Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Syntropic Permaculture in Temperate Climates

("Syntropy" at Lillie House.)

Or Syntropic Agriculture and Temperate Climate Permaculture Design

Syntropic Farming is a farming revolution grown out of Brazil and made famous by Ernst Goetsch and the Life in Syntropy short documentary. Syntropic Farming seeks to cultivate resilient ecosystems that are abundant, financially viable and heal abused land.

- Ernst Goetsch, creator  of Syntropic Farming

Key points in this article:
- Syntropic Agriculture is trendy new growing system, but what distinguishes it? 
- What are the key techniques and novel features of Syntropic Agriculture?
- Can it be put to use in temperate climates? 


If like me, you're keen on having a human-habitable biosphere on planet earth in the coming decades, then the most exciting technological leap of the last few decades has been the rapid wide-ranging experimentation occuring at the intersection of sustainable food systems and regenerating functioning ecologies. With the current agriculture system being probably the single largest driver of climate change, mass extinction, ocean dead zones, community disruption, and a whole host of other problems, this constant churning synthesis of new "systems" of sustainable growing is very hopeful. It can also be difficult and a bit bewildering to keep up with. 

After a break-through success with the documentary Life in Syntropy, one new system called "syntropic agriculture" (S.A.) or "syntropic farming" has quickly grown in popularity. Like many sustainable Ag trends, this system, the work of Ernst Goetsch is mix of good applied ecological insight, practicality, poetry, philosophy, and just enough nuttiness to make it spiritually fulfilling to engage with, and I absolutely love it. It is a very similar system to what we use at Lillie House, and recommend to our students and clients. Like sustainable agriculture leaders before him, Steiner, Fukuoka, Dr. Hankyu Cho, Mollison, etc. Goetsch is an abundant producer of quotable quotes.

The laws (of nature) are given, it isn’t up to us to create or modify any of them. We need to act in a beneficial way for all participants, for all the affected ones, in order to be considered useful and welcomed beings in the system”  -Ernst Goetsch

And while one should take any farming poetical philosophy with a grain of salt, this shouldn't be viewed as a limitation. Our relationship with the land, food and ecosystems is utterly sacred, perhaps our most sacred thing, and any practical approach to growing food must recognize that. It is modern "scientific" agriculture's failure to recognize that intuitive spiritual component, our profound human responsibility for other species and the health of the systems we inhabit, which is the cause of our current multi-faceted crisis.We actually need an abundance of farm philosophers to appeal to every sensibility if we are to have any hope of salvaging our biosphere. In the case of Goetsch, he has created a vocabulary that synthesizes some of the language and vocabulary of modern ecology and agroecology into poetry and platitude in a charming way, though some critics allege that it risks the appearance of pseudoscience. 

(Image via this excellent article from Agenda Goetch.)

Perhaps one of the biggest innovations of Syntropic Agriculture is how it has transcended poetry alone, and has become famous largely due to its beautiful use of film and photography to capture and convey the importance of regenerating the land, and rekindling the human relationship with nature.

Since syntropic agriculture (S.A.) utilizes design, tree crops, no-till, and mulch, many are wondering how this new system relates and compares to Permaculture, whether it works, and whether we in temperate climates can put this tropical system to work in our climates (such as in this article from Propagate which posses some thoughts  on the question.) On this last note, I have seen it frequently stated temperate farmers can "simply substitute apples for tropical tree crops" to make syntropic agriculture work. I feel I can say with a great deal of certainty that in many if not most temperate climates, that simplistic advice would yield very poor results. Yet, at Lillie house we have adapted some traditional patterns that are very similar to those used in syntropic farming, and believe these could be put to use very effectively in most temperate climate situations. 

 In this article, we'll look at the basic "active ingredients" of syntropic agriculture, its relationship to Permaculture Design, and how it could be adapted effectively to temperate climates from a Permaculture perspective. In other words, we'll attempt to develop some guidelines for a Syntropic Temperate Climate Permaculture, for those looking to integrate S.A.'s key features into broader designs. 

Syntropic Agriculture and Permaculture Design: Syntropic Permaculture? 

While Syntropic Agriculture seeks to create resilient agro-ecologies, Permaculture Design is a broader design system for human habitats, including agro-ecologies. Permaculture Design proposes a general design process for our lives, and the smart Permaculture Designer might look into systems like natural farming, Korean Natural Farming, or Syntropic Agriculture to see if they get us where we want to go. Permaculture itself does not actually propose any specific type of growing system or set of techniques, only this process for contemplating and deciding which might be useful in a given context. This system of design typically works "from patterns to details," so we might begin this discussion by observing and analyzing Syntropic Agriculture as a set of "patterns" or "active indgredients" that could help us meet our design objectives. 

Key Features of Syntropic Agriculture

To get a better understanding of Syntropic Agriculture, let's take a look at its key techniques, or "active ingredients." If you're familiar with Permaculture, I invite you to think about how these patterns relate to those common to that system before I elaborate on the topic below.

