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Three Sisters, continuous cropping, in the tropics, for food and fodder.

 
master pollinator
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I've been looking at different cropping options for fields that will be managed for human food and when harvested, could be grazed immediately by animals.

I want something where a group of plants work together, producing saleable items and residues that could form a fairly complete diet, for goats and pigs.

I keep coming back to the three sisters of corn, beans and squash.

It could be sugarcane beans and squash, or amaranth beans and squash, and I have no problem with adding a fourth thing, if something else is found to do well in the group.

 Sometimes the cropping system would fill the space between banana circles. It's part of my theft prevention scheme.

I'm looking at doing this in small fields that are hemmed-in on 2 sides by nitrogen producing forage trees. An alley crop silviculture system.

Any of these mixtures will become a tangled mess by harvest-time. It would all be harvested by hand, with workers gathering each item to its appropriate basket.

Following immediately behind harvesters, would be a mobile pen containing the animals. All plants would be completely harvested. Vines, stalks and leaves would be tossed to the animals who are never more than 8 feet from the face being harvested. The pen is moved ahead as work progresses. After the pen is moved, the pigs will uproot everything while the goats scavenge what they can.

 Chickens would be allowed to trail behind and gather what they can.

There's a market for all of the food items mentioned. If it's timed to produce sweet corn, we would have to base harvest dates on that, since it's pretty critical to get that right. If the corn is just being used as fodder, then we might try to base harvest on the best date for the squash. There's a market for beans in pretty much every stage of development and immature squash have some value.

Because it's a tropical setting, with moisture available all year, this can be a continuous system, although I might want to break it up with buckwheat or some other cover crop occasionally, to prevent problems with disease. Buckwheat can be used for a short rotation, or sweet potatoes for a long rotation.
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Food supplementation and fertilization for the next crop... The goats will constantly have a supply of leaves from the fodder trees that grow alongside each field. Pigs may chew a little bit of this, but I don't think they will want course roughage.  Pigs will be given wilted duckweed and azolla, which averages about 25% protein. I expect pigs to hog the leftover beans and squash and to let goats eat mostly leaves and stems.

 Pigs are aggressive feeders and I'm sure the goats will give way. We may place a higher manger on the edge of the enclosure, so goats can have something that is out of reach for the pigs.

Depending on variety, things could be harvested in as little as 80 days or more than 100 days. So it could be planted, a bit each day and then a new patch harvested each day.

If we went with cattle corn, soy beans and a long season squash, it would be longer between harvest.

75 day sweet corn could be mixed with mung beans and a shorter season squash.

Chickens will scratch along behind the larger animals, but they will also be given as much duckweed and azolla as is available.

With all the foot traffic and digging and pooping, the field will be partially prepared for the next planting.

 The field could be worked up the same day or the next day. No need to wait. It will be done with a carabao, which is a descendant of the Chinese swamp buffalo. The buffalo will also be fed tree forage along with duckweed, azolla and possibly silage.

The pigs will have already done some tilling. The carabao will pull a tooth harrow over the ground a few times.
......
I expect to grow corn in circles containing 8 or 10 stalks with a whole bunch of nutrient rich compost in that area. Climbing beans will sit adjacent to the corn, so that they can climb up. A tall bush variety of beans, could be planted up the centre between the corn circles. Then squash would be allowed to roam everywhere and create a living mulch.

 I don't expect much weed competition, and we wouldn't do anything about weeds, except maybe in the very beginning, before the ground becomes covered in vine stems. If amaranth and buckwheat are used in the rotation, it's likely that they will be the most common weed, and therefore not a problem.
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This represents quite a bit of labor if it were a fodder only system. Labour costs about $6 a day, plus a few perks, like meals, and use of laundry facilities.

The value of food, as compared to the price of labor, is very high in the Philippines. Typically, people spend more than half of their income on food. A system like this will produce plenty of immature items that aren't as saleable. They will be sorted and each worker sent home with their allotment. So, first grade stuff will go to market second grade will be given to workers and the reminder will be fed to the animals.

Harvest like this will look like it's being done by a human combine. It should progress very quickly, since there's not a lot of examining individual plants in a tangled mess. They will use a sickle, to lop off an appropriate quantity of material and then quickly get things into the baskets and dump the residue to the animals.

