Syntropic farming

My farming partner and I are quite taken with some of the methods used in syntropic farming (see note at end of this post). We have been planting lots of food producing trees and shrubs (nuts and fruits) but have been disappointed with the slow growth. As an experiment, my farming partner retrofitted an existing hazel row using syntropic ideas. This was done late summer/early autumn and the growth has been impressive. We are really looking forward to spring to see whether this continues. In a later post I’ll include some pics along with a description of the retrofit.

Note:
Syntropic farming is a system devised by Ernst Götsch in Brazil. He spent a good deal of time observing the forests around him and implemented a system that mimicked natural succession but sped up, as it were. The word syntropy, although around in English for a long time with rather different meanings in different contexts, was adopted by Götsch in an attempt to make his methods stand out a bit from agroforestry in its various manifestations. His use of the word syntropy leans more toward the meaning ascribed in quantum physiscs namely ‘the tendency towards energy concentration, order, organisation and life’ or perhaps the meaning in psychology namely ‘a wholesome association with others’. Although developed in the tropics, it is applicable in almost all environments, though perhaps not Antarctica!
Here’s a decent video introduction to the main ideas: The Foundations of Syntropic Agroforestry

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I have been trying syntropic farming in my small food forest. So far what I have observed is that support trees (we use Robinia pseudoacacia) grow twice as fast as elsewhere. As to fruit and nut trees, the growth is the same, but some trees planted in autumn had a few first fruits next year, which has never happened before in this place.

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I first heard about Syntropic Farming from the Regenerative Agroforestry podcast. Seems like a really cool system. I’m curious to hear updates on how your food forests develop while using these methods. Having recently moved to the NE US, I’m trying to figure out what sort of food forest plants we can get to play together up here when we finally get our own land.

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I hadn’t heard of this before. I can see similarities to David the Good’s grocery row garden method.

Plant spacing and design

Beginners guide

Detailed

This reminds me of first nations forest gardens, Fukuoka’s orchard-grown vegetables, and sounds potentially similar in principle to natural sequence farming.

It also reminds me of how Gabe Brown never plants perennials without planting cover crops first.

On a related note, we planted persimmon trees last fall. I did not believe the conventional advice that keeping the young trees well-weeded would yield the best result in our compacted clay.

The variables weren’t well controlled enough for it to be conclusive, but the persimmon with the most cover crops around it is leafing out the quickest. The one with the smallest amount of weeds and cover crops that is mostly surrounded by bare earth doesn’t have noticeable leaves yet.

I would be very interested to hear more about the retrofit and its apparent effects!

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Rant begins…
One of the things that disturbs my rather obsessive nature is an attempt to compare syntropic farming to permaculture. The former is a very specific design methodology for productive plant systems (food/medicine/fibre/timber) that may last for many decades. The latter is also a design methodology but with different scope which could be used to design a farm, a housing estate, a business etc. It is firmly based on a set of ethics and design principles consistent with those ethics. The two are very different and to my mind comparing them is a fruitless exercise.
Perhaps the problem arises because many seem to confuse permaculture with the techniques it often employs. Food forests are a classic case in point. Planting a food forest is not permaculture unless the ethics and design principles that drive permaculture have been applied. Permaculture is always trying to view the whole and in particular the relationships and interactions between the components within and without.
Rant ended!

One thing that I think is interesting is that so many of these techniques are very similar to one another each with their own differences. Really syntropy, grocery row gardening, relay cropping, companion planting… are all versions of the same thing. The way I understand these techniques it’s kind of like saying all trucks are vehicles but not all vehicles are trucks.

As Gabe Brown says it’s all about context. You have to choose what is the best fit for your situation and the context you are in. So I’d agree and disagree with you. Compare them for your context. Comparing them to each other just to compare them is not very useful without having a context to reference to.

Since I have plenty of garden I’ll have to play with wider spacing and “regular companion planting” and then with the much denser spacing and syntropic style planting.

Canopy layers for what I’ll be growing.

