This information used to be free, but it was taken down a long time ago off the Internet. However, with use of the Wayback Machine, with assistance from a Permaculture Research Institute forum member, I was able to recover & re-share this information from a student of Fukuoka.
The Synergistic Garden
Reproduced from Prodder, translated from French by Linda Hull
(Permaculture Magazine -
Emilia Hazelip, who introduced the concept of permaculture to
France over a decade ago, is constantly evolving her work and has
been developing a food growing method which she calls 'Synergistic
Emilia Hazelip's work is strongly influenced by Masanobu
Fukuoka's system of 'natural agriculture', by permaculture and Marc
Boufils's agronomical research, as well as by her own experimental
work growing food crops with minimal inputs in the south of France
and in other Mediterranean countries.
The first surprise when you enter Emilia's kitchen garden is
seeing vegetables growing in a quite disorderly fashion on oblong
mounds of earth 1.2 meters (5ft) wide by 8 meters (26ft) long. The
rule is to make space for the feet and space for the plants, because
putting feet where plants are to grow leads to soil compaction and
where there is no air in the soil nothing will grow. The cultivated
areas are well demarcated, their elevated form giving a notable
increase in surface area for production. Moreover, they are all
covered with mulch - covering the soil to preserve the organic
material, preventing erosion and compaction by rain, diminishing
evaporation in summer and maintaining a soil microclimate which
reduces the adverse effects of temperature extremes. Protecting the
soil in this way removes the need to aerate it each year. Emilia
claims that there is no need to fertilize the soil because it is
left to maintain itself: 'soil autofertility'. Instead of pulling
out all the plants and leaving the ground bare over winter to suffer
the effects of erosion, some plants and all roots are left in the
soil, their decomposition assuring a continuous reserve of organic
matter in the soil.
This also has other benefits. Leeks, for example, are cut down to
the white part, then left two to three weeks to produce a second
crop. Afterwards roots are left in the soil where they regenerate
making seed for the following year.
In this experimental garden, the gourd is neighbor to the tomato
seedling which itself is found beside beans or peppers. Because
thought is given to companion planting and guilds, diversity helps
plants to defend themselves better against diseases and pests. This
combination of plants also supports the soil's autofertility.
You can see, here and there, flowers and weeds, or rather what
are called here 'spontaneous plants'. You don't pull these out (not
all, anyway) because, being indigenous, they attract insects and
other organisms in the soil which are beneficial. For all these
reasons, it is better to combine the greatest diversity of plants,
even those which we think of as useless.
Emilia says it's necessary to allow a certain number of pests (or
so-called pests) to live in the garden because they sometimes work
as the gardener's helpers. If, for example, you eradicate the
colonies of greenfly, the ladybirds which feed on them will no
longer come and will not be there to regulate the greenfly
population or to fight off the next new invasion of insects.
However, the problem of slugs is still not resolved. The ducks,
which have a small pond in the middle of the garden, turned out to
be inefficient (they're asleep when the slugs are in full swing!).
Emilia is looking for other predators to intervene in the biological
struggle. She's going to reintroduce the hedgehog and, with the
co-operation of a local agricultural researcher, experiment with the
efficiency of the scarab, a small beetle which is a natural predator
of the slug.
Finally a synergistic garden is an ecosystem that is consciously
designed to allow all the dynamic life forms present in a wild soil
to remain present while still growing crops (on whatever scale). It
is that simple. But that's not the view commonly held in the sphere
of science or in the politics of agribusiness which rule France.
Emilia exclaims passionately: "The living world is not understood by
the technician, and since it is not understood, it is not studied
for its diversity. People always want to apply mechanical laws to
We have inherited an agriculture which has always disturbed the
soil in order to prepare the next crop. The ancient agriculture of
the Incas, the Mayas and the Orient also prepared the fields in such
a way. Culturally, this activity has been honored and sung by poets.
Ecologically, pedologically, it is a catastrophe.
A natural, non-traumatized soil presents a subtle balance of
thousands of diverse specific organisms. From friendly bacteria to
fungi, the presence of all these invisible subtle lives allows
complex interactions - the 'Synergistic Effect'. Among the dynamic
processes in the soil, I think that the ethylene-oxygen cycle is a
good example of this wondrous world.
