After more than a decade of trying my hand at different types of agricultural styles, I’ve finally settled with one- Syntropic Farming. I’ve tried my hand at growing conventionally, organically, using permaculture, and dabbling in biodynamics. None, however, can seem to touch what I’ve been learning about Syntropic Farming/permaculture.
I started having this feeling that our land and gardens could produce more abundantly if they had perennial plants and trees in the system. It was a reoccurring concept that wouldn’t go away. I knew there must have been something to it for the thoughts to not go away. I blame our elder beautiful live oak trees, Elsa and Agatha…they whisper to me their thoughts all the time. So, I can’t really take the credit for perennial plants in the gardens. I only started to have those thoughts after we bought our land.
Anyway, as the plans started to form for creating a perennial market garden, I started searching for something that seemed to be missing from my overall plan. And I found it!
Syntropic Farming and Permadynamics sent me down a rabbit hole…forever!
I’ll never look at gardening and farming the same again.
The concepts are easy to grasp and if you’ve practiced permaculture you’ll get that ah-ha moment.
I used to view how I grew a garden as someone who tended to the system. I was the one who planted, watered, fed, pruned, harvested, cleaned it up, helped to create abundance. But I never considered that I was a vital part of the system like the honey bee. I can get so caught up in doing that I forget about being.
Here is a definition the syntropy:
From Greek syn=together, tropos=tendency. It was first coined by the mathematician Luigi Fantappiè, in 1941, in order to describe the mathematical properties of the advanced waves solution of the Klein-Gordon equation which unites Quantum Mechanics with Special Relativity. As noted by Viterbo, syntropy is “the tendency towards energy concentration, order, organization and life” (http://www.syntropy.org/). In contradistinction to “entropy,” syntropy is a result of retrocausality leading to persistent and more complex organization. This is akin to the concept of dissipative structures developed by Ilya Prigogine, expostulated in Order Out of Chaos, by Prigogine & Stengers (1984). Buckminster Fuller developed a definition in relation to “whole systems” as “A tendency towards order and symmetrical combinations, designs of ever more advantageous and orderly patterns. Evolutionary cooperation. Anti-entropy” (http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Syntropy).
I love that syntropy is described as “the tendency towards energy concentration order, organization, and life.” It is the opposite of entropy.
As I’ve grasped some of the concepts of syntropic permaculture, what stuck out the greatest for me was how the use of grasses and perennials when pruned sends out hormones to other plants to invigorate the growth of those plants around them. Things are planted densely in guilds where each plant helps the next in cooperation. It isn’t about competition in the system.
The next important thing is that the ground is always covered to protect soil organisms and life that are extremely light-sensitive. Even all the walkways are covered in a thick layer of mulch.
Our perennial market garden is ground zero to start making beautiful mistakes. I’ve had to throw out much of what I’ve known about gardening and farming in order to make way for syntropic agriculture. I have to put away my impulse to rip weeds out of the ground and instead chop and drop them so as to not disturb the soil as it comes into balance.
It’s exciting! This weekend we got started with our second market garden bed. Dom and Noah have been working on the perimeter of the market garden for weeks, fortifying the fencing, adding taller posts and stringing wire. When they’re done, there will be 8 foot high posts attached to the existing posts we have and then strung with wire to prevent the deer from jumping in and eating our garden.
A 2′ high chicken wire is then put along the bottom of the fencing to deter bunnies from getting in.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can be done about the mutant squirrels that live here. Some are as large as a cat.
You can never trust a squirrel.
The area pictured above is our second market garden row. The first one we created a few weeks earlier.
This second row will be planted with:
- Four apricot trees
- Five black locust trees
- Artichokes between the trees
- Hairy Vetch
- Dutch Clover
- Sudan Grass at the edge
Amazing that so much can be planted in just one row, right? I found a nursery in Silver City and I was finally able to get apricot trees. I searched high and low for apricot trees for months. Most places online are sold out, Home Depot and Lowes didn’t have any, and I thought for sure I would not get any this year and then I found a nursery hiding in plain sight!
There’s a new carwash in Silver City and as Simmi and I were getting our car washed, I noticed a greenhouse and trees and roses. I couldn’t wait to get out of that carwash to see if it was actually a nursery.
They have apricots, cherries, apples, figs, and more. Not only that but they weren’t little tiny 2′ tall trees.
I purchased three apricot trees to start, and I need one more to complete the row. I would have liked it if they had at least three varieties of apricots, but two varieties will work.
All fruit trees planted become my mother fruit trees to produce more fruit trees from.