Syntropy: To begin with, the namesake principle of Syntropic Agriculture is, of course, "syntropy." Readers of Lillie House will know that the key feature we discuss in our particular school of Permaculture is Negentropy, or negative entropy. Syntropy is another proposed term for the same phenomenon. This refers to the observation that while man-made systems like cars exhibit "entropy," losing energy over time and reverting to chaos or less useful states, natural systems of enough complexity appear to "catch and store" energy, rather than losing it, growing more organized, more diverse,  resilient, abundant and useful over time. This is especially seen in ecosysems in the process of "ecological succession," where degraded ecologies (such as a clearcut forest) grow in complexity over time (returning back to a forest after going through stages of grassland, shrubbery, and young forest.) Syntropic Agriculture, like any good Permaculture, seeks to work with this process and put the power of negative entropy to use. And while Mollisonian Permaculture included design recommendations for percentages of canopy in a system that S.A. lacks, it shares the final goal: a rich, functional agroforest system dominated by trees. 

Heavy Pruning: The single most characteristic method S.A. uses to work with succession is frequent heavy pruning for use as mulch, which accelerates the amount of carbon and biomass produced by the ecosystem. In Permaculture and Regenerative Ag circles this would be called "chop and drop." Certain trees are planted specificially for the purpose of cutting to provide fertilizer. This is reflected in many common traditional patterns frequntly used in permaculture designs, including many traditional temperate climate systems, as we'll see below.  

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.

-Ernst Goetsch
Deep mulch Once these trees are cut, they are applied as deep mulch, both chipped and as whole, cut logs. In some cases, this would appear to be a large labor and energy input. However, much could also be said for the research-based value of deep mulches and "nurse logs." We'll explore this more later.

Minimal mechanical tools necessary. S.A.seeks to reduce the need for mechanical tools. This is probably a goal for many temperate climate Permaculturists, so it will be interesting to see if S.A. offers economically viable tools that can be adapted.

High density and diversity. Simple enough, dense polyculture increases the health and productivity of the system. This is a key feature of our systems at Lillie House and probably have almost universal application. 

Article on using the density and diversity of the French Intensive system.

Recipes, or "Consortia" (Designed plant communities.)  "One of the characteristics of Syntropic Farming is the use of consortia of plants in high diversity and density. From the initial moment of planting, the goal is to co-create agroecosystems similar to the original ecosystems of each place, both in its form, as in its function and dynamics" - Dayana Adrane. In Permaculture, we refer to these as "guilds," and offer some more concrete tools for evaluating the roles of plants within designed plant communities.

Differences in a temperate climate

With these key features, which have a good research basis and are likely to be effective, it's easy to understand why Syntropic Agriculture works. But does it work in a temperate climate? Yes, these same patterns are proven to have value in temperate climates as well, though there are big differences and some conceptual barriers to making it work effectively and economically. 

The first is simply that we're working with entirely different crops. We will  not be growing "consortia" including bananas and shade-grown cocoa will not be our primary cash crop. However, given that all 6 of our most valuable crops per acre in Michigan this year (as well as a plethora of valuable runner-cups) are all shade-grown forest crops, so with careful crop choice we should be able to create agroecologies that are profitable even in later stages of succession. And while apples would be unlikely to work well, be healthy or economically viable, we actually have a wide range of options to build valuable systems that actually would work well. These would depend largely on what's native and valuable to each region, but in North America might include high-value crops like paw paw, serviceberry, maple, and persimmon. 

And while in the tropics you can create a local market "vegetable" CSA with mostly tree crops like avocados, breadfruit, jackfruit, and plantains, and still more vegetables can be grown in the understory, in temperate climates we have few calorie tree crops and less light to feed an understory layer. These are all features we could design around, and there are traditional systems that evolved in temperate climates to meet those needs.

Beyond crop choice, everything moves moves more slowly in temperate climates. Succession is slower. Decomposition is slower. Nutrient loss and cycling in the soil is slower. Plant growth is slower. We can't just plant trees and expect them to be significant sources of mulch in one year. We can't just chop trees and expect them to have completely broken down in a matter of months. But because growth is slower, we also do not need to. We have less need to store fertility in duff, as less is needed, and it more easily accumulates in the soil. So, overall, there needs to be a much greater emphasis on early succession in temperate climate systems than in the tropics. Food forests need to become as valuable as possible as early as possible, or they are likely to fail or be seen as a burden. 

A final major difference is that sun light and photosynthesis are much more abundant in tropical climates. Many crops can be grown in the understory, even with a fairly dense canopy. In temperate climates, if we want to grow any annual crops, we have to plan for more light infiltration. And this also means that there's going to be more competition for resources in temperate systems, so it will be more important to maximize cooperation and avoid elements like interplanting with grasses that may strip crops of needed nitrogen.

Beyond those major differences, there are many small differences that add up. Disease is managed quite differently. Apples, could not take the kind of pruning recommended in syntropic agriculture, and poorly pruned trees could become a vector for disease that could impact the productivity of a whole system. Pests cycles respond differently as well, due to the cold winter season. 

