The Synergistic Garden
Part 1 Of 3
Reproduced from Prodder, translated from French by Linda Hull
(Permaculture Magazine - www.permaculture.co.uk)
Emilia Hazelip, who introduced the concept of permaculture to France
over a decade ago, is constantly evolving her work and has been developing
a food growing method which she calls 'Synergistic Agriculture'.
Emilia Hazelip's work is strongly influenced by Masanobu Fukuoka's system
of 'natural agriculture', by permaculture and Marc Boufils's agronomical
research, as well as by her own experimental work growing food crops with
minimal inputs in the south of France and in other Mediterranean countries.
The first surprise when you enter Emilia's kitchen garden is seeing
vegetables growing in a quite disorderly fashion on oblong mounds of earth
1.2 meters (5ft) wide by 8 meters (26ft) long. The rule is to make space
for the feet and space for the plants, because putting feet where plants
are to grow leads to soil compaction and where there is no air in the soil
nothing will grow. The cultivated areas are well demarcated, their elevated
form giving a notable increase in surface area for production. Moreover,
they are all covered with mulch - covering the soil to preserve the organic
material, preventing erosion and compaction by rain, diminishing evaporation
in summer and maintaining a soil microclimate which reduces the adverse
effects of temperature extremes. Protecting the soil in this way removes
the need to aerate it each year. Emilia claims that there is no need to
fertilize the soil because it is left to maintain itself: 'soil autofertility'.
Instead of pulling out all the plants and leaving the ground bare over
winter to suffer the effects of erosion, some plants and all roots are
left in the soil, their decomposition assuring a continuous reserve of
organic matter in the soil.
This also has other benefits. Leeks, for example, are cut down to the
white part, then left two to three weeks to produce a second crop. Afterwards
roots are left in the soil where they regenerate making seed for the following
In this experimental garden, the gourd is neighbor to the tomato seedling
which itself is found beside beans or peppers. Because thought is given
to companion planting and guilds, diversity helps plants to defend themselves
better against diseases and pests. This combination of plants also supports
the soil's autofertility.
You can see, here and there, flowers and weeds, or rather what are called
here 'spontaneous plants'. You don't pull these out (not all, anyway) because,
being indigenous, they attract insects and other organisms in the soil
which are beneficial. For all these reasons, it is better to combine the
greatest diversity of plants, even those which we think of as useless.
Emilia says it's necessary to allow a certain number of pests (or so-called
pests) to live in the garden because they sometimes work as the gardener's
helpers. If, for example, you eradicate the colonies of greenfly, the ladybirds
which feed on them will no longer come and will not be there to regulate
the greenfly population or to fight off the next new invasion of insects.
However, the problem of slugs is still not resolved. The ducks, which
have a small pond in the middle of the garden, turned out to be inefficient
(they're asleep when the slugs are in full swing!). Emilia is looking for
other predators to intervene in the biological struggle. She's going to
reintroduce the hedgehog and, with the co-operation of a local agricultural
researcher, experiment with the efficiency of the scarab, a small beetle
which is a natural predator of the slug.
Finally a synergistic garden is an ecosystem that is consciously designed
to allow all the dynamic life forms present in a wild soil to remain present
while still growing crops (on whatever scale). It is that simple. But that's
not the view commonly held in the sphere of science or in the politics
of agribusiness which rule France. Emilia exclaims passionately: "The living
world is not understood by the technician, and since it is not understood,
it is not studied for its diversity. People always want to apply mechanical
laws to it..."
The Synergistic Garden Part 2 Of 3
We have inherited an agriculture which has always disturbed the soil
in order to prepare the next crop. The ancient agriculture of the Incas,
the Mayas and the Orient also prepared the fields in such a way. Culturally,
this activity has been honored and sung by poets. Ecologically, pedologically,
it is a catastrophe.
