the same wavelength. I wish I could turn back time and start again, knowing what i know now. Gotsch uses Acacia mangium as well as the eucalyptus. He is not afraid of fast growing plants, even some of the plants we thought were invasive. It is amazing what he could do to change his land.
Roger would like me to share his document for further information. Please read his take on Syntropic Ag.
One thing about Syntropy, Evan, that nags me is that hypothetically you are sentenced to creating a forest. That's the logic of the succession.
Mind you, I've got nothing against lots of trees...I love them things.
But what if that's not what you want? You need to be able to stall the process... indefinitely. Contain it.
I'm thinking that a lot of what you supposedly do with trees in the system, you could do with Vetiver (or other grasses) and still explore similar potential results. Up to a point , anyway.
There are some notes about that in the literature and there may be some in Roger's document too. Basically, like a clearcut or clearfell, you take the succession back to the 'placenta' stage by removing the secondary stage and starting again. This will give you a richer 'placenta' thanks to all the secondary material.
So on the small scale, Vetiver would be in the B area and maybe even in the C (biomass) line and the C tree could be Cajanus, dwarf Banana or similar. You could still use Eucalypt, you just need to work on your pollarding and perhaps if you go long term, kill them before their roots start to enter the growing beds. I'd still recommend Euc as they grow so fast and not as weedy as say, Leucaena. Inga might be good. At home in Brisbane, I had a Mallotus (Green Kamala) that responded very well to cutting and it adds a lovely smell to the garden. Forgot Moringa, another fast-growing mulch tree that is edible. Canna Lilly, Cassava could also be in the C line as biomass and an edible bonus.
But you're right, Syntropic doesn't really work in the market garden but the ideas of biomass plants, pruning, succession, soil life should help the garden move forward. It should enable people to be more intensive with how they grow their garden by maximising photosynthesis and using/treating other plants as tools, like Vetiver.
Wonderful reading everyone. My gardening days are few and far between now due to my balance issue (I have been forced to accept that) but if I could I would certainly be following many of the principles outlined within. You are all an inspiration to our members.