So overall, there's no direct correlation for importing syntropic agriculture in a simplified form to temperate climates.  

But since the best Permaculture utilizes research-based and proven patterns, let's transpose some of the active ingredients and techniques of Syntropic Agriculture into "patterns" that we can apply in a design, picking patterns that are proven to work well in temperate climates. 

Recommended Temperate Climate Patterns for Syntropic Permaculture

These are patterns that make up the basis of our growing system at Lillie House, are research-based and very comparable to the work of Ernst Goetsch, as reported in his published works.  Overall, I love systems that use trees very densely to control the land, prevent weeds and pest problems, build fast biodiversity, carbon and fertility, and provide ample mulch. I think the following patterns, adapted from Syntropic Agriculture could be valuable to almost all garden and farm systems at any scale. I especially see potential as an alternative to Regenerative Agriculture for managing broad acreage in economically viable ways that more closely resemble the traditional, evolved systems of the temperate climates. Goetch used S.A. to manage large acreage even with the tropical growth rate of Brazil. Broad-acre Permaculturists could put S.A. inspired techniquest to work to create profitable land management systems that more closely resemble the designs of Mollisonian Permaculture, the mosaic woodland and agriforest systems of Europe and Japan. To me, these would appear to have some built-in expectations for function and profitability, and would be a new niche for intrepid broad-acre Permaculturists. 

Slashmulch: S.A. has pioneered the idea of Working with grasses as a valuable element in an ecological system, as opposed to seeing them as a major weed. This is what we have done in our slashmulch systems at Lillie House. Slashmulch has been considered to be one of the most sustainable forms of agriculture ever created by humans. However, grass interplantings would be very difficult to use with vegetable crops in temperate climates due to competition for nitrogen. 

(Slashmulch 3 Sisters planted without tilling, sheet-mulching or removal of lawn.)

Chop and Drop: In Permaculture, this is the technique of heavy pruning plants and weeds to create mulch in site. Also used in S.A.

High Diversity and Density: Techniques of using high diversity and density are the backbone of our system at Lillie House, as well as in Bio-Intensive and French Intensive gardening. To learn more about how we employ them in vegetable gardening visit: Bio-Intensive Permaculture

Polyculture and Guilds: These are the Permaculture equivilents of "consortia" or recipes in S.A. 

Miyawaki technique: A research-based forestry technique using high diversity and density. In a productive system, some of this density can be used to "chop and drop" as the system matures, similar to S.A. In an S.A. inspired system, many of these trees would be "sacrificial," being cut for mulch as the system develops. We have put that technique to good use at Lillie House. 

Hedgerows are another proven, long-evolved temperate climate system that has been used for creating mulch, fertility, diversity and biomass. In Permaculture and Bio-Intensive systems, these are often used to create mulch through frequent pruning. This is a technique we use at Lillie House.  

Mosaic Woodland landscapes: This is a tradition agriforestry style of Temperate Europe and Asia which maximizes sun infiltration into annual crop systems while providing biomass, fertility, and biodiversity services. To explore such systems, visit our Pinboard gallery on Traditional Forest Garden Systems

Sun-traps designs place the tallest trees to the north, and shorter ones to the south, so as to maximize sun infiltration. Horse-shoe shapes may be used to create microclimates and maximize annual and perennial vegetable production. Sun trap design could be key in adapting Syntropic Agriculture to Temperate Climates. Sun trap design also more closely resembles traditional systems, as well as many of the tropical systems of Ernst Goetsch than does conventional Regenerative Agriculture. 

Nurse trees (also sacrificial trees) and nurse plants are a research-based approach that are perhaps an under-utilized pattern in many Permaculture systems. This is a technique of planting support trees to help nurture and establish target crop plants. They are a major feature at Lillie House that we use in areas where we want to reduce maintenance. I especially enjoy working with catalpas as nurse plants, as they establish easily even on sandy or degraded soils, provide ample mass, cut easily, and produce large shady leaves. They may also improve soil carbon via an interaction with the catalpa worm. 

Nurse logs have been found in research to be nearly as effective as woodchip mulch in conserving water and promoting growth. Nurse logs are also energy efficient, as they do not have to be chipped to be used. It is not necessary to neatly cut logs as in S.A. systems for them to be effective. In temperate climates they may last longer and work well as bed or path edging. 

Deep mulches area always welcome in any system in any climate. 

Matching mulch to crop and succession is perhaps more necessary in temperate climates, where nutrients are stored longer in the soil and plants grow less rapidly. We probably have more to gain by emulating natural ecologies, selecting woody mulches for tree systems for example, and grassy mulches for vegetables which evolved in grassland systems. 

(Tree-based fertility system at Lillie House.)

Implementation Process

Aside from knowing a list of techniques and patterns one can utilize for a growing system, to be practical, one must also have an idea of implementation and establishment. 