A natural, non-traumatized soil presents a subtle balance of thousands
of diverse specific organisms. From friendly bacteria to fungi, the presence
of all these invisible subtle lives allows complex interactions - the 'Synergistic
Effect'. Among the dynamic processes in the soil, I think that the ethylene-oxygen
cycle is a good example of this wondrous world.
How can we give back to the soil something to compensate, and return
it to natural uncultivated health? We cannot recreate that quality while
we keep on destabilizing the rhizosphere. The only way is to learn a type
of agriculture that will reconcile the maintenance of soil 'wildness' and
the production of crops. This has been my endeavor for over 20 years. I
call the system I have evolved 'Synergistic Agriculture', utilizing the
self-fertility of the wild soil as fertilizer. This agriculture can be
practiced on any scale and all the machinery used in the U.S.A. and Canada
for no-till agriculture can be used for Synergistic Agriculture.
The foundation of my research is the work of Masanobu Fukuoka, whose
book The One Straw Revolution changed my life in 1977 when it was published
in English. In Fukuoka's natural agriculture no machines are used, nor
greenhouses, nor all those things we normally have to do when working in
a difficult climate. To me what seemed most important was to be able to
obtain crops without 'exploiting' the soil, even if a compromise is made
regarding machines. Before encountering Fukuoka's work, I had been working
near Chadwick, in Santa Cruz, California in the late '60s. Following the
reading (also in the '60s) of Ruth Stout's books Gardening Without Work
and How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, I began covering
beds with a variety of materials.
Since then I have made raised beds in all my gardens, although the difference
in volume came only from the soil taken off the path and put on the bed...
no double-digging at all.
In 1985, during the first permaculture design course with Sego Jackson
in the Pyrenees, Marc Bonfils gave a presentation on self-fertile cereal
production. Since then Marc has been teaching about the agronomical reasons
behind this new method of agriculture. Nowadays, microbiologists like Alan
Smith and Elaine Ingham are also providing much needed evidence of the
well found need to stop altering the soil's stability and stressing it
to exhaustion by plowing.
I cannot call this agriculture 'do-nothing' agriculture since, on the
contrary, there is much to do to establish a succession of cultures where
what you are leaving behind is as important as what you are harvesting.
A detailed plan indicating the plant mixtures and successions, paying attention
to the kind of root residue the soil is receiving combined constantly with
nitrogen-fixing plants of the legumes variety, is a must.
SOIL & PLANT SYNERGY
Although to start the system the soil can be dug over thoroughly, once
we start the garden we must be sure not to disturb the soil deeper than
the sowing depth, and only then where it is sown. What consumes organic
matter in the soil is the chemical reaction that follows when atmospheric
gases are put in intimate contact with the soil while plowing. Although
by mineralizing humus, a quick instant fertilizer has been produced, the
price you pay for this is much too high. Plants' growth and health also
depend on other substances like ethylene gas which enhances the assimilation
of iron. Plants will be healthy if all the digestive flora in the soil
are present. Soil and plants are a single organism.
Plants are the 'antenna' of the soil, capturing light and creating solid,
organic, vegetable matter from the space above, since 95% of needed nutrients
come from gases and light. In other words, the plant is only taking 21/2%
of its needs from the soil in the form of minerals and trace elements.
The remaining 21/2% of nutrients is nitrogen, which
can be obtained in a symbiotic way by combining with nitrogen-fixing plants,
mainly from the legumes family, like beans, chickpeas, favabeans, lentils
Harvesting is as important as the rest of the process. The soil is a
living mass of interacting beings, and they all eat just like everything
alive on this planet. Their foodchains are a wonder of intricate relationships
covering the mineral, the vegetal, and the animal/insect/bacteria worlds.
When we disturb the soil by plowing it, despite our best intentions
we are creating stress in it. The moment we stop doing this we can organize
our garden or farm in such a way that the soil functions as if 'in the
wild'. A maximum of what has grown in it is left either by its roots (for
an above the ground crop) or by following a rootcrop by another crop which
will leave generous amounts of roots in the soil, such as Swiss chard.