How can we give back to the soil something to compensate, and
return it to natural uncultivated health? We cannot recreate that
quality while we keep on destabilizing the rhizosphere. The only way
is to learn a type of agriculture that will reconcile the
maintenance of soil 'wildness' and the production of crops. This has
been my endeavor for over 20 years. I call the system I have evolved
'Synergistic Agriculture', utilizing the self-fertility of the wild
soil as fertilizer. This agriculture can be practiced on any scale
and all the machinery used in the U.S.A. and Canada for no-till
agriculture can be used for Synergistic Agriculture.
The foundation of my research is the work of Masanobu Fukuoka,
whose book The One Straw Revolution changed my life in 1977 when it
was published in English. In Fukuoka's natural agriculture no
machines are used, nor greenhouses, nor all those things we normally
have to do when working in a difficult climate. To me what seemed
most important was to be able to obtain crops without 'exploiting'
the soil, even if a compromise is made regarding machines. Before
encountering Fukuoka's work, I had been working near Chadwick, in
Santa Cruz, California in the late '60s. Following the reading (also
in the '60s) of Ruth Stout's books Gardening Without Work and How to
Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, I began covering beds
with a variety of materials.
Since then I have made raised beds in all my gardens, although
the difference in volume came only from the soil taken off the path
and put on the bed... no double-digging at all.
In 1985, during the first permaculture design course with Sego
Jackson in the Pyrenees, Marc Bonfils gave a presentation on
self-fertile cereal production. Since then Marc has been teaching
about the agronomical reasons behind this new method of agriculture.
Nowadays, microbiologists like Alan Smith and Elaine Ingham are also
providing much needed evidence of the well found need to stop
altering the soil's stability and stressing it to exhaustion by
I cannot call this agriculture 'do-nothing' agriculture since, on
the contrary, there is much to do to establish a succession of
cultures where what you are leaving behind is as important as what
you are harvesting. A detailed plan indicating the plant mixtures
and successions, paying attention to the kind of root residue the
soil is receiving combined constantly with nitrogen-fixing plants of
the legumes variety, is a must.
SOIL & PLANT SYNERGY
Although to start the system the soil can be dug over thoroughly,
once we start the garden we must be sure not to disturb the soil
deeper than the sowing depth, and only then where it is sown. What
consumes organic matter in the soil is the chemical reaction that
follows when atmospheric gases are put in intimate contact with the
soil while plowing. Although by mineralizing humus, a quick instant
fertilizer has been produced, the price you pay for this is much too
high. Plants' growth and health also depend on other substances like
ethylene gas which enhances the assimilation of iron. Plants will be
healthy if all the digestive flora in the soil are present. Soil and
plants are a single organism.
Plants are the 'antenna' of the soil, capturing light and
creating solid, organic, vegetable matter from the space above,
since 95% of needed nutrients come from gases and light. In other
words, the plant is only taking 21/2% of its
needs from the soil in the form of minerals and trace elements. The
remaining 21/2% of nutrients is nitrogen, which
can be obtained in a symbiotic way by combining with nitrogen-fixing
plants, mainly from the legumes family, like beans, chickpeas,
favabeans, lentils and peas.
Harvesting is as important as the rest of the process. The soil
is a living mass of interacting beings, and they all eat just like
everything alive on this planet. Their foodchains are a wonder of
intricate relationships covering the mineral, the vegetal, and the
When we disturb the soil by plowing it, despite our best
intentions we are creating stress in it. The moment we stop doing
this we can organize our garden or farm in such a way that the soil
functions as if 'in the wild'. A maximum of what has grown in it is
left either by its roots (for an above the ground crop) or by
following a rootcrop by another crop which will leave generous
amounts of roots in the soil, such as Swiss chard.
These residues, together with a biodegradable mulch, amount to
surface composting, leaving more organic matter in the soil than the
crop has removed. From the moment we stop mineralizing the humus,
litter accumulates on the soil as well as in a myriad of microsites
within it, hosting happy bacteria cycling between ethylene and
oxygen, releasing biological gas essential to the wellbeing of all
types of roots.
The less we disturb the soil, the more diversity and intensity of
interactions will take place in its mass, so the healthier the
plants and the fewer problems there will be for us. It is time for
us to acknowledge that the soil needs to be itself while we produce
our crops. We must respect this organism enough to let it function
in its natural way although 'domesticated' by our technical care.