The pattern of trees will be black locust, artichoke, apricot, black locust, artichoke, apricot, until the full row is complete.
Currently only three apricots are in. Two Tilton and one Harglow. This week I’ll be getting a second Harglow.
The black locust and artichoke I’ve started from seed a little more than a week ago and they just started poking through the soil this weekend.
Thursday the fourth apricot will be planted and the bed will be seeded, then covered in a layer of straw.
I had to wait on ordering the irrigation lines because Simmi’s birthday is coming up fast and we are getting a pool for her to have a pool party. Once the pool is ordered, I’ll be able to continue ordering supplies for the garden.
To the right, you can see the first bed planted. That bed is right up against the goat pen.
This bed has been planted with three bare root peach trees, three blueberry bushes, catmint, cucumber, Blackeye Susans, and milkweed. I’ve started Sea Kale from seed and when it’s ready it’ll be planted in between the fruit trees and berry bushes.
It has taken a good long while for Dom to fall in love with the wonkiness of nature. As a builder, it was difficult for him to marry straight lines with the curves of nature. Something clicked for him last year and he started re-learning how to build with nature. I’ve loved watching the evolution of his creations. I think this gate is my favorite so far! The only thing purchased to make the gate was the hinges. The welded wire is scrap that was just laying around.
B2 and B1 contain a countless amount of black locust seedlings. I wasn’t sure how many would grow so I planted a shit ton. Haha When they get their true leaves and have doubled their size they’ll be transplanted to their own containers.
Aren’t they so cute! It’s amazing that these little babies will grow to feed all the other plants around it, but it will also create the most beautiful tree that can be pollarded and fed to the poultry or dropped on the garden bed and create a mulch. The bees are crazy for this tree, and when I plant a large area of these trees close together, they’ll grow tall in a few years and we can coppice them are create fence posts, tool handles, and use for firewood as well.
The usefulness of this tree is unbelievable. Just think…I have 5 pounds of black locust seed. Ha!
I’ve started nearly 100 Colorado Star Artichokes from seed. They just woke up this weekend. By the time we’re done installing all the market garden rows, they’ll be ready to transplant.
Ginger! I plan on planting the ginger in a shady spot of the market garden.
Six itty bitty fig trees in three pots. When they’ve doubled in size, they’ll be transplanted into a larger container, and when their garden beds are ready they’ll be planted out in the market garden. I’m shooting to have them in the ground by the first week in July. Right now their just about ready to be moved to a sunny location.
The horseradish box is doing well. I planted the horseradish last year right next to our front door. Interplanted are Chinese garlic chives. I ordered the garlic chives last week and they should start growing this week.
The goats are doing well. We’ll be taking them out on the leash into the market garden to chomp down on all the glorious weeds coming up. They’re going to love it!
The goat pen is shaded by a large tree that is kind of like a willow and kind of like an elm. We’re still not sure exactly what kind of tree it is. It’s delicious to the goats, and the horses when we had them in this area. The tree becomes a reprieve to the goats as well as the full market garden area by 6:30 pm. The sun is blocked by the large tree at that time and it cools down the market garden area giving plants a chance to recover from the long hot day of the high desert sun.
It’s incredible that by the end of September this Syntropic Market Garden will be thriving and producing for us.
This is a view outside the market garden. Along that fence line are asparagus. There are also two fig trees that just leafed out. I expect they’ll grow at least three feet this year.
We’ll update this weekend when we create the next two market garden beds. In bed three, Four cherry trees, five black locust, and eight globe artichoke will occupy that space, and in bed four, four apple trees, five black locust, and eight globe artichoke will do the job. I haven’t decided on the annual fruits and veggies that will also be planted there…yet.
All total so far that we have planted and at various stages of growth:
- 2 plum trees
- 1 apple tree
- 8 fig trees
- 3 peach trees
- 2 pear trees
- 3 berry bushes
- 95 Colorado Star Globe Artichokes
- Asparagus (not sure how much!)
- 4 varieties of tomatoes started
- Sea Kale
- Cat Mint
- Blackeyed Susan
Have a great week!
We’ve been quite busy over the last three and a half months. I had hoped to blog more but with the country’s response (for good and bad) to the current events, we felt the need to speed up our plans and reprioritize what we were doing. It’s amazing how clear we can become if we’re motivated enough.
Dom and I have always been on the path to being more sustainable and self-reliant. Not in the sense, however, of us being an island unto ourselves and living like hermits somewhere out in the wilderness. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have chosen the area we’re living in as a place to set down roots.
We believe in community and helping where we can. We want to be productive and provide products and services that can help stabilize our local economy. As we’ve watched our nation and the world go through extremes, we’ve seen the impact it has on us personally.