It's important to start at dawn, because it gets hot. Everything will be sorted later, in a covered shelter. On sunny days, I don't think we'd ever go past 11 a.m.. That's 5 hours and enough for workers who have other responsibilities. Those who are working a full day, can sort the material after lunch, and then watch a movie or go for a swim, by the sorting shed. After a siesta, they can start again at 4 p.m. and go utill 6. That's when it gets dark, all year.
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One of the main predators, are the Philippine cobra, which is bound to live all over the fields. They seek sun in the morning and are unlikely to be amongst the vegetables. The hedgerows that line the sides of the field, is where we will dump all rocks, and the brush left after feeding tree fodder. That's where rodents will run, when we disturb them. This is the natural place for snakes to spend time until at least noon. One worker on his own, crawling through vines to get to sweet corn, would be at some risk of being bitten. A large group that shows up with a buffalo and the goats and pigs will be heard by the snakes and they will retreat. I encountered two cobras inside of five minutes when I walked through a cornfield at 3 p.m.. It's too hot for mammals to be out in the sun at that hour. So we will work with the snakes. You have many hours with a cobra bite. We will always have a snake bite kit.
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There are literally hundreds of things that a person could grow in this environment. I'm only going to try things that are staple crops, somewhere.  Many people who move to the tropics, get carried away and become plant collectors.

 Everything we grow must work into a system that uses largely unskilled labour.

There will be a good variety of tree crops and many things besides bananas, coming from the banana circles. Waste from all of these things will be fed to the animals.
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I did the math. If 5 acres were covered with this cropping system, and we come back to each spot every 100 days, we'd have to plant and harvest  2,178 square feet per day.

We will start out with about half an acre, so that we only have to do 218 square feet per day. And we'll see how it goes from there.

I am searching for a minimum of 25 acres, so there would be plenty for animal to eat, beyond what's available from the vegetable cropping areas.

We will always have some dry feed in storage, and I expect to build a small silo.
 
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Great to hear that you try this out!

Check out the push-pull system, here for a non-scientific https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Push%E2%80%93pull_agricultural_pest_management
Planting Napier grass around would feed your cattle, desmodium as well, or beans woud feed you.

Luffa is also used in the tropics to climb on maize, and used as food. Could partly replace the squash, and climbs like the beans.

Which beans do you intend to use?

I always ask if I can visit gardens, I am amazed how diverse all the gardens and techniques are around the world.

Don't forget flowers to help feed parasitoids and predators.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I'm a very wary of Napier grass and will only use it if it's already part of the environment.

We will grow whichever variety of beans are most popular, for human consumption. That's probably going to be mung beans and soybeans. There are also some very long beans which are popular, but I think we will grow those on a trellis.

Blocks of green beans may also be produced, but not in with corn and other long season crops, because they can be ready to harvest in as little as 40 days and are usually done by about 65 days. So better for it to be a block containing those and some other short-season crop. Or we could still grow corn and it would just be immature animal fodder.

Loofah is often grown as a vegetable, but that wouldn't work here because everything must be harvested at the same time and I'm sure the plant would have a mixture of immature and very woody material. We will grow luffa and bitter gourd on overhead trellises, and the waste could certainly be fed to animals. I want a system that doesn't require any harvesting until the day we decide to harvest a block that has reached the proper maturity level.

Since we won't be doing anything about weeds, I'm sure a few flowers will find their way into the mix. And anything that wants to live under the hedgerow trees, can contribute to biodiversity.

I will try a wide variety of plants in with the mix, and see if they are able to compete and mature at the right time.

The area around banana circles will be more accessible, and that's where I expect to plant things that need to be picked and then left for a few days and picked again.
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I expect to have quite a bit of acreage in less managed pasture, at least in the beginning. This is where mothers and babies will be grazing mostly what comes up, along with supplements from the crop fields and ponds. They will have access to grass and fodder trees.

 It won't matter if young pigs and goats grow a bit slower on pasture. The pasture is land that is waiting for future development and there's no overwintering cost. So minimizing input cost will be more important than pushing lots of animals through.

I won't put myself into a financial situation where I must finish animals for market. They are being fed by-products of another business that must stand on its own.
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I think the mobile pen could end up being a finishing place. A mobile feedlot. Once animals reach a certain age and size, they can be pulled from the grazing herd and placed in the pen.