On smaller acreage, it's possible to just integrate some of these patterns into the existing landscape or garden system. Plan and develop useful hedgerows and forest garden areas around the perimeter of growing areas in a suntrap configuration. Possibly add sacrificial trees like catalpa. Work with invasives like autumn olive as chop and drop mulch. Start using nurse logs and deep mulch in the garden. Explore bio-intensive gardening and polyculture interplantings. Using these patterns, you will arrive at a system with much of the form and function of tropical S.A. systems, or what we has worked very well for us at Lillie House. 

On larger acreage, more thought towards process and implementation is necessary, and will depend greatly upon what the cash-flow needs are, what priorities and goals are, who will harvest and how. But the basics will involve selecting high-value crop plants that can be sown and established in successions. A final system design would probably include hedgerows, Miyawaki type plantings, paddocks, and forest gardens, as well as periodic clearings for annual cropping. Succession will move from an initial disturbance with annual maincrops, through phases of "slashmulch" using perennials as mulch, through old field and shrubland, choosing crops and sacrificials as they arrive, until the final stable configuration is arrived at. This might be in rows such as with Regeneartive Ag. or it might be in sun-trap designs of openings as in mosaic woodland patterns.  

Ultimately, I expect experimentation with Syntropic Agriculture patterns is likely to lead to novel profitable income models in temperate climates that rapidly regenerate ecosystems as well. If you're working on that project, I'd like to hear about what you're doing. 


1. Natural Recovery of Species in Agroforestry and in Soil Recovery, Ernest Goetsch, Fazenda TrĂªs Colinas Agrosilvicultura Ltda. 45436 Pirai do Norte Bahia, Brazil, August 1992 http://www.agrofloresta.net/static/artigos/agroforestry_1992_gotsch.pdf
2. Agendagotsch.com
3. Life in Sytrnopy

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

I Wish I Understood this Before I Started Farming! (Why Permaculture ≠ Farming)

"The opposite of a bad idea is rarely a good idea, it's usually just another bad idea." 

In America's frantic and polarized culture, this axiom is one of my favorite thinking tools. It's an oldie-but-goodie that's being re-popularized by John Michael Greer.

Lately, I've been sharing a lot of negative-sounding research and perspectives on the current "profitable farming" craze, but it's NOT that I want to discourage people.

I want people to succeed gloriously in creating beautiful, rich lives with greater connection to the land - living WITH the land, not OFF it like some beast of burden. And I think that goal is completely attainable.

(And here are some reasons smart folks are turning to the land for a livelihood)

Folks feeling trapped in the out of control dumpster fire of modern American worklife often want to head straight into hardcore homesteading or farming, get some acreage, a managerie of animals, and simultaneously start market farming. I see this all the time. Several popular "farming business models" even promote themselves as ways to learn about farming while making a living do it. (That should be a warning sign in itself.) 

Out of the fire and into the fryer. This is NEVER a good idea. Some may survive the heat, but that doesn't mean it was a good idea. Why not just get out of the fire?

If you've looked into farming at all, you've heard the stories and advice of those Regenerative Ag gurus who bought acreage, took on massive debt, invested in thousands of trees with a 90% attrition rate, started experimenting on livestock, lived in hovels with dirt floors and tarp roofs for 20 years until farm insurance speculators drove up their land prices enough that Trulia told them they were suddenly millionaires. Their advice? Just do what they did! Easy! Or perhaps you're more inspired by the intrepid enrepreneur veg-farm start-ups that managed to pull "$150k!!!" (fine print: that's gross, net is minimum wage) after staving off bankruptcy for 3 years by charging super-premium prices in upscale markets with no mortgages and lots of free money and labor. They SURVIVED! So now they cash-flow big money each year selling "profitable farming" workshops!

But just because they survived wandering blindfolded through the field of pit-traps they set for themselves, doesn't mean blindfolds and pit-traps are good investments.

Everyone knows most new businesses fail, and the numbers for farm businesses are absolutely the worst of the worst.

We look to the famous farmers and Permie celebs on magazine covers that "survived" for advice, when - because the biggest problem is high attrition rates for new farms - when we SHOULD be looking at the ones that failed. This is called survivorship bias. Another great thought tool every farm entrepreneur should be familar with:. https://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/

Finally, another great thought tool from the world of poker: if you're at the table and you don't know who the mark is, you're the mark.... (the one who's going to lose.)

So here's the thing everyone's keeping a secret: Farming is the most direct interaction with the market you can have. Sorry, but it always has been, always will be. It's what you'll read in farming briefs from the 1910s or 1890s, all the way back to medieval farming manuals! Or watch the BBC "Historic Farm" series for the cliff-notes version. Permaculture creator Bill Mollison talked about this stuff ALL THE TIME. It's all about supply/demand, market forces and buying low, selling high.    

(That's a whole chicken, cleaned, frozen, packed, shipped, prepped, cooked, packaged, and kept heated for $2. You gonna be profitable competing with that in your backyard?

