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

6 Responses to Synergistic Agriculture & The Evolving Garden(er)

  1. Adina says:

    Thanks for your comment V. It is so great to hear about others who can embrace the natural way of farming. Have a great season.

  2. virgiian says:

    i am taking the fukuoka approach in my spring garden now…this is my third year of gardening and i have just made a new bed with alafa hay and compost and i will be planting mellons next week…..my firsy try was the square foot garden way,,,it worked wellbut after reading the one straw rev. this seems so much better…i live in lauderdale and am starting rowes in my front yard….my back yard has boxes but i to like the with slopped sides…i willl do 6 more 4by 18 feet rowes and continue with fukuoka way…i also like jeff lawton too…. i will keep posting to see if i an get eggplant as big as yours…I HAVE ENJOYED SITE….v

  3. Adina says:

    Hey Galen, Thanks for your response. Awesome book Teaming. I am fascinated with the science. As you point out in your first comment it is so useful to have an understanding of why a more natural approach to agriculture is so effective.
    Best of luck to you at your church garden. I hope it will be fruitful and that your volunteers will multiply.

  4. Galen says:

    Yes! That is the book. Read it a few months back and couldn’t think of the name off the top of my head late last night.

    I’m gathering the resources and people and beginning to build energy and excitement over a garden at my church. I’ll post more on my own blog as the details emerge, but our immediate goal will be to supply fresh food for the local food bank. Our long term goals will be to serve as an education center for folks wanting to grown their own food, as well as to prepare and preserve food. The garden, taking a cue from Hazelip, will also be a place of beauty in its design.

    The challenge is our miserable rocky soil. So I’m studying now to learn about how much preparation to do before building the beds. In my home garden, as documented on my blog, I spent alot of time and muscle power digging out rocks in order to achieve a suitable depth for root crops. However, I’m wondering now if all that will even be necessary if we simply build upwards with layers of materials, a la lasagna style.

    Thanks for reading my rambling, and thanks again for sharing your ideas on your wonderful blog.

    Galen

  5. Adina says:

    Hello Galen, I am glad you stopped by again. Thanks for your comment, I am in sincere and total agreement with you. It is peculiar that at some point in the evolution of farming we began to imagine ourselves more adept at growing than nature herself. Agriculture sure is working hard now to do things we can do effortlessly by simply allowing nature to do the work for us.
    Have you read the book Teaming With Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis? From your comment I imagine you may have. Slamming good read I think.
    Thanks again.

  6. Galen says:

    Hello!

    I stumbled across this post on a search for articles about Synergistic Gardening. I had bookmarked your blog some time ago but hadn’t read back to this post yet.

    You are not alone in your awakening to this ‘new’ and ancient approach to agriculture. I have watched the three-part Hazelip video several times over the past year or so and each time I pick up something new I hadn’t noticed before, or some nuance of the practice.

    After watching Geoff Lawton and ‘greening the desert’, then learning about Fukuoka, Ruth Stout, and Emilia Hazelip I finally read about Soil Food Web and picked up some of the science behind why what they were doing intuitively was working biologically.

    Personally, as a Christian, I take great pleasure in seeing God’s creation unfold in a way that humbles our efforts before his incredible design. The world, even in it’s fallen state, just works so well that I am just amazed the more I learn about how natural systems work and how our cooperation with these systems produces a better result for all of us, not just the fossil-fueled first world folks but the poor and the planet we all share. Of course, that’s my personal belief and may not be shared by others, but I still can’t help but make the connection.

    Glad to follow along with your blog and see how things are going back in Florida. I grew up in Ocala but wasn’t much into gardening at that point in my life. Now that I’m in the Pacific Northwest with a family of my own things are different. Thanks for sharing your efforts. You are to be encouraged and commended for what you’re doing. I wish you every success!

    Galen

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