Utter Neglect

We’re all a bit lazy sometimes and to be honest our choice to apply Permaculture was also slightly based on a wish for (future) laziness. If nature functions so well on earth, we can all setup our lives for nature to do most work leaving only a bit of maintenance and harvesting for us to do.

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Small Moringa tree, 8 months old, got watered for 3 months, then only rain, is now established, no further help needed. Starting to flower for the first time.

Mark Shepard, a permaculturist with a farm of over 40 hectares, described his approach with STUN, initially meaning Sheer Total and Utter Neglect, later changed to Strategic Total and Utter Neglect by his wife. We like the version with Strategic better as well. What Mark meant by it was that he does not pay any special attention to what he plants. If the crop or the tree grows well by itself, it’s worth multiplying it. If it doesn’t grow well, it’s too bad and it should become compost or mulch.

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Pigeon pea, 1 year old, never received any care, survived the dry season, picked up growth on minimal rain, fruiting now. Would have been twice as big with a little extra water every now and then and/or with better soil conditions.

Of course this doesn’t mean you can just throw some seeds around without knowing anything about the plants, shrubs or trees you’re trying, which is why the word ‘strategic’ is important in this approach. You will have to select what you plant and where it has a good chance of success. It is probably also a good idea to see if you can improve the terrain you will seed, to give your plantings the best chance to thrive. Good water management can make a huge difference for example.

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Sugar cane, irrigated a bit for half a year to help it establish, other plants around it died during El Niño, the sugar cane did just fine thanks to its deep roots. Note the dry banana on the right!

Another strategic point we pay careful attention to in Permaculture is companion planting. When the right plants get placed together they can help each other. There are plants who repel certain insects, others who attract predators. The bean and pea family are fixing nitrogen in the soil, which helps fertilize your garden. Some plants root deep, others very shallow. By making the right combinations of plants and trees you can help lower competition and increase yields.

Weeding of course is way too much work with a STUN approach. Weed growth can be limited by covering the ground with a thick layer of organic mulch. Most weeds won’t be able to grow through that and the mulch itself is a great fertilizer when it breaks down. Another option is to pull out weeds and replace them with another plant you consider more beneficial. This will fill up all available space so nothing else can really grow there anymore. You do have to keep in mind that a dense garden in a wet climate can lead to problems. That’s why it’s important to always look for solutions that work best in your specific circumstances.

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Some type of Acacia, pioneer species, planted one and a half year ago to quickly shade out this swale, about 4 meters high today, not affected by El Niño.

Gardening with the STUN method is a guarantee that some things won’t work out. However because your investment in time and energy is so low it’s easier to accept some losses in the search for what grows with minimal care in your spot. Every place on earth is unique and what grows well or what doesn’t is different everywhere. Only by experimenting you can find out. It can even be that one crop does great one year and badly the next. Mostly that’s somehow weather related. It’s also wise to plant different types of crops and/or trees, some that can handle drought, others that don’t dislike a wet summer. Whatever the weather does in any year, you always have a chance for a good yield, with a minimum of work.

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Observation is important. These bananas were planted over 18 months ago and should have been fruiting by now. The further to the right the least they grew. The ground here is compacted and in full sun, water absorption of the soil is too low.

Maybe even with STUN a crop garden is too much work for you, but then why don’t you plant a fruit or nut tree? When it is big enough it will give you a harvest every year for free. When you apply STUN to a tree it won’t cost you any time and you’ll have a tree that’s perfectly adapted to your local circumstances. The easiest way to do that is to plant a couple of different types / varieties relatively close together and take out the ones that are not performing the best over time. After a couple of years you select the tree that did best so far to grow bigger and you take down the others.

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To compare, banana in loose flat soil, regularly watered, 4 months after planting, higher and with more leaves than any banana in the picture above. Making loose soil terraces brings better results, a lot of work once, better production for a long time after.

In this article we mentioned a few other things like companion planting and weeds, etc. We will be back to discuss these things and more. Our message today is that within Permaculture we need plants and trees to do well on their own. We’re not interested in creating enormous amounts of maintenance work for ourselves. We are not aiming to keep weak plants alive, we rather garden with Strategic Total and Utter Neglect.

Mark Shepard’s Proven Technique – “Sheer, Total, and Utter Neglect” (video)

 

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One Response to Utter Neglect

  1. Pingback: Utter Neglect | Permaculture San Joaquin – Colombia – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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