Right now, land prices are super high. Cattle prices are very high. Hog prices are high. Prices on heirloom poultry are super stupid freaking high. But market prices on beef, milk, pork, eggs and fryers are kept ridiculously, artificially stupid low (see graph for example.) You can literally buy a whole chicken, already cooked and prepared at Walmart for $2. THAT'S LIKE A DOLLAR CHICKEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nursery stock is stupid cheap, but upscale vendors are reselling literally the same stock for a 4000% mark-up to would-be farmers financing with Ag loans. Vegetable prices are just plain silly and meanwhile there's a growing glut of vegetable farmers competing for a customer base that research indicates is currently declining. Local farmers markets are consolidating in most markets into super-large events with tons of competition. New farmers think they can undercut the competition, but in the studies I've seen, the veg farmers making money are ones able to charge 4-10 TIMES above market rates. 

(Dead on economic analysis from Revolutionpig.com. A hog has 1/4 the buying power it had in 1960)

Now I cannot fathom sustaining chickens that cost HALF as much as a 16 oz bottle of water forever into the future.... But what IS highly profitable right now is "profitable farming" classes, especially online ones. I call this "new digital farming," and it ain't all bad. (Others have started calling it "Youtube Farming.") Most farmers will need some way to decouple their income from the productivity of their land if they don't want to end up exploiting their land. But given how silly the promises have become ("learn to be a millionaire off an acre!" is a literal quote from one ad going around) and expensive they've become ($1,500 - $4000!) I think even "profitable farming" classes have reached their peak. Given the spending power of your average farmer, I'd say this market looks worse than blood from turnips.

And I don't know any of those gurus who will tell you those most important "secrets" (i.e. 101 level farming basics) I just told you in that paragraph above. Why would they let the air out of their own bubble? In fact, some will be mad that I did. And for FREE even! But if we're not careful, when that profitable farming bubble pops, it's going to blow up a lot of really valuable Permaculture, local food, and sustainability initiatives with it.

Anyway, none of this means you can't actually farm profitably or live with the land. But it does mean you have to be clever. How are you planning to beat the curve? How will your designs support that plan? 

If Ag briefs show you can make $30k off a 1,000 hog herd if you can demand top prices, and you're planning on a dozen hogs being your main Ag product for the first 10 years, you're going to end up scrambling to pay off your $100k of "regenerative ag" infrastructure. Look at studies on time requirements for various farm tasks: unless you got some kind of magic system, those hogs are just going to cost you more time to care for than they'll save you in "work," no matter what your guru says.... 

Careful Permaculture design can help you make war on costs and meet your income goals, but only if you have clear goals and a detailed business plan to begin with. Many new Permie business plans only ever get as far as: "Buy farm, become Sepp Holzer, make BANK on farm tours and classes." 

But more importantly, despite what some of the famous gurus are selling, you don't have to farm to "do Permaculture." Although you're literally not allowed to share this radical secret knowledge on the Permies forum, Permaculture has nothing to do with farming. It has to do with designing your landscape and life to better meet your needs.

So why do you really want to homestead or farm? Is it:
To have a simpler but richer lifestyle?
To reconnect with nature and natural rhythms?
Because you love being around and caring for animals?
To find right livelihood?
To make a living OFF the land by exploiting the earth, animals and human laborers? 
Or would you rather live WITH the land, in cooperation with your ecosystem and community?
Because you want to raise your family around these things?
Because you want to take control of your family's food and health?
Because you want your children to be reslient, healthy and know how to grow their own food?
Because you want to fight ecological collapse and climate change while helping your community?
Because you want to prepare for the uncertain and dangerous future we appear to be creating for ourselves?
Because you want to save your family farmstead?
Because you want to help feed your community?
Because you want to learn about farming?
Because you have some notions about "self sufficiency?" 
Because you want to live some "farming lifestyle" that is probably just a total myth? 

You can design your life to accumulate all these things, and have a higher positive social, economic and ecological impact, without farming. In fact, it's highly likely farming would only get in your way and hold you back. Ask: Is it possible that our preconceived notions (or the notions sold to us by digital farmers and University Extension services) about farming and homesteading are just a blindfold?

What do I really want? How can I design my life to accumulate what I really want? Answering these questions and daring to take off the blindfold, that is the "REAL" Permaculture. 


More honest analysis on farming livelihoods:

The economics of SPIN Permaculture

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Fall 2018 Plant and Seed Sale

Our Fall 2018 Plant and seed sale has begun! ITEMS AVAILABLE FOR LOCAL PICK-UP ONLY
We're proud of our offerings this season. We're not wasting time with common and low-value plants. Instead, we're focussing mostly on offering are high-value edibles or guild plants, largely select stock and rare items. We have included a few common plants that are important or highly valuable to Permaculturists designing guilds or forest gardens.
We're also out to change the way nursery business is conducted. While we'd like to think that our gardening is a sustainable endeavor, the truth is the nursery business has become increasingly unsustainable, often destroying topsoil at unprecedented rates, using rare and non-renewable resources for potting soil, using large amounts of fossil fuels and platics. It's time to change that and get back to the way we used to share garden plants. We're selling only dormant season plants, at the best time to plant them for success, without heavy plastic, irrigation, and soil mix use. And of course, we're only offering plants locally for pick-up, instead of relying upon shipping and increased transportation footprint (not to mention the risk of spreading invasive species.) Since this also keeps our costs low, we can pass on the savings to you. Most of this inventory is priced well below what it would be found at in a commercial nursery - if you could find it!
Because we only sell plants at the time that they can be most successfully transplanted, our stock changes through the year. Some stock is not available for order online yet. More plants and varieties will be available for Spring purchase.