These residues, together with a biodegradable mulch, amount to surface
composting, leaving more organic matter in the soil than the crop has removed.
From the moment we stop mineralizing the humus, litter accumulates on the
soil as well as in a myriad of microsites within it, hosting happy bacteria
cycling between ethylene and oxygen, releasing biological gas essential
to the wellbeing of all types of roots.
The less we disturb the soil, the more diversity and intensity of interactions
will take place in its mass, so the healthier the plants and the fewer
problems there will be for us. It is time for us to acknowledge that the
soil needs to be itself while we produce our crops. We must respect this
organism enough to let it function in its natural way although 'domesticated'
by our technical care.
The organisms in the soil are like the bloodstream of the human body
which carries nutrients and participates in the assimilation of the minerals
that are present.
Above the ground leaves act like photovoltaic cells, capturing light
and producing energy. The only bridge doing this fantastic job is plants;
it has always struck me as odd, that, although in the wild, plants are
the first link in the food chains and are responsible for the creation
of 'soil', in agriculture, on the other hand, they are accused of destroying
the soil. Typical of Homo occidentalis, the crops have been made
a scapegoat for the negative effects of plowing!
The soil should never be opened up and forcefed, not even with the best
made compost ever. Leave only to the soil what is grown in it. As for the
rest put it above the soil, as mulch. And let all the soil occupants absorb
it into its mass.
I truly believe that as long as we have not found peace with the soil,
we won't find peace above the ground. That as long as we justify the exploitation
of an organism, other exploitations will follow and we will remain parasites,
consuming more than participating and spiralling into entropy until we
commit mass suicide.
Synergistic Garden Part 3 Of 3
The Four Principles Of Synergistic Agriculture
1. Keep the soil undisturbed and uncompacted.
2. Use the soil's self-fertility as fertilizer.
3. Integrate the litter zone with the agricultural soil profile.
4. Establish a partnership with beneficials to protect crops.
Raised beds are only needed where crops are harvested continually. For
areas where produce is harvested once only, a good layer of mulch will
he enough to protect the soil from compaction.
The following examples apply to raised beds in regions with a temperate
climate, where nighttime temperatures in the winter do not fall below -10
degrees C. For gardens in more extreme latitudes, or at high altitudes,
a quite different strategy is needed. Equally for climates that are frost-free
in winter an alternative planting and cropping succession plan will apply.
In my experience the positive or negative results that I have had with
sowing dates have happened as a result of studying the development of plants
throughout the season, in relation to weather etc. (I've long since given
up following the lunar/cosmic calendar, there being insufficient evidence
of results to justify the time and complication of applying it.) Perhaps
certain influences come from our attitude rather than from further afield...
and besides a happy, self-fertile soil does influence germination and the
growth of plants.
Let's look then at how to handle production for a three-year cycle (which
can be repeated indefinitely) on three different raised beds.
RAISED BED 1
Sow root vegetables in lines, planted 25-30 centimeters apart, of carrots
and/or beets, as well as turnips on the flat top of the raised bed. When
sowing small seeds, push back the mulch in the line to be sown, and without
'working the soil', simply make an indentation the same length as the line,
put your seeds in as you normally do and sprinkle some soil on top. Then
put some pressure on the soil so that it adheres to the seed. If the seeds
are small do not replace the mulch, but do keep the area moist. This crop
can be combined with any type of sweet garden pea, which can be sown either
in pockets or across the narrow bed every 2-3 meters.
On the sides of the raised bed plant in a zig-zag pattern; try onion
sets or seedlings interspersed with any type of lettuce or salad chicory.
Keep the sides permanently planted with cut and come again salads, planting
new seedlings next to the plants that are going to seed. When the onions
are harvested, use the same zone for new onion varieties, or for garlic
or leeks. Over a period of time you should try to plant 'salads' where
the onions were, and put the liliaceous varieties where the salads were.