Having taken care of animals and grown our food in the past, it has become crystal clear that we need to get our asses in gear now. I believe that hyperinflation is inching closer and that things are about to get extremely ugly (they are already ugly) with regards to food security. One thing is appallingly clear…we are NOT prepared!
I hate to sound like a cliche, but I thought we would have more time. We knew this was going to happen. Well, not that there would be a lockdown and all our rights being taken over 38,000 deaths in the United States, but we knew there was going to be a great shaking. It’s one of the reasons we began growing food and caring for animals in the first place.
It feels surreal to watch everything unfold in the world. Worse yet, we are feeling somewhat powerless, marginalized, and unable to help those who are suffering in any meaningful way.
Our goals were to start getting animals and have a little extra to sell. To have a few large gardens and have some produce to sell. But in this season of change, I’m setting my sights much larger.
It’ll start with the chickens…
Originally we planned on having about 75 chickens which would include Brahmas and Croad Langshans as our meat birds, and Cream Legars, Welsummers, Marans, Faverolles, and a few other egg layers. But I’ve chosen to increase the number to between 175-200 birds. The area we’ve been preparing for them is large enough to handle such a large number of birds.
I will also start a breeding program for each kind of bird. I’ll be crossing the Brahma and Langshans eventually to create a new table meat bird.
Our birds will be raised on organic feed and have one of the most important jobs on the farm…making compost for us. No one can turn a compost pile faster and with more efficiency than a mob of chickens.
This system of animal production will be intensive and highly productive. Each section will be multifaceted. For example, the chicken composting yard will have fruit trees, meat rabbit housing (yellow rectangle) and under the meat rabbits will be worm bins. Behind the rabbit row will be an enclosed area for berry bushes.
The fenced-in chicken composting yard will also have an enclosed turkey run with more berry bushes on three sides, and a round turkey coop (green circle). Why a round turkey coop? Because turkeys LOVE round things. They are fascinated by round objects and love round spaces. At least that’s what we’ve observed in keeping turkeys in the past.
There will be an area for ducks. We won’t have as many ducks as we do chickens, but we’ll have at least 30 for egg production as well as meat. Even though I really wanted to get Dutch Hookbills for this area, we have so much land that I decided that I’ll have them in another area. In the duck area we’ll be adding Cayugas, Silver Apple Yards, Pekins, and a few geese.
In the market garden, there is an overlap between the duck area and the garden. This overlap is because of where the large trees are. We won’t be removing the trees. Instead, the duck housing will be on the market garden side. There is an old large water trough that was for cattle. It will be turned into their pond. A spigot will be added to it, and the duck poop water will be used to water the market garden.
The market garden…
Currently, we have rows dug. They can be seen in the plot below. We don’t have the greatest water pressure coming from our well, and in order to save water, we decided to completely rework the market garden.
We’ll be creating inground wicking beds. The wicking beds will allow us to drain the duck pond water directly under each garden row. Think of it like bottom watering your plants. Freshwater will be used once a week to topwater, but the duck pond water is the real workhorse, nourishing all the plants and fruit trees that will be planted there.
Around the perimeter of the market garden we’ll be adding tall posts and electric to keep out the deer.
Last year we started building our little chicken composting run in the market garden. It’s the little green rectangle. This is intended to be our Silkie chicken nursery. Silkies are good mothers and will happily hatch out eggs. They can also be bullied by other chickens, so they get their very own area. We won’t have more than 10 Silkies. They’ll also be making compost in their area.
The outdoor kitchen and meat processing area (turquoise square)…
Last year we had an overgrown HUGE patch of wild grapevines. I cleared it out and burned the area so that they wouldn’t grow back. We have so many wild grapes on the property, that it wasn’t a big sacrifice. Now that the patch is gone, we can build our outdoor kitchen. We will harvest our small animals in the outdoor kitchen. It will also serve as the farm kitchen when we start holding events.
I told you we were busy! Haha
As our plans continue to morph, I will be tucking things into each system. Two things that aren’t on the plans are the post-harvest washing station and the greenhouse. The post-harvest station will be located on the north side of the market garden. In the upper right-hand corner above the market garden is where our tents used to be. That will be the location of our greenhouse.
Everything will be in close proximity to each other. This creates fewer steps. At the center of everything is the water supply. Farms should be run efficiently with as few steps as needed. We’ve worked on farms that weren’t planned out very well. Water that would need to be hauled great distances, needing to walk 10 minutes to a field way out in the middle of nowhere to harvest lettuce, only to turn around and walk another 10 minutes in the opposite direction to collect eggs and yet another 20 minutes to go feed pigs. This is extremely time-consuming. Our systems will not be done that way. There’s no need for it.