Grass-fed pigs in the villages tend to be tough, because of the amount of exercise these animals get in feeding themselves. With well-managed pasture that is fertilized, mine should start out a little softer. Once they are in a pen of only a few hundred square feet, they won't be required to do much exercise at all.
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Weather

There will be times when it's raining too hard or it's just too wet to be on the fields. These conditions are predicted quite well, so we will harvest extra to put in the barn in the days before major rain. There will also be dry food and silage.

Typhoons usually strike about every two years and would only affect grazing for a few days.
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Sun protection

The pen will have an area that is shaded with a dark tarpaulin. Because it's an alley cropping system, trees will never be far away. It gets hottest usually around 2 p.m., when one side or the other of the field will be in shade. When work ends at around 11 a.m., the pen will be moved under overhanging branches, where it will remain until the next morning or until an evening crew arrives at around 4 pm.
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Night  protection and predation

There are no native animals that are likely to eat sheep and goats. Only the critically endangered Philippine eagle would have any chance of capturing baby pigs. Humans and domestic dogs are the real concern. We will have several dogs that can roam the property freely. Not big dogs, but several of them and ones that are very vocal.

Animals will never be left completely alone or penned near the road. It may prove practical to move the animals to the barn at night. But there's a good chance that a worker would gladly set up camp beside the pen, with one of the dogs, for an extra couple dollars. He would wake at 5:30 am, when goats start hollering for their breakfast.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Looking at substitutes

There aren't many that replace corn, but so many types of beans and peas , that it could be really mixed up according to the variety of corn and requisite time to maturity.

 With beans it's possible to get several plants that serve the same function, but that people at the market will view as a separate thing, that they want to buy. Mung beans and soybeans are used for different things, so customer may purchase both.
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Squash could be replaced with a number of ground crawling greens that are typically eaten. I don't know the name of it, but there's a ground cover that Nova puts in probably half of our meals. It grows along the ground, just like the tops of sweet potatoes. It's something that would mix with squash and beans, and climb all over them. Probably a good weed suppressant.

Watermelon could also replace some of the squash. The variety of squash is quite large , so it's a matter of determining whether the market can absorb them at the speed we can produce them.
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 It would be nice to have something in the cabbage family. Something that could be eaten by people or animals depending on how each one looks and weather it sells.
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A quick maturing root crop would be nice to have. Sweet potato is easy to grow, but it needs time. On short rotations, something like tillage radish would match the speed of quick maturing beans and would give the animals a reason to excavate.
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It would also be nice to have a very short ground cover in the clover family, to add nitrogen and suppress weeds.

If weeds become a problem on some plots, a mixture of amaranth and buckwheat would surely help to smother it. They can be cut easily with a scythe, to make hay or silage, before maturity, or they could be grazed litely a couple times, before being tilled in and the Three Sisters returning.

So long as the dominant weeds are edible, it would be great to have something spring back and cover the ground within a few days of harvest.
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I see a lot of land that is plowed and left to sit exposed for a long time, before they run the harrow over it and get something planted. I think they are doing this to break a weed or pest cycle. But it leaves them open to erosion. I'll have to question people on that practice and find a better way.

The beginning step of a better way, would be to avoid the plow completely and just harrow. Plowing with a single moldboard is slow and tedious with a buffalo. When done with a harrow, they are usually about 6 ft wide. The operator doesn't have to watch his lines very closely and the teeth tend to gather clumps of organic material, which is not a bad thing, when you want to gather it as mulch or just get it off the field in preparation for other treatments.
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Leaf mulch. The legume trees that create the alley, experience year-round leaf drop. So this will be a readily available source of mulch. After plants are a few inches high, we will gather up all that is available and spread it where needed. This will help with water retention and erosion avoidance.
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Dale Hodgins
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Buy-Back agreement with vegetable vendors.

I have probably gone to vendor stands in the Philippines 300 times. They often run out of staple items, like corn, beans and squash, that the market wants. And I think I know why.

There is no shortage of these products in the fields or at the wholesalers. The problem is that mark-ups are not huge and vendors don't want to get stuck with unsold merchandise, that will spoil. So, they play it safe, ordering less than the amount likely to sell.

Many small vendors don't have their own transportation. They rely on trucks that deliver product to them. I could see that working for me. Deliver to each location at least every 2 days, and buy back unsold stuff that is going bad. It can be fed to the pigs and goats. Then stock up the vendor again, with fresh stuff.

