Synergistic Agriculture & The Evolving Garden(er)

I intended to write about what I am doing this summer to prepare my no dig garden boxes for the winter growing season, but this blog has taken it’s own direction instead. Today I write about Synergistic Agriculture and my evolving garden practices.

This summer I have been growing in gardens I would have left fallow two summers ago. Last summer I grew vegetables in the hottest months, and I am doing it again this summer, only this time there are some differences in what I am doing after harvests. I have been growing peas and chopping the plants down to the ground after just 3 harvests, leaving the chopped leaves and stems on the soil surface, the roots in the ground, and then putting new seeds in right next to the dead plant nubs. It is incredibly fun because I suspect what will happen, but I don’t know, I have never done this before!

This is a new practice for me, that is leaving roots behind. I have been reading about a style of growing called Synergistic Agriculture as described by Emilia Hazelip and posted in the Fukuoka Farming Website. I really like her vibe because she suggests leaving the soil sort of wild except that we plant into it. In the garden she tries to simulate how plant life comes and goes in the soil in nature. It makes good sense to me.

Emila Hazelip advocates plantings of above ground and root crops alternately throughout the season while continuously planting various legumes, and she suggests we allow some plants go to seed while planting new crops right next to them. She is of the no till school of thought to the point where she recommends leaving most plants roots in the ground to decompose. Of course legumes best help the soil if the nitrogen nodes on their roots are left in the soil after the plant has died, and pulling up roots exposes the root zone of the soil to air and collapses it. It is a sort of tilling that is unnecessary. It just doesn’t happen that way in nature either. Forest Gnomes, Field Faeries, Bears and Wolves don’t go around pulling weeds and plants out by their roots. Plants would normally live, go to seed, and die down onto the soil leaving their essence behind for the soil organisms to take. If a grass eater comes thru and consumes a plant it leaves manure behind on the earth.

I think if you have been following this weblog from the beginning you might see that my style of gardening is constantly evolving. If I am confusing you then I feel sorry about that, but follow along, I believe experimenting in the garden with evolving practices is working for me. You will probably do it too, maybe you already do. Except for the Master Gardener’s training I took this year (and the SSAWG Conference I attended) I have no classical training in agriculture. All of my learning is through reading and practicing. I don’t go willy nilly practicing everything I read. I have to really see the sense in a practice, and recognize it as likely better for my garden than what I currently do before I will try it out. Of course any new practice has to fit in with my guiding principles as well. This may be slower than a classical education, but it is less dogmatic and more personal in that it is learning tempered by my own observations. I suppose at some point I will have the proper combination of practices and become more static in my garden procedures.

It is important for both of us to note (this just got intimate) that throughout my gardening years most of my gardens have performed very well, even when I was turning the soil which I was doing for most of my years in the garden. (I had to really feed that soil every summer because I kept turning it though.) I think what I am going to find out with no till gardening coupled with the synergistic approach to plants in soil is that if I keep the garden mulched through the growing season, and rotate my crops while leaving the husks and roots behind I may not have to feed the soil much more than that. We will see right? I have to say though that I like very much that it is possible that the cost of our inputs after building the garden beds or mounds may significantly drop in following years. That would be great right?

Anyway what I started to say is that there are many different practices that people use to grow vegetables and all of them can be successful. The reason that I have been changing my already successful vegetable gardening ways, what is happening in my personal gardening evolution is that all of my various garden projects, from preserving woods and wild areas on my property, to growing ornamentals, to growing vegetables, to keeping fish ponds, to composting are all being sewed together now and I realize that all of those things never were separate though I may have viewed them that way, and that what I had been doing all along was creating a working ecosystem. As I awoke to this it became necessary to change the way I was growing food because it wasn’t enough to grow vegetables free of pesticides and synthetic fertilizer anymore. I had become the creator and observer of a working ecosystem and as I am writing this blog I am beginning to learn about the vast universe of life forms that make up soil, and I am just now comprehending that plants and soil make up one organism that they very much need one another to thrive. As my understanding changes so must my practices, I therefore make no apology for how this blog has been changing in the last year. It is an evolution of awareness and practice, and if you can appreciate the vibe I am so glad to have you along.

I feel most excited for those of you who are trying this out for the first time. I will remain anxious until I begin to hear from you about your gardens. I know this is not some kind of weird magic that is only happening in my yard. It is interesting that every time I get the opportunity to use these practices elsewhere and for someone else I feel nervous about the results until they come forth, while I am relaxed and confident about the same processes in my own garden. This summer my brother in Maryland and my sister in Illinois are growing their best gardens ever using my advice. Talk about pressure, they were already gardeners. If my practices hadn’t worked in their gardens my name would have been mud!

Here’s to what seems like magic and isn’t, Cheers! and Happy Gardening