The sides of all raised beds should be treated similarly except where you
want to grow perennial chives or other perennial or self-seeding members
of the same family.
Be sure to sow flowers too in all your beds: calendula (predominantly
the orange variety), as well as all types of French marigolds and nasturtiums,
paying attention to their growth pattern. Each bed should have at least
one of each of these plants as beneficial companions to the crops. Plant
them on the flat top of the raised bed, but don't let them take up too
As you harvest the root crop, sow mustard greens in the same spaces.
As the sweet garden peas are cut and left as mulch, sow pockets of beans
September - October
Sow winter varieties of spinach as the mustard greens are harvested.
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas among the spinach.
March - April
Plant lines of Swiss chard plants among the broad beans. Sow legumes
now if you didn't plant them last autumn (or if they didn't survive the
June - August
Before harvesting the legumes, sow beans between the Swiss chard; continue
putting in beans throughout the summer.
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas (different varieties than last
year), parallel with the lines of chard.
March - April
Continue harvesting the Swiss chard until it begins to go to flower.
As soon as this happens cut most of the plants back as low as possible.
Depending on the size of the bed and how many plants you have, choose at
least two, but not more than four, to stake and let go to seed. (Space
doesn't allow for details of selecting which plants to choose for seed
production). Planting parallel to the spent Swiss chard roots, begin a
further root vegetable sowing following the Year I pattern; when choosing
succession plants bear in mind the crop rotation, and try to avoid having
two plants of the same family following each other.
RAISED BED 2
March - April
Sow small peas in pockets, at 50-60 centimeters distance.
In the center of: the bed plant tomatoes in two zig-zag lines. In front
of the tomatoes sow basil and coriander.
Sow beans among the tomatoes all through the summer.
Sow broad beans in between the dying/dead plants that have been cut
and left as mulch.
March - April
Tomato plants like growing on soil where tomatoes have been grown before,
so no rotation strategy is needed - so repeat the Year I pattern although
it's worth moving the plants round so that roots are distributed through
all the soil (put the coriander where you had the basil and vice versa).
For winter legumes alternate each year between sweet garden peas and
Repeat Year I or follow the pattern in raised bed 3 if you prefer to
integrate a rotation pattern.
RAISED BED 3
March - April
Sow small peas.
Plant (or sow) two rows of any type of squash in a wide zig-zag line
towards the center of the bed, together with some sweet corn.
Begin sowing your beans.
In the spaces between the squash leaves, plant Chinese cabbage, broccoli
or Brussels sprouts (the squash leaves providing shade to protect the transplanted
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas in between the cabbages.
As harvesting progresses (always ensuring that you cut the plants and
leave the roots undisturbed in the soil), you can sow spinach, mustard
greens and/or borage and New Zealand spinach.
Sow beans among the other plants.
Broad beans or sweet garden peas.
Year 1 can be repeated or alternate with raised bed 2 (or another one).
Install a drip irrigation hose (a simple narrow hose with perforations
every 25-30 centimeters works fine and shouldn't suffer from chalk build-up).
2 hoses per bed is the optimum, placed in parallel about l0 centimeters
from the edges of the flat top of the raised bed.
If you want to set up a system of supports which can be left permanently
in place in the garden and which will not be damaged however strong the
wind, try 6 meter long building rods (10 or 12 centimeter gauge) forming
an arch across the beds. Attach a strong wire from the apex of each crossed
arch to the next and these will form good supports for winter climbing
peas as well as summer beans.
Be sure to use biodegradable string for attaching plants to the supports,
so that at the end of the season you can simply undo the knots from the
support and let string and plants mulch together on the bed. Cucumbers,
melons and many squashes can be encouraged to climb in this way, thus freeing
up a lot of space at ground level.
Gardening the self-fertility way produces a rich harvest: the more
plants which live and die in the soil the richer and more fertile it becomes.
Reproduced from Prodder, translated from French by Linda Hull.