The organisms in the soil are like the bloodstream of the human
body which carries nutrients and participates in the assimilation of
the minerals that are present.
Above the ground leaves act like photovoltaic cells, capturing
light and producing energy. The only bridge doing this fantastic job
is plants; it has always struck me as odd, that, although in the
wild, plants are the first link in the food chains and are
responsible for the creation of 'soil', in agriculture, on the other
hand, they are accused of destroying the soil. Typical of Homo
occidentalis, the crops have been made a scapegoat for the
negative effects of plowing!
The soil should never be opened up and forcefed, not even with
the best made compost ever. Leave only to the soil what is grown in
it. As for the rest put it above the soil, as mulch. And let all the
soil occupants absorb it into its mass.
I truly believe that as long as we have not found peace with the
soil, we won't find peace above the ground. That as long as we
justify the exploitation of an organism, other exploitations will
follow and we will remain parasites, consuming more than
participating and spiralling into entropy until we commit mass
The Four Principles Of Synergistic Agriculture
1. Keep the soil undisturbed and uncompacted.
2. Use the soil's self-fertility as fertilizer.
3. Integrate the litter zone with the agricultural soil profile.
4. Establish a partnership with beneficials to protect crops.
Raised beds are only needed where crops are harvested
continually. For areas where produce is harvested once only, a good
layer of mulch will he enough to protect the soil from compaction.
The following examples apply to raised beds in regions with a
temperate climate, where nighttime temperatures in the winter do not
fall below -10 degrees C. For gardens in more extreme latitudes, or
at high altitudes, a quite different strategy is needed. Equally for
climates that are frost-free in winter an alternative planting and
cropping succession plan will apply.
In my experience the positive or negative results that I have had
with sowing dates have happened as a result of studying the
development of plants throughout the season, in relation to weather
etc. (I've long since given up following the lunar/cosmic calendar,
there being insufficient evidence of results to justify the time and
complication of applying it.) Perhaps certain influences come from
our attitude rather than from further afield... and besides a happy,
self-fertile soil does influence germination and the growth of
Let's look then at how to handle production for a three-year
cycle (which can be repeated indefinitely) on three different raised
RAISED BED 1
Sow root vegetables in lines, planted 25-30 centimeters
apart, of carrots and/or beets, as well as turnips on the flat top
of the raised bed. When sowing small seeds, push back the mulch in
the line to be sown, and without 'working the soil', simply make an
indentation the same length as the line, put your seeds in as you
normally do and sprinkle some soil on top. Then put some pressure on
the soil so that it adheres to the seed. If the seeds are small do
not replace the mulch, but do keep the area moist. This crop can be
combined with any type of sweet garden pea, which can be sown either
in pockets or across the narrow bed every 2-3 meters.
On the sides of the raised bed plant in a zig-zag pattern; try
onion sets or seedlings interspersed with any type of lettuce or
salad chicory. Keep the sides permanently planted with cut and come
again salads, planting new seedlings next to the plants that are
going to seed. When the onions are harvested, use the same zone for
new onion varieties, or for garlic or leeks. Over a period of time
you should try to plant 'salads' where the onions were, and put the
liliaceous varieties where the salads were. The sides of all raised
beds should be treated similarly except where you want to grow
perennial chives or other perennial or self-seeding members of the
Be sure to sow flowers too in all your beds: calendula
(predominantly the orange variety), as well as all types of French
marigolds and nasturtiums, paying attention to their growth pattern.
Each bed should have at least one of each of these plants as
beneficial companions to the crops. Plant them on the flat top of
the raised bed, but don't let them take up too much space.
As you harvest the root crop, sow mustard greens in the
same spaces. As the sweet garden peas are cut and left as mulch, sow
pockets of beans at random.
September - October
Sow winter varieties of spinach as the mustard greens are harvested.
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas among the spinach.
March - April
Plant lines of Swiss chard plants among the
broad beans. Sow legumes now if you didn't plant them last autumn
(or if they didn't survive the winter).
June - August
Before harvesting the legumes, sow beans
between the Swiss chard; continue putting in beans throughout the
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas (different
varieties than last year), parallel with the lines of chard.