To place an order for pick up, please visit our store. 

Fall Sale Plant/Seed Inventory (2018)

(Other specialty stock is available to Community Supported Permaculture members by special request.) 

To ensure maximum plant health and sustainability, plants we be sold as they are available in September and November. Check our online store for more information. 

Seeds, Available for pickup, November 2018 
*(Only available to our Community Supported Permaculture members)
Anise hyssop
Belgian Endive landrace
Blood-veined sorrel
Galapagos tomatoes
Ground cherry
Landrace butter lettuce
Landrace seminole pumpkin
Paw paw (properly stored and ripened seed!)
Rattail radish
Red mizuna mustard
Turkish Rocket
Wild perennial flax
Perennial bulbing fennel
*Sea kale
*Sweet grass
Black cohosh
Good king henry
Perennial ornamental leek
Seeds only available to CSA members
*Sweet cicely
Perennial Plants, Available September 20th, 2018
*Available only to Community Supported Permaculture members

American native mint
*Creeping thyme
*Garlic chives
*Monada fistulosa
*Perennial black kale
*Perennial curly kale
*Select Rhubarb
*Russian sage
*Shasta daisy
*White blue false indigo
Wood nettle (Native)
Apple mint
Barren strawberry
Blood-veined sorrel
Brown-eyed Susan
Chinese yam (limit 2 per order)
chocolate mint
Common Milkweed
Day lily, confirmed edible
Egyptian walking onions
Garlic, wild green
Greek Oregano
Groundnut - Limit, 2 per order
India strawberry
Jerusalem artichoke, Horizon red
Jerusalem artichoke, Kalamazoo wild
Jerusalem artichoke, stampede
Monarda Didyma
Prickly pear cactus
Sheep sorrel
Culinary spearmint
Turkish rocket
Wood betony
Cup plant
Big bluestem
Little bluestem

Woody Perennial Shrubs and Trees, available November 2018
*Available only to Community Supported Permaculture Members

*Paw paw
*Rugosa rose, selected stock, red 
*Thornless blackberry, large fruiting
Black cherry
Black raspberry
Blackberry, selected stock
Cornelian cherry, selected stock
Cornelian cherry, small
Elderberry - selected stock
Elderberry - wild
Mulberry - selected
Nanking cherry, seedling
Northern Pecan 
Rugosa rose, wild
Serviceberry - select stock
Tulip poplar
Seedling white peach

Other Recommended Supplies
These are supplies and brands that we’ve tested and recommend. 
6’ sturdy steel plant spirals $10
Hori Hori $35
Agricultural kama $18 
Vermicomposting worms (market price)
Vermicomposting bins w/worms $30. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Designing and Establishing Edible Hedges, Hedgerows, and Windbreaks


You want to LEARN JUST ONE WEIRD TRICK that will have a guaranteed positive effect on a huge range of features including:
Farm and garden productivity and profitability
Reduced irrigation requirements
Reduce cost of fencing and livestock management and feeding
Home and garden security
Improved livability and reduced home heating and cooling costs
Reduced pest and disease pressures
Increased pollinators, native flora and fauna,
Increased soil health and fertility, 
Increased water health,
Increased biodiversity and overal ecosystem health
Fight climate change by sequestering a whole lot of carbon
And provide more food for less work than just about any thing else you can do? 

Then here's your word for the day: "hedgerows." 

(Schematic for a typical hedgerow in Normandy, France.)

Hedgerows, or living fences and boundaries have been planted by humans for at least 6,000 years (Mueller, European Field Boundaries) to cheaply and easily provide a long, long list of services and simplify landscape management. 

Across climates, including in the tropics  most researchers are stressing the importance of these "anthropogenic" systems to the health of ecosystems, with research domonstrating their value to wildlife, their ability to increase biodiversity, bolster native bird and invertebrate populations, act as a buffer from agricultural pollution, clean water, recharge aquifers, mitigate soil loss and erosion, sequester carbon, and so on. 

Across Europe and Asia, in cultures where hedgerows were common landscape feature , they are now being recognized for their value, and cherished for their associated cultural traditions and character within the landscape. In many countries, such as the UK or Japan, they are associated with culinary traditions, are considered an important part of the sense of place, such as the "bocage" landscapes of France, or have long-standing spiritual symbolism or religious and cultural traditions associated with them. 

