[permaculture] Update dryland polycultures...

Marsha Hanzi hanzibra at svn.com.br
Thu Jan 16 07:56:44 EST 2003

(From Marsha in drylands Brazil)

I just came back from the fields where our polyculture   ( mentioned
recently in this list) has taken a leap forward- or promises to have, a few
months more will tell..

Instead of planting separate lines of each element ( corn, beans, cactus,
legumes etc.), the strategy now is to  do it all together.

With a horse-drawn cultivater  they opened  furrows at 50 cm, laying opuntia
at evey 30 cm on one side of the furrow (giving exteme density=50X30cm.This
will be mulch material or animal fodder).  Into the furrow was sown a
mixture  of 28 plants, from quick cash crops like sesame and adzuki beans to
castor to legume trees to fruit trees( mixed with earth to help spacing of
the seeds).  Germination was fantastic.  The space between the furrows was
clean, so could be easily hoed or  cultivated with animal traction, after
which a legume will be planted to cover the soil and impede  further weeds
from sprouting ( this done later so that the crops could get a headstart
over the fast-growing legume).

If this strategy works as well as it looks ( even the fruit trees had
sprouted in the space of a few days..), we will be able to mechanize ( with
animals), thus taking polycultures to broader scale than we have managed
until now. The end result will be an agroforest or then the farmer can cut
all ( with incredible benefit to the soil thanks to mulch  etc) and start
with short-term crops again...

Advantage is that if there are germination failures due to climate, holes
will not be left in the system, as something else will come up to take its

We will have to thin the rows, but with time the correct mixture of seeds
will be found to have optimum spacing...

The young farmer ( 25 years old) who  planted this field is so happy with
polycultures that he says he will never go back to the other way, and has
already helped his neighbor get off chemicals by teaching him to use organic
fertilizers, apparently to a 80% reduction in cost, even though he had to
truck the material in ( castor hulls..)

We have observed that even those farmers who adopt management of mulch
materials without continuing the more complex polycultures, have significant
increase in  production, thanks to increased water retention, fundamental to
castor production.

Marsha Hanzi
Instituto de Permacultura da Bahia

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