March - April
Continue harvesting the Swiss chard until it
begins to go to flower. As soon as this happens cut most of the
plants back as low as possible. Depending on the size of the bed and
how many plants you have, choose at least two, but not more than
four, to stake and let go to seed. (Space doesn't allow for details
of selecting which plants to choose for seed production). Planting
parallel to the spent Swiss chard roots, begin a further root
vegetable sowing following the Year I pattern; when choosing
succession plants bear in mind the crop rotation, and try to avoid
having two plants of the same family following each other.
RAISED BED 2
March - April
Sow small peas in pockets, at 50-60 centimeters
In the center of: the bed plant tomatoes in two zig-zag
lines. In front of the tomatoes sow basil and coriander.
Sow beans among the tomatoes all through the summer.
Sow broad beans in between the dying/dead plants
that have been cut and left as mulch.
March - April
Tomato plants like growing on soil where
tomatoes have been grown before, so no rotation strategy is needed -
so repeat the Year I pattern although it's worth moving the plants
round so that roots are distributed through all the soil (put the
coriander where you had the basil and vice versa).
For winter legumes alternate each year between sweet
garden peas and broad beans.
Repeat Year I or follow the pattern in raised bed 3 if
you prefer to integrate a rotation pattern.
RAISED BED 3
March - April
Sow small peas.
Plant (or sow) two rows of any type of squash in a wide
zig-zag line towards the center of the bed, together with some sweet
Begin sowing your beans.
In the spaces between the squash leaves, plant Chinese
cabbage, broccoli or Brussels sprouts (the squash leaves providing
shade to protect the transplanted seedlings).
Sow broad beans or sweet garden peas in between the cabbages.
As harvesting progresses (always ensuring that you cut
the plants and leave the roots undisturbed in the soil), you can sow
spinach, mustard greens and/or borage and New Zealand spinach.
Sow beans among the other plants.
Broad beans or sweet garden peas.
Year 1 can be repeated or alternate with raised bed 2
(or another one).
Install a drip irrigation hose (a simple
narrow hose with perforations every 25-30 centimeters works fine and
shouldn't suffer from chalk build-up). 2 hoses per bed is the
optimum, placed in parallel about l0 centimeters from the edges of
the flat top of the raised bed.
If you want to set up a system of supports
which can be left permanently in place in the garden and which will
not be damaged however strong the wind, try 6 meter long building
rods (10 or 12 centimeter gauge) forming an arch across the beds.
Attach a strong wire from the apex of each crossed arch to the next
and these will form good supports for winter climbing peas as well
as summer beans.
Be sure to use biodegradable string for attaching plants to the
supports, so that at the end of the season you can simply undo the
knots from the support and let string and plants mulch together on
the bed. Cucumbers, melons and many squashes can be encouraged to
climb in this way, thus freeing up a lot of space at ground level.
Gardening the self-fertility way produces a
rich harvest: the more plants which live and die in the soil the
richer and more fertile it becomes.
Reproduced from Prodder, translated from French by Linda Hull.
1. Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution. 1978. Rodale.
2. -The Natural Way of Farming. 1985. Japan Publications
3. -The Road Back to Nature. 1987. Japan Publications.
4. Ruth Stout. Gardening Without Work. 1961. Devin-Adair.
5.-How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back. 1968. Exposition Press.
6.-The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book. 1971. Rodale Press.
7. Alan Smith. "Secrets of the Living Soil." 1981. Permaculture International Journal #1
(or again in PIJ #39).
8. Lea Harrison. "Soil Fertility." Permaculture Activist #26.
9. Elaine Ingham. "Life in the Soil: Understanding the Soil Foodweb.'' Jan. 1997, Acres, U.S.A.
10. B. Mollison & D. Holmgren. Permaculture One. 1981. Tagari.
11. Marc Bonfils. LeSol el I 'Erosion. 1985. Las Encantadas.
Emilia Hazelip has taught permaculture for many years. She writes from the region of the
Pyrenees Mountains in the southwest of France.
The Synergistic Garden Video Tape By Emilia Hazelip
Las Encantadas, BP 217, F-11306 Limoux-Cedex, France
An educational video on no-till synergistic gardening that describes the
step-by-step processes developed by Emilia Hazelip to create an ecological agriculture. She became
interested in Fukuoka's work in 1977 and this video shows the cultural and climatological adaptations
she has developed in the course of years of research. Available in Spanish, French, Italian &
English in many formats.