To the right of the market garden is the entrance to the pasture. We will be keeping dairy sheep and horses there. More on that another day!
Here are some photos of things that were accomplished from the end of January until this week:
Our little teeny tiny bathroom is nearing completion. Pallet walls are an ingenious way to rooms but if they aren’t sealed up with walls and insulation, animals feel free to make themselves at home in our spaces. That is a big fat NOPE! The walls were finished with drywall and an opening for windows was put in. We found the windows under one of the rigs on the property. They were partially buried in the dirt. I cleaned them up, painted, and reglazed them.
The toilet and bathtub were installed, and we got the cutest little antique Italian Florentine chest of drawers to convert into a sink. We need to purchase a wall-mounted faucet and hopefully, in the next few weeks, the sink will be functional.
We still have shelves, a mirror, and a few other things to add, but it is looking great! It feels glorious to take a long hot bath too.
I love watching him work and get creative. I love how he makes our lives so much better every day!
My girl continues to grow into this stunningly beautiful young woman. She turns 13 next month.
Some cedars and pine were taken out of the chicken compost yard. When completely cleared of dead or dying trees (we had both in that area) fruit trees will be added. The straight branches that were still in good condition will be used to build the chicken coop.
Our supply area is filling up fast. The pallets will be used to build a storage shed for all our things that are currently being stored in the roastery. We have many projects going on all at once. Behind the pallets are a LOT of glass panels. Those are for the greenhouse.
This is the next section of the chicken yard that needs to be cleared. This whole area is one large tree that fell but never died. It is connected at the root by about two feet of tree. It must have fallen at least 5 years ago but refused to die. This is the area where the large chicken coop will go.
We have two entrances to our property. One is on Mineral Creek seen in the photo above, and the other is on a back road when the creek is flowing.
This year we had so much rain that we couldn’t get across. The creek cuts into the banks creating a steep drop off. We need to have heavy equipment come in to fix this each year. What we really need is a bridge!
Once the water subsides the creek bed is a hot mess! We had it leveled on Friday and we can finally cross again.
Much better! There’s only a small amount of water flowing now, and within the next few months, it should be dried up completely until next winter.
The other project I’m currently working on is updating and changing our website. Firelight Farm will still have the blog, but it will be a magazine-style layout and include lots of different sections. Instead of having one blog where I write everything, there will be categories like animal shelters, animal husbandry, growing a garden, building structures, how to lacto-ferment, and more. We want our website to be more informative. I also want to start producing videos again. We started to a few years back, but when we sold our last farm, there was no reason to continue making videos.
My aim is to have the new site launched by the end of May. It’s pretty exciting and it’s all coming together.
This truly is the season of change!
Our countdown has officially started. We are picking up the Uhaul on Friday, and Saturday morning we will be leaving West Virginia for our new home in Reserve, New Mexico. I’ll miss West Virginia. It’s the birthplace of my coffee company, Buffalo Mountain Coffee Roasting Company. It’s also a place of unimaginable natural beauty. The air so clean and fragrant, the wildflowers-beyond compare.
I would have loved to stay and continue our love affair with West Virginia, but there are no suitable homes for us and our mold allergies. The only option would have been a tent in the woods, but we looked at that option and there wasn’t anyone willing to sell land at a reasonable price. That was the saddest part of it all.
New Mexico is our home. Dom and I joke around about our odyssey as a very long extended vacation from hell where most of the two and a half years were spent ill. Hey, we can rewrite our own narrative, right?
As I continue to deteriorate, Dom is becoming more worried about my health by the day (often moment by moment) and he continues to show great strength and resolve. He’s like a machine!
Most of our things are packed up and now we’re just finishing up the last of the packing. Well, Dom is finishing the last of the packing. His last day of work is tomorrow, and then he has one other building project to finish up in town. After that, it’s getting all the boxes and furniture organized and ready to go on the truck. We’ve moved so many times that I think we’ve become experts in how to NOT do things. Ha!
There are so many factors that go into moving across the country with a child who has severe multiple food allergies, a sick wife, and sick husband with a weak stomach because of the mold. Think about that for a minute. We’ll all be in a Uhaul truck, unable to eat what we want because of Simmi’s food allergies, hacking up a lung on my part, and well, a very smelly cabin because my poor husband has suffered terribly with some sort of bacteria overgrowth in his gut. Not fun. Kind of the perfect storm.