By taking away the financial risk of spoilage, we are bound to find lots of shelf space. I will assist regular customers in making an evaporative cooler, to extend shelf life. The majority don't have electricity.
 
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loofa might work. I have to rip it out or else it will go indefinitely here and I only have so much space. You can process the gourds green (after a brief drying in the sun to reduce moisture), as long as they are big enough to be useful to you, and still get a great final product from them. You'll need sponges for washing dishes on your farm, and you could sell them (plus they store from year to year). It could be a good alternative crop for switching out with something else intermittently.
 
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My concern with the three sisters model has to do with the set-it-and-forget-it nature of its application for producing dried crops and winter squash. You are living in a place where field corn and dried beans will probably rot instead of drying at the wrong time of year.

Also, I appreciate that you are planning on increasing polyculture in marginal areas to cut down on disease and pest issues, but if you keep the same crops growing in the same places year-round, I think you'd better have a really kicking system of fungi and soil biota to move nutrient and mineral concentrations around to where they're needed. Cover cropping with green manure fodder crops might help a lot, and obviously running livestock at appropriate intervals should do a lot to cut down on the aforementioned disease and pest issues.

I think the best possible idea would be to have a set of Sisters-style guilds for each distinct growing season, perhaps with the specific players having somewhat different requirements and disease and pest profiles. That way, the green manure fodder crops are transitions from one guild to a completely different one, and back, so the food available for any given pest species or disease isn't present for a third to a quarter of the year, counting the green manure fodder crop lead-up.

I think that if you stick to a traditional-ish three sisters setup, you'll be growing sweet corn, as you mentioned, and feeding whatever's lost to moisture problems become fodder, and you'll be harvesting wet, rather than drying in the fields, because the fields aren't dry. My concern is really that the three sisters were really great in North America because you didn't need to tend it, just come by and harvest when dry.

-CK
 
Dale Hodgins
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We will try luffa, but mostly for finished sponges. They will probably be done on trellises, but I intend to try many different things in polyculture to see what thrives.
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I like luffa sponges because they ship flat. Add water and they will pop up. Once we are harvesting wood, we will try making back scrubbers and various other things that use luffa. We make soap. Soap can be poured over sliced loofah to produce an abrasive bar.

Luffa sponges are in use, but I didn't see many being used green. People don't go so much for the immature, zucchini type of squash. They tend to be the more mature, yellow or orange flesh with mature seeds.

I think that's because they are mostly used in soups and stews. I didn't encounter anything sliced and fried as might happen with zucchini.

Just about all of them have skins soft enough to include in the pot.

There are many other vining crops that will be tried along with squash.

I mentioned before that my wife regularly uses unidentified ground crawling vines in our food. Turns out it was sweet potato. It came in a few different shades. She said some people just grow it for the greens and that some types are designed just for that.
......
On to Chris's comments the next post.
 
pollinator
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Just a suggestion......... some commercial vendors in the US use the method of buying back what doesn't sell (think bread and milk), but they set the retail prices. And that is for a simple reason -- since the retailer has no risk, they would ask sky high prices, so of course much of the product wouldn't sell. I experienced a bit of this phenomena myself. I was supplying green beans and pumpkins to my local farmers market vendors. I guaranteed that I would buy back what they didn't sell. I checked back a couple hours later only to find that most of the sellers had marked high prices on my veggies. Green beans that normally sold for $2 a baggie were on the table for $3. And I saw signs on the pumpkins ranging from $4 to $7, a pumpkin that normally sold for $3. So I had to change my tactic so that I didn't end up with nothing selling.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I've already anticipated that. I would definitely set prices. But people there are very price conscious. Within 1 kilometre there might be 10 vegetable vendors in some places, so anyone who isn't pretty close to the right price, won't sell one item. I think a more common problem might be that they will drop the prices to the point where none of them make any money. So I will instruct everyone to keep their price at a certain point, until maybe the last few hours on the night before they will be restocked. It's more often a race to the bottom with these folks than anyone trying to price gouge. Vendors are their own worst enemy.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I haven't forgotten about Chris. He's just very good at asking things that are specific.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Chris makes a number of good points, but none of them new to me. :-)

I expect to use many substitutes, so that we will have a number of different polycultures. We might sometimes use sorghum sugar cane or amaranth, and leave out corn.