Even in North America, where we culturally lack the deep appreciation for hedgerows, bocage, and "mosaic landscapes," and environmentalism is more influenced by the mythology and assumptions about a wide-open American "wilderness" untouched by humans (despite the large native population), Universities widely reinforce the high value of hedgerows and windbreaks for ecosystem health and agricultural productivity, and decry the loss of these features due to poor economic choices and poor understanding of food safety practices, as a tragedy. 

And while some agricultural authorities working under Food Safety and Modernization Act regulations superstitiously eye hedgerows with suspicion (or suggest that removing some hedgerows might be a "balanced approach) research continues to show that hedgerows do NOT pose a risk for contaminating food, and actually reduce risk  while removal and "mitigation" efforts such as tilling around hedgerows may actually increase risk. 

But many studies have show that the improvements to ecosystem health from restoring hedgerows do carry benefits to humans in farming, gardening, home or other productive landscapes, including reduction in pests, and increase in pollination. 

In addition to a positive effect ecosystems, hedgerows can have more direct benefits and yields to humans depending upon their design, including firewood, building materials, reduced irrigation, increase soil fertility, free fertilizer, improved soil carbon, reduced soil loss, garden stakes and trellises, tool handles, better plant growth from shelter, and of course, foods and medicines. In most places where hedgerows exist, they have long been seen as an important source of both. 

Designing an Edible Hedgerow or Tapestry Hedge

While one can use similar techniques for broad-scale windbreaks or livestock enclosures by making appropriate adaptations, this article will focuss on the small-scale edible hedgerow or tapestry hedge, based off of European designs and traditions. 

It was a couple of our favorite foraging spots which inspired our desire to have an edible fence. One in particular, was a naturally-occuring hedgerow that produced a large variety and quantity of fruits, nuts and vegetables throughout the season, all with little to no annual maintenance from humans. 

Compared to our hard work as guest farm laborers, the high rewards and low maintenance of our favorite hedgerow seemed like a great idea, and we decided to "take it home" with us. 

But when we began looking into expert recommendations on how to grow an edible hedge in the US, we were surprised to see everyone advocating against the species and spacings that was common to our favorite foraging spots. 

Was mother nature growing these natural food forests all wrong, as the experts suggested? 

Traditional Spacings: Tight!

However, when we looked into resources on traditional hedge culture, species and techniques in other countries, we found systems that looked very much like what was occuring naturally at our favorite high-productivity, low-maintenance spots. (Mueller, European Field Boundaries Volumes 1 &2, etc.)

While modern US recommendations look very different in terms of species selection, and management, the biggest difference between traditional hedge, hedgerow and windbreak technologies, and modern recommendations (at least in the US) is in spacings. Most common recommendations I can find from US sources recommend planting at spacings where crowns just intermix or touch at maturity (perhaps 7-10' centers for many shrub species, with many suggesting 5' was too tight) whereas traditional forms typically space plants at 1- 2 1/2'. 

While these seem very close to a gardener, these spacings approximate what one commonly sees occuring in natural thickets in many biomes, including our favorite foraging locations. 

But, despite the expert recommendations, these tight naturalistic plantings found in traditional hedgery, which have proven their effectiveness in experiments over millennia, have become the cutting edge of scientific forestry (as well as many Permaculture circles) throughout the world, since the 1980s when a Japanese forester named Akira Miyawaki took notice of the way Nature grows forests.

It's no coincidence that this evolved technology of hedgerows closely resembles the cutting edge reforestation program referred to as the Miyawaki technique. Miyawaki was a forester interested in regrowing healthy forests in Japan for purpose of maintaining habitat, controlling erosion, sequestering carbon and solving other problems through the ecosystem services, who noticed that the plant spacings and communities used in "conventional" forestry practice looked nothing at all like the types of spacings and communities that would occur during natural reforestation, and that the conventional approach often performed poorly in comparison to the way nature solved this same problem. He hypothesized that the conventional recommendations were tested and developed to optimize commercial yield in various ways, not to optimize fast, easy cost-effective establishment of healthy forest. Basing his approach off of the observation of naturally-occuring rapid reforestation, he developed a system of using seed from locally-adapted, free specimens, with intermixed stages of succession, at very tight plantings, and he found that nature was solving the problem the right way. Across many climates and ecosystem types, Miyawaki's technique has been replicated and found to far out-perform conventional practice, with far less cost and fewer destructive chemical inputs. 

Indeed, some US sources appear to criticize Miyawaki's methods as inappropriate to North America's idealized "natural landscapes," because they do not leave enough room for our most important North American "nature area" keystone species: tax dollars, corporate petrochemicals, herbicides, and heavy machinery. 

For some, it's counter-intuitive, but research has found that even on spare soils in dry climates with a risk of desertification, the tight plantings of the Miyawaki technique lead to rapid establishment with little after-planting care, even where conventional techniques failed with continued Intervention!