Oh, and then Dom has to listen to me endlessly worried about my orchids. Will they make it? Will it be too cold for them in the car without any heat? Will they hate me and end up giving up the ghost before we can even get to New Mexico? I’ve only killed one orchid in my life and that was before I knew anything about how to care for them. It still haunts me that I could have avoided such a horrible death.
I don’t own any fancy orchids. Just six that have my heart because they were given to me by Dom at different occasions in Vermont and Virginia. One was gifted to me by a dear friend. I will, however, get some orchids when we move to NM. I really love them. They have this elegant presence about them, even when they don’t have flower spikes.
I’ve ordered some supplies to make the move to NM easier in a few ways. I’ve purchased orchid supplies (see! there I go again talking about those damn orchids) to re-pot and give them a good dose of probiotics and fertilizer. We purchased a cheap little pink handheld game device so we won’t listen to her say how bored she is on the road for four days. And finally, a small hot plate to cook on and a toaster oven to bake in since we don’t use a microwave.
Beyond that, I’m beginning to put together the list of perennial native species, riparian vascular species (we’ll be near a few large spring fed ponds), pioneer tree seeds, fruit-bearing ground cover, and geeking out over the fact that we will once again have a place to start our gardens, orchards, animal systems, earthworks and water harvesting.
Here are some of my favorite perennials native to the southwest:
Yellow Bird of Paradise
I’ll stop there for now. More musings of a future perennial high desert garden to come!
A large assortment of trees, shrubs and flowers (578 to be exact) were ordered and are currently on the way to our farm. Here’s a list of what’s coming:
- 100 Mulberry trees
- 25 Giant Arboritae
- 50 Crown vetch plants
- 50 Day lilies
- 50 Viburniem American Cranberry
- 1 American Sycamore
- 2 Mimosa
- 100 Siberian peashrub
- 100 Elderberry (2 varieties)
It looks impressive, but all the different species are just little tiny seedlings. There’s no way we could afford large gorgeous trees! Little babies will suit us fine, and since they are all relatively fast growing trees and shrubs, we’ll have a food forest in just a few short years.
A few very generous donations (not listed on our farm site and wanting to remain anonymous) were graciously given to us to help get our farm off to a great start. Money for playground equipment for visiting children, garden supplies, building materials, a farm truck and so much more. Thank you to everyone who has believed in local small farms, and donated to us. From buckets and simple tools, to large and expensive items we could have never afforded…
Thank you, thank you!
We’re currently in the planning stage for designing the new playground. We found a used swing set that will work for us, and we’re also planning the sandbox area, gathering area and fire pit, and other things that engage a child’s imagination.
Originally we planned to put the playground in the Northeast Quadrant, near where we’ll be keeping the rabbit colony, but we changed our minds last night, instead choosing the area directly behind the courtyard. Below are a few photos of the area:
This area was chosen because it’s attached to the courtyard, and makes it possible for children to play during potlucks or other gatherings in a safe gated area.
The 4×4 posts surrounding the tree my daughter Gina painted is the perfect location for a covered sandbox area. All kids love sand, and creating an area that is shaded, with shelves for sandbox toys will be amazing.
The play area is about 35’x50′ and planted in this area will be:
- 4- Siberian Peashrub
- 1 American Sycamore
- 2 Mimosa
- Crown vetch
- 8 Mulberry trees
In the future I’ll be planting honeyberry shrubs, after the other trees are established. Edible landscaping that encourages children to eat fresh fruit at their height couldn’t be more heavenly…don’t you think?!
Although you can’t see it from this angle, the area is on a slight slope. We’ll be renting some heavy equipment to level the area for the swing set. I’m told that the dimensions of this set in an “L” shape are 30′ long x 25′ wide, with two playhouses, a slide, swings, and a long walking plank. Next weekend we’ll be picking up the set, so things will need to be done quickly to prep the area.
After the swing set has been installed, the trees and plants will be planted.
May 1st or 2nd is when our chicks arrive, and we’ve been preparing for that as well. We have a LOT of planting to do in the next two weeks, rounding everything off with our warm season crops going into the ground mid May just after the ducklings, goslings, and turkeys arrive.
We’re in a mad dash to get things finished off because we will be hosting our first potluck and garden tour the end of May. I’ll be living off a constant flow of caffeinated tea, very little sleep, and lots of Motrin to get me through. Planting 500+ trees and shrubs, no matter how small they are takes a toll on the body. Beyond the major tree planting, we need to finish the market garden and Northwest Quadrant garden, and get each of those planted out as well.
It’s so thrilling watching everything come together!