Mono crops of amaranth, buckwheat and others can be cut for silage and then grazed until we decide to plant the sisters again. And they don't have to be mono crops. Buckwheat and cabbage might work.

 Some areas may have a permanent ground cover of sweet potato, and it can be grazed several times, between being planted to the sisters.
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Chris mentioned distinct seasons. There is usually a 2 month season that is drier, but not a true dry season as is found in areas affected more by monsoon.

This is the only time of year to try to produce dried mature corn and beans. It's best to time these things so that they mature a couple weeks before the rain. So about 100 days prior, the dried crops for the year must be planted.

Even if someone was shooting to produce the maximum amount of dried corn and beans on a farm, this would only consume about one-third of the available growing season, which is really a continuum, with a period of the year that is a bit drier. In talking to local people about seasons, they mentioned things like Christmas, Easter and various fiestas. Most days, a person without a calendar would be hard-pressed to guess what month it is.
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All of the Three Sisters plants work in the Philippines as almost ripe crops. Many beans are grown to near maturity, to a point where the pod is leathery and the seed inside is about like a lima bean. The plants are still green and palatable to livestock. These beans are not stored. Most people buy them as they are needed and only keep them for a few days.

 Seeds that are saved must be ripened during the dry season, then they can be used throughout the rest of the year, when shooting for semi mature crops.

It's a similar situation with corn. Sweet corn isn't as sweet as North Americans are accustomed to. It is allowed to get more mature,  and is still harvested while the stalks are green. It is purchased for immediate use. We kept it in a fridge for a week, but most people consume it within 2 days of purchase.
.......
You can plant corn and beans every day of the year, and they will give some type of useful harvest. Some irrigation will be necessary if they are being started at the height of the dry season. Sweet corn and semi mature beans are available in the market, every day of the year. Foods that use corn and bean flour are not common. I didn't see tofu.
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There isn't much of a culture of food storage for humans or animals. Many households have some dried rice and beans, and some sugar. Poor people often run out completely. But there is no season when it can't be easily restocked by anyone who has money.

The price of certain perishables fluctuates, and some people use a freezer to take advantage when prices drop. But the majority do not store corn, beans or squash and they don't eat them in the dry, mature state.
.........
Animal feed
Most farms have a bit of dry food on hand, to carry them through the dry season. But there are also many who have none, and they simply allow their animals to graze everything right down, along with chopping and dropping tree fodder. There was no evidence of any animal feed being stored in Nova's home village, where all are farmers. Coconuts, banana waste, sweet potato and tree fodder are available year-round. Those who plan poorly, also accept a general loss of condition amongst their flocks, when there is an interruption in food supply. Sometimes animals are shipped or eaten locally, because they have run out of fodder.

I will build several small silos, that can be hand packed within 2 days and then sealed up. Something the right size to carry the animals through for one week per silo. Corn can mature to the point of making good silage, throughout the year. Sugar, sorghum or molasses can be added if it hasn't reached a suitable level. Whenever we get a flush of ready to harvest material, that isn't immediately needed, it will be put toward silage.

The plan to plant every day of the year and harvest every day of the year, (weather permitting on both counts), means that there will be a steady supply of crop residue. Silage and dried feeds won't be maintained to be used in any particular season.

I expect that on at least 300 days of the year, we will be harvesting and feeding residue directly to livestock. If for some reason we are not harvesting, they will be fed residues that are saved either in green form the day before it rains, or they will graze grass and tree fodder, along with silage. Partially dried water plants will also be offered.

By making sure that we have irrigation, tree forage and water plants, I hope to avoid ever being in a situation where we must ship animals due to lack of feed.

It will also be important that we not run out of staple crops that we are selling. There's no shortage of competitors who would immediately fill that niche. Many of them are small producers who do run out of things constantly.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Best case scenario, for managing soil erosion and cover cropping, would be to have a mixture of something like amaranth, buckwheat and clover, that could take over whenever the three sisters are harvested.

They could be managed with a scythe to produce hay or silage, or they could be grazed.

Only a few specimens would need to go to seed, to keep them coming.

Both amaranth and buckwheat can fully mature, before a long season crop of the three sisters would mature. So this would leave a lot of seed on the ground, ready to sprout after the sisters are harvested.