Emergent (above my head height)-
Trees (pollard for livestock and mulching)
Corn
Sunflower
Sorghum

High (waist to head height)-
Tomato
Pole bean (trellis)
Cucumber (trellis)
Peas (trellis)
Tomatillo
Tobacco (?)
Rye

Medium (below waist height)-
Pepper
Bush bean
Bush cowpea
Squash
Melon
Potato
Mangel beet
Marigold
Peanut (?)
Oats
Wheat
Barley
Flax
Buckwheat
Hairy Vetch
Forage pea

Low (knee and lower)-
Lettuce
Sweet potato
Turnip
Beet
Spinach
Radish
Onion
Garlic
Leek
Arugula
Mustard
Cabbage
Carrot
Kale
Clover

I love the yardstick being your own body. Makes perfect sense when lots of veg are going into the system.

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Thanks! That in itself actually points back to what I said before. My canopy isn’t the same measurement as is explained “by the book”. Which is based on tropical and subtropical plants and trees mainly. So using it in my context I’m automatically changing the scale to fit my situation.

Very timely post for me Ray. A neighbor has yesterday proposed to plant 5000 trees in rows on his property. He is a young farmer, looking to move away from chemical fertilizers. He wants the shade windblock and biomass, maybe fence it off and rotate animales between.

He wants to plant them five meters apart and twentyfive meters between the rows. It can be whatever fastgrowing tree. We’re eying Acacia pseudorobinia , Ash and wild Cherry for higher layers, Willow, Hazelnut, Elderberry and Peachtree for lower.

We’re looking to start passive plant nurseries around his property. Partially shaded places lower with water closeby. Fence them off for animals.
I’ve ordered a heating cable and temerature control systèm to put cuttings outside my house on the north(shade) all throughout spring and summer.

I like denser systems then he thinks of with chop and drop techniques. Using nitrogenfixing pseudorobinia as a motor to achieve faster growth through biome improvement. But it’s his project.

I guess it depends on how much trees i come up with as well.

Any tips welcome be it with the use of permaculture techniques or syntropic farming techniques…
I don’t like definitions, i believe we know nature too little to start bickering about borders and lines. I’d like to get this planet abondant for all it’s inhabitants, human and everything else.

Have a great day!

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There is quite a bit of variation in our area’s wild persimmon trees. By the parking lot at Allen Creek boat ramp are some of my favorite types. They are small but they tend to hang on the trees until a hard freeze or several hard freezes turn them into a sort of dehydrated goo with the most wonderful flavor. You need a long stick or something to knock them down, assuming some critter doesn’t get there first. The hiking trail that goes up the hill from that same place leads to a lot more of them and to a grove of great hickory trees. The trail that follows along the lake and up the little draws to the right of it has a lot of very nice papaws.

Just between you and me, Ramp Creek Road isn’t named for a boat ramp. It was Ramp Creek, long before the lake even existed and that’s all I’m giving away about that. :grin: Except that very soon, if they haven’t come out already you might also happen on a morel mushroom or two.

And if you want some wild beans, (Phaseolus polystachios) there are lots of them along the creek just below the dam. Careful, the bank is steep there and the water swift.

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Syntropic farming reminds me a lot of grocery row gardening (from David the Good) except a more mature organized version. I’m doing a sort of grocery row gardening this year just to fit in all the landraces where ever they happen to fit, we’ll see how they do :slight_smile:

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I just watched one of David the Good’s first videos on his grocery row gardening technique. He was talking about it and that people had told him about syntropic farming. It sounded like he read a couple things on it but pretty much did his own thing for his technique. So he was aware of it at that point.

