Applying Keyline to Successional Agroforestry – a follow up

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This article is an update on Applying Keyline to Successional Agroforestry, a previous one in which I discussed the context and various reasons why I designed our plots adopting a Keyline® approach. Since I wrote that article we have started implementing the larger plot and have already completed the smaller one using this integrative approach.

We are very grateful for the help we received from Darren Doherty, the director and co-founder of Regrarians, in this project. Darren will be teaching the course Forestry in Practice in our site in Brunswick Heads between November 3 and 4. The course focuses on the functions of flora, fauna, fungi and forest layout within forestry systems and the aim to equip farmers and primary producers to increase climate and financial resilience of their enterprises through the integration of diversified forestry systems in their properties and enterprises.

The larger plot
I will discuss the implementation of the smaller plot below. First an update on our larger plot. Due to the slope angle, and the fact that there was already a contract in place from the farm with an specific tractor driver, we could not establish the rows to acceptable standards. As soon as we realised this we put that job on hold. Again, because of farm arrangements that fall out of our decision power, we had to wait until the end of the financial year to re-start the implementation of that area. Since the beginning the motto with this specific area has been ‘adapt-improvise-overcome’. Here is a summary of our experience with this plot.

Below is an aerial picture of the plot. It is possible to see the gravel roads around it, a track within it, two dams and the designed forestry rows in a keyline system. Besides the forestry system, none of these features were design by us. We have been given this plot to develop with a set of challenges like sun aspect, slope, risk of erosion, etc. Please the articleApplying Keyline to Successional Agroforestry for a better contextualisation.


In the picture to the left it is possible to see the bottom contour line, in organge, with the laser lever tripod right in the middle of the ridge. The fluorescent yellow lines show the keyline pattern coming from the adjacent valleys with a gentle gradient to the ridge.

In the picture below (to the right) it is possible to see the plot when the first rows were being established. It is also possible to see that the rows were not exactly following the keyline pattern they should. The left side of the plot exhibits large portions of bare soil. This area has been flattened with heavy machinery living the area quite compacted too. This was necessary as there will be a greywater system installed in the plot with its pipes running adjacent to the tree rows.

With the project put on hold we seeded it using a  winter cover crop with a mix of oats, horseradish and inoculated vetch. The collage picture below shows the early stages of germination.

The smaller plot
This plot is around our nursery and it was planned as our own garden area as well as a place from which we can propagate some plants from. It is similar to the larger plot as it is a south facing slope, it is partially surrounded by a gravel road and has some degree of erosion risk. The main difference is that while the larger plot has a ridge at its centre, a gully runs at the centre of the smaller one. Because of the size, the slope, the amount of rocks, etc. we kept this plot at a human scale of labour.

For this plot we have also decided to establish rows 5 metres apart from each other. This means the canopy will probably close and shade the middle vegetable row within 2.5 to 3 years at the longest. The rows, although parallel, have different lengths, which combined to the sun aspect might allow us to grow in the middle rows for longer. Intense pruning can be considered in similar circumstances as well, but if the intent is to create income from market gardening for a longer period of time it is best to establish rows further apart. However, the tree species and the size of their fully grown canopy is what it will determine how far apart the rows can be.

We surveyed the area with a bunyip level and marked where the rows would be making sure there would be a gentle fall (1:100) from the gully to the ridge. As we needed to dig paths to build the beds we dug them according to the keyline plan. We have lined up all the rocks we found while digging in a terrace-like way to hold the soil in place. The keyline ditches were then filled with rotten branches already inoculated with fungus from the adjacent forest, and wood chips.

In an ideal situation seeds, seedlings, inicial amendments, mulch, etc. would all be already available on site as to follow the easiest and most efficient order of implementation. This place had also been affected by the use of heavy machinery while building the road next to it. We seeded the bare soil in between rows to a perennial grass. In the near future, the clippings will be used as mulch for the beds. For more information on implementation contexts read the article Notes on the Implementation of a Successional Agroforestry Plot.

Another adjustment we have made was that even though all rows run roughly east-west, the hight strata trees planted on different rows were still aligned north-south as to optimise sunlight.

Although the plot is still being established we already have quite a few trees in. Eucalyptus robusta and grandis, and acacia mangium were chosen to drive a fast growing pulse. Moringas, mulberries, various citruses, bananas, coffee bushes and pomegranate are also part of the tree consortium. Both the tree rows and the vegetable rows are being planted to a winter consortium of cassava and vegetables too. The vegetable rows will have polls in each end so that we can run trellises when needed.

Even though we have virtually just planted the rows, the keyline® pattern gives a very pleasing view and functional feeling to the area. With time we will be able to share more information on how well the combination of the keyline® pattern with rows running east-west and tall trees running north-south will work.

Upcoming Agroforestry Courses

Forestry in Practice – With nearly 30 years of experience and literally thousands of farm plans under his belt, Darren J. Doherty comes to the Northern Rivers (NSW, Australia) to teach the course “Forestry in Practice“. The course equips farmers to holistically integrate trees in their landscapes and enterprises. Darren, who also works closely with livestock producers, has been an adamant promoter of tree integration for all farm enterprises. The course will run on the 9th and 10th of February, 2019, at the Holos Regenerative Design learning site in Brunswick Heads, Northern New South Wales.