If a clover or vetch or some other nitrogen producer is able to survive under the squash, as a ground cover, that would be ideal.

I was listening to Geoff Lawton talking about how he chose his cover crops. He tried dozens of things and let the plants self select. Some things did not tolerate his management practices, while others thrived. He's now many generations into those cover crops, so they are very well adapted to his climate and management style. When he wants to know how different parts of his fields compare in fertility, he checks out cover crops a couple weeks after they are established and they're often markedly different in colour and vigour of growth. Then he knows which part of the field requires fertilization. He believes that living carpets like this are more accurate than soil testing.
 
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Good ideas.

Just a few observations:

1.

Because it's a tropical setting, with moisture available all year, this can be a continuous system, although I might want to break it up with buckwheat or some other cover crop occasionally, to prevent problems with disease. Buckwheat can be used for a short rotation, or sweet potatoes for a long rotation.

This is going to be necessary. The warmth of the tropics processes out organic material so fast, the mulch from your alley trees will not be sufficient to maintain fertility. So you will need cover crops in between to bump organic content back up--especially since you plan on harvesting BOTH vegetable produce and animal bio-mass from this system. You're expecting a lot from it, so you'll need to do so only on a every-other-year sort of cycle, or maybe even one out of three years. This isn't hard, just partition your land up into thirds and harvest one third a year. This is actually a benefit: you get to concentrate on the biggest bang for your buck on a smaller plot. It's basically rotational gardening.

2. Perhaps I misunderstand, but I seem to hear a contradiction: you want the ground to suppress weeds with a perennial cover of mulch grown from crops, BUT you want animals to eat the crop residue, AND you want to run a harrow over it. These three things are not compatible on the same plot the same year. As soon as your pigs and goats disturb the soil you will get weeds. And you can't run a harrow over a field covered in squash and bean vines. Perhaps, if you followed my first suggestion of partitioning your fields, you could plan out a rotation: one year animals, the next year mulch cover. Regardless, I don't see being able to pull a harrow over the kind of system you're describing. This is a limiting factor I've encountered in Africa as well: in a no-till system you have to plant by hand with a hoe. This is not the problem that it seems at first: the gains in fertility from not disturbing the soil and from intensively managed fertility far outweigh the cost in time for planting. As Bill Mollison says "Replace petroleum with people" (or something like that).

3. Use pigeon pea: hugely drought resistent, high protein, semi-perennial. You can put them in the system for three years or so before replanting or even touching the soil. Just pass among them and stick your squash seed in the ground. Loads of leguminous leaf-fall. No-brainer.

4. Consider zai. I used to dismiss this method because I have plenty of water in rainy season; I don't need catchment. However, the benefits of zai are about concentrating fertility and biology right where production is happening even while the rest of the surface is improving at a steady rate--perfect solution for a high-yield tropical context. When you plant seed in the center of the same little zai pit season after season, that particular spot develops optimal biology, PH, etc. compared to the soil even a couple feet away. While permaculture appreciates a little natural chaos, when we're aiming for optimal yield, these little bits of intention go a long way.

Have fun and post pictures :-)
 
Dale Hodgins
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The harrow may not be necessary. I wouldn't drag it over crop residue. After everything is harvested within 4 inches of the ground, and pigs have been on it for a day, The harrow would be dragged around more as a levelling device and manure spreading device. That may turn out to be a hand hoe instead. I wouldn't expect to use the harrow if there's a ground cover of sweet potato or some other perennial cover.

It seems a reasonable step down in tillage from the moldboard plowing followed by the harrow, that is typical.

My wife's village is already getting reasonable results without adding every mineral necessary and without the use of cover crops or many forage trees. They plant on the same soil every year. I expect that 80% of my biomass at any given time, will be pigeon peas, lucena, tagasaste and other trees in the pea family.

Every corn circle will be like a miniature Zia garden.

I expect my biggest start-up cost to be the purchase of rock powders and other things to address long-term fertility. I've done very intensive growing before, where every inch is covered with something useful. There will also be attempts to turn it into a Terra Preta type of soil.

I won't need to see income from the land for a few years. Everything will go back into labour and long-term fertility inputs.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I've decided that I must have chayote squash.

Last night, my wife told me that she planted chayote in black soil when she was 12 or 13. It grew huge and covered a Jackfruit tree. There was no official count but she said it was hundreds of fruits per year and they came in every month.