I’m not a follower of syntropic farming (or any other farming system), but I’m a sympathetic and curious colleague of some who are. And I’ve been inspired by especially one element in the style of Ernst Götsch: the impulse to add as much biomass into the growing system as possible, without it taking away the productivity of the crops. The wonderful thing about Götsch is he is, as I see it, using the abilities of many plants to regenerate after being chopped down, used as mulch, turned into surface compost etc. He’s packing in lots of woody species and then uses their growth as a vehicle to build soil structure, shelter and all kinds of other life supporting elements (physical, chemical, biological). I love the maximalism, the playfulness and lack of anxiety in his relationship to his plants (just pulling out a chainsaw and cutting his way through his forest, dropping branches and whole trees to rot where they are and in that way growing something more than just plants: growing soil, mulch, microbial activity etc). There’s something about the style that is fitting to his tropical climate, where the decomposition processes and other life processes are so much faster, diverse and dynamic than my colder temperate climate, where everything is a bit slower and cooler. Both growth, regrowth and composting takes a longer time here, so it makes sense to be relatively more cautious. My disturbances, my chopping and cutting will set back the plants for a longer time than in rainforest Brazil. But it has inspired me to pack in a lot more nursing trees in my orchard than I used to, to be much less cautious and be more careless with my support species. I plant a lot of alder, ash (which used to be treated as a weed species in my orchard!) and other fast growing trees. I allow a lot more volunteer tree species to come in while young. I don’t care too much about their placement, or how I plant them. I can always take them out if they’re in the wrong place or shade out other more valuable crops to me. Turning a tree into dead branches or wood chips is easy and takes very little time. The trees are becoming machines for wood chips mostly. I cut some of them down and run them through the wood chipper. Often they resprout vigorously and I can produce more wood chips after a year or two again. I love to use wood chips as a mulch to clear the way for new plantings or establish perennial species. I almost can’t get enough wood chips for my desires. So the ability of those volunteer trees to resprout and produce more woody biomass is a welcome resistance to my destructive behavior. And only rarely am I so destructive or careless in my planting it out and it just gets killed or dies, but then it’s fine … The place would have been empty or taken up by grass otherwise. That’s how my system looked early on when I was so anxious to put everything in its final spot. A huge grass lawn with isolated climax trees that would “eventually” (after perhaps a hypothetical 10 or 20 years, assuming they would survive both the weather and the changing desires of the gardener) grow out to fill that large void of grass lawn. It’s a relief to not have to limit myself to only the long time span and just have fun in the present and near future too.

Several people in this thread are reflecting on how this and other methods compare to each other and their relative usefulness. So I’d like to add my approach to using “holistic systems” like syntropic farming. With all farming systems, I open myself to the parts of the system that can be adapted to my context here, and the skills and knowledges I’ve already acquired, but also to the style and the values of my particular way of gardening. That way it’s not much different than how I want to breed landraces themselves. I’m open to see the different ways of growing and building something more complex and integrated from that. My idea of wisdom in gardening (and in other things) is to learn how to pick the right things for the right context.

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:heart: This sounds very similar in spirit if not practice to what David the Good called “Machete Gardening” in a podcast earlier this year. It is very near to what we’re trying to lean towards on our property as well.

I’ve heard @ShaneS talk several times about the benefits of optimizing for maximum photosynthesis. This also seems aligned with the approach you describe. I can’t claim to understand the reasoning behind it, but intuitively my inclination towards minimizing interference and polyculture (influenced by indigenous land management and the arguably modern offshoots of permaculture and regenerative agriculture) seems to have been leading us in this direction

Yes, I join you in that excitement. It makes me think I’m part of rediscovering the many ways old and recent of gardening that are different from the top-down planning point of view. There are many ways to embrace spontaneous order and to take on more the role of someone shaping the environment around us, whether it be edible, functional or just unknown (allowing forms of life that you still don’t know so well).

I’d like to point to a fairly standard practice in forestry to use nurse trees when growing even the most mono-cultural plantations. Foresters have used the idea of maximizing photosynthesis to speed up growth of their primary crop like that for a long time where I live. The result is less complex of course, but it has the same insight about allowing growth processes that then support other (primary) growth processes. That inspired me too at a point in my learning process to be less future-orientered (only planting for the long-run) and focus also on getting lots of growth during earlier succession stages. In the forest garden tradition, I’ve seen the same development with folks like Martin Crawford, who at some point gave advice to space out trees very far from each other and mostly thinking about shelter at the edge of the growing system. I know there forest gardens he’s designing today have lots of nurse trees inside the forest garden, that he then pulls out or chops down, when the fruit and nut trees have grown more mature. It’s simple, and yet I didn’t even consider it for the first years of growing an orchard with understory crops.

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