This goes well with current ecological theory and research, which has found that while we previously believed that competition between plants would impair growth and establishment, in such tight, naturalistic plantings cooperation out-weighs competition and gives the individuals an advantage compared to situations with unnaturally wide plant spacings. 

(Integrated Hedgerow design by Bill Mollison, for Semi-tropical climate)

Moreover, with rapid, dense growth, we humans can begin to reap the rewards of ecosystem services - windbreak, enhanced microclimates, erosion-prevention, water harvest, buffering, wildlife habitat, biodiversity and food (under tight plantings most species will bare "precociously" at an early age) - in a very short order, rather than struggling with establishment for 15 years for a wind-break to finally serve its purpose. With all this, it's no wonder that cutting-edge Permaculture designers like Geoff Lawton have begun to implement Miyawki's research for such applications as forest gardens, ally cropping and, of course, hedgerows. 

As a very rough guideline, my recommendation for a hedge where production is the main goal is to plant into a 10' wide strip of at least 30' of length (to have much room for diversity) with larger woody perennials at 2'-3', and with smaller woody shrubs and herbaceous perennials filling in the gaps to create approximately 1' spacings. I typically don't plant anything direcly between woody perennials, except perhaps for short-term crops like Jerusalem artichokes, which can provide a big yield in early years, ensure a complete hedge effect in the first season, provide ample biomass for mulch, and then die back as woody perennials establish. For best results, very plants by height, and species, planting main species such as hazelnuts at standard spacings, and filling in the gaps with smaller species. For larger hedgerows and windbreaks, I recommend multiple rows of woody perennials, but still at tight plantings. For hedges where security or animal enclosure is the main goal, I recommend 1' spacings, with a high percentage of thorny species such as hawthorn, blackthorn, or sea buckthorn. 

Permaculture Design Parameters:

With hedgerows being so useful, it's no wonder that many of Mollison's early designs included hedges, shelterbelts, sun-traps and windbreaks. Permaculture 2 is filled with whole sections on these features. 

In addition to siting the hedgerow to provide as many benefits as possible, one should consider mechanisms to insure adequate water and appropriate drainage. Hedgerows are excellent features on swales or micro-swales. Net and pan design can be used to make watering easy and help plantings be self-watering. We used a system of net and pan along with trench composing swales to make sure that water would flow down our hedgerow, providing adequate water to our young trees during establishment while also keeping water from completely filling planting holes on our very compacted soils with extremely poor drainage. This can be seen in some of the establishment shots in our Hedgerow video. Integration with keyhole gardens and "edible border gardens" are an excellent idea, and common in the English and French gardening traditions. 

Species selection for Temperate regions

For our main woody perennials, we'll need plants that share a few major charactaristics:
1. They can thrive in tight, wild plantings.
2. They are disease and pest resistant.
3. They take well to coppicing, or hard pruning techniques where they are periodically cut back to the ground. 

Traditional hedge management simplifies pruning and maintains health and productivity.

Major species will make up 50-60% of the multi-purpose edible hedge, and include hazelnut, hawthorn, blackthorn or bullaces, sea buckthorn or autumn olive if it is not invasive in your region. Note that European wild plums take to coppicing well, but according to USDA research American species of wild plums do not. Also note that there are some American species of hawthorns that take well to coppicing and are high quality edible fruits, which far surpass the European species. To maximize productivity, these major species should be spaced at essentially orchard spacings, approx 12-15' depending. 

Support species should fill in the gaps between, still alternating heights when possible. My recommendations for these include: Asian pears, wild pears, rugosa roses, goumi, elderberry, medlar, currants, and brambles. Note that I do not include apples, European pears, or other common culinary fruits, as they are unlikely to be healthy and productive in such conditions. Occasionally I encounter an instance which excepts this rule, but in most cases, I would not expect them to do well in an edible hedge, and are more appropriate to other growing systems.  

Finally, a great deal of additional plants can add to the productivity and biodiversity of the edible hedge, including: 

For more information, ideas, and resources on hedgerow culture, visit our previous article on hedgerows                                        

NOTE: in the following list, care should be taken to ensure that species are not invasive to your region, are appropriate to your specific sites and soils, and appropriate to "coppicing." 
1. Suitable species for Australia, from a Permculture perspective: https://permaculture.com.au/venerating-and-regenerating-hedgerows/
3. Hedgerow medicines: http://www.hedgerowmedicine.com/
4. Hedgerow foraging in UK, applicable to mant temperate climates, http://www.wildfooduk.com/hedgerow-food-guide/

Selected Citations (more research sources appear in text above)
1. Countour Hedgerows increase soil and water health in the tropics: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0167880995010122
2. Incease wildlife and biodiversity, UK: http://www.hedgelink.org.uk/index.php?page=21
2. Hedgerows reduce risk of food contamination: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=26370
3. Hedges reduce pests and increase pollination.http://calag.ucanr.edu/archive/?article=ca.2017a0020
reduction in pests, and increase in pollination.  1- 2 1/2'. 1- 2 1/2'.