So, I questioned her about this black soil. It's a spot behind the house of her employer, where she was putting all of the kitchen waste and the ashes from indoor and outdoor fires. She also cleaned up the chicken run and sometimes put it there. So it was a huge compost heap with biochar.

This single chayote, is the most amazing thing Nova ever planted, and when I suggested planting lots more, she is in favour. I explained a little bit about biochar and Terra Preta , as an explanation of why it grew so well.

I'm thinking that we need to make very rich piles just like that, beside the fodder trees that line the fields. This would provide a saleable crop along with leaf fodder that can be eaten during the dry season.

The family only ate a small amount of chayote from the lower portion of her vine. Most of them grew so high in the jackfruit, that when they fell down, the pigs were the major beneficiaries. And that may be what happens if we can't sell all that we produce on the field margins.

They are only worth 20 to 30 cents a pound, but with almost no effort in production.
 
Tereza Okava
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chayote is indeed great, and grows like crazy. i keep a few growing in the yard for greens for the rabbits, cutting it regularly. I don`t really enjoy eating it, but it`s supposedly good for heart and cholesterol stuff (prob just because it is like 99% water) and you can make decent pickles out of it. It stands in for cukes and zukes when the mold and humidity don`t allow you to grow them.
Mold may also be an issue with the squash, that might be why you`re not seeing zucchini type veg locally.
 
Dale Hodgins
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That could be. During wet weather it seems like a place mold would like to live.

But I think it's more that people just use immature specimens from the longer keeping squashes. I found out a couple days ago that I have eaten loofah several times. I mentioned to Nova that some people eat loofah when it's immature and she told me that's the one we had in our stew that looks like a big cucumber. I saw these squashes, but I've only ever really seen loofah as a bathroom scrubber.

I was already quite familiar with loofah sponge, but when we talked about things to grow and make money from, Nova was so keen on telling me about how to grow and process loofah, and all the wonderful uses for it, that I just kept quiet and let her run with it. She has a few practical reasons for not growing it in the field. Nice even shape, is one, but more importantly, it makes great shade and she thinks that it should cover an outdoor work and dining area, near the house.

She told me that chayote are more prone to falling unexpectedly and she'd prefer not to be hit in the head by them. So they can grow up the trees.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Crop and pasture rotation

We may want to give the land a break from crop production sometimes, and turn it into pasture for a year or more. Because I'm looking at a minimum of 25 acres, this would mean switching the operation to different areas of the farm. We would still plant every day and harvest every day, weather permitting.

I imagine doing this, mainly to break pest cycles and to facilitate improvements in tilth. It would also facilitate any harvesting of wood within the hedgerows.

Since the whole place will have bands of hedgerow on contour, that would probably mean moving to different elevations, within those strips.

Planting may need to move, according to soil moisture, when it's just too wet in one place, but dry enough in another. Some areas near the bottom of slopes will be too wet to do much of anything during the rainiest season. So they must be planted a few weeks prior to that, which gives about 100 days if that space is occupied by the sisters, and whatever amount of time we want, if it is put to grazing.

Whenever land is being transitioned from the sisters, to pasture, there is some chance for erosion. We won't clean up all of the crop residues. Instead, it will be gathered and fed, enough so that we can scrape the ground with the harrow and seed grass or alfalfa, buckwheat etc. Weeds that came up in the crops, will simply be ground cover until they are smothered by alfalfa or whatever.

We won't use Napier grass or any other grass that is difficult to eliminate, when we want to go back to cropping.

When we want to eliminate pasture, animals will be confined to small blocks and allowed to graze it to death, and they will also be given supplemental feed. This is the time to fertilize with rock powder and whatever else is on hand.

 Once crops are seeded, some weeding may occur, probably in the form of sickle harvesting as cut and carry forage, until the sisters fill the space and starve them of light.
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Using the forage trees in hedgerows as living and dead trellises.

Small trees that are either dead or have been heavily pruned, are an excellent place to grow things like chayote and loofah.

Before the squash is planted, we would cut off all or the majority of leaf bearing branches. Branches are easily killed by girdling. This would give the squash a place to climb without competing too much for sunlight.

The hedgerows will be constantly thinned for firewood and livestock feeding, so it makes sense to plant the squash immediately after this is done.
 
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