Autoflowering Cannabis in the Forest Garden

Introduction

We are in an increasing need to figure out a sustainable future. The population is creating a greater demand on  resources.  And they are running low… or at least definitely getting more expensive!

A time for action

We are realising the stupidity of import/export of food and necessities when resources are available close to home. We are understanding the importance of locally grown food and a more holistic way to viewing health and well-being. Sustainable living, permaculture, forest gardening are all seeping into our society and there is a global movement towards a ‘greener’ lifestyle.

Solutions to reducing our carbon footprint are being sought constantly, solar/wind is our new ‘electric’. Even the World of medicine is turning to a more holistic way of treating patients/clients.

So why is the species Cannabis so important?

In our quest to a sustainable future we are looking for solutions that reduce our use of resources. The Cannabis plant has a multitude of properties that can seriously reduce our impact on the planet – be it financial or material. It is allready an important agricultural crop, fast becoming a valuable medicine, and food source, fibre, fuel, insulation, rope, string, mulch, biomass… the list is exhausting when you look into it.

Cannabis/Hemp in Forest Gardening

Forest Gardening is a system of growing plants in a pattern, that aims to support beneficial relationships which create a garden that takes nature as its model, and the natural ecology of a natural woodland. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, medicine and other useful plants can all fit into this system. By copying the way nature creates healthy eco-systems we can create diverse gardens that maximizes output with a minimal input – a design systems that can incorporate a diversity of landscapes – rural or urban.

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Robert Hart devised the seven layer system of Forest gardening.  The key features which contribute to the stability and self-sustaining nature of this system are:

The large number of species used, giving great diversity.
The careful inclusion of plants which increase fertility, such as nitrogen fixers (eg. Alders [Alnus spp], Broom [Cytisus scoparius], Elaeagnus spp, and shrub lupins [Lupinus arboreus]).
The use of dynamic accumulators – deep rooting plants which can tap mineral sources deep in the subsoil and raise them into the topsoil layer where they become available to other plants, eg. Coltsfoot [Petasites spp], Comfreys [Symphytum spp], Liquorice [Glycyrrhiza spp], Sorrel (and docks!) [Rumex spp].
The use of plants specially chosen for their ability to attract predators of common pests, e.g umbellifers like tansy.
The use, where possible, of pest and disease resistant varieties, eg. apples.
The increasing role of tree cover and leaf litter which improve nutrient cycling and drought resistance.

The forest ecosystem can be divided into 7 layers:

Credit to Graham Burnett for the illustration.
These layers naturally maximise the sunlight and space and soil. The tree species bring valuable nutrients from deep in the ground and deposit them on the surface as dead leaves. These leaves will breakdown providing essential nutrients and mulch (mulch is a covering of the soil surface to prevent weed growth and water evaporation, and a food source for the plants you are mulching).

Each layer works together providing shelter, support, nutrients and water preservation. Valuable microbes receive their necessary detritus to breakdown, to create food for the root system. Underground this system also maximizes the resources available. Each layer using a different depth of the ground. The larger species and smaller tap-root species providing essential elements to the surface that breakdown in the top layer that feed the layers that rely on the soil near the surface.

Forest Gardening in Practice

Forest Gardening in theory is a brilliant and romantic idea. There is a phenomenal amount of work going on in the Forest Gardening world. And a lot of very outdated information also. This is an area that needs serious participation through research and study. Very careful study is necessary, permaculture offers a very good set of principles to do this and often goes hand in hand with forest gardening. I have met the Father of Forest gardening several times back in the nineties, Robert Hart.  I felt his Forest Garden idea was more romance than practical, but I certainly could see the vision.  Still today forest gardening is criticised heavily for its lack of productivity. A lot of study and understanding of species and ecosystems is crucial.  You will not find a miracle answer in Forest Gardening.  This is a new science – a new discovery.

Why autoflowering Cannabis/hemp?

The benefits of Autoflowering Cannabis are:

  • Short life span with many going from seed to harvest in under 13 weeks (some as short as eight weeks).
  • Can be kept short in stature for “stealth” growing.
  • No need for a separate vegetative and flowering environment (unlike with photoperiod dependent/ short-day strains).
  • Simple seed production – one plant can produce several hundred seeds even at 1 foot (30.5cm) tall.
  • Due to short life span autoflowering cannabis can be grown in cold climates where summers are short and cold.
  • Autoflowering cannabis can be grown outside in city environment where there is artificial lighting, that would affect (stress) regular strains.
  • Autoflowering cannabis can produce multiple harvests outdoors in one season.
  • Strains can vary in size and structure – from 1ft to 8ft tall.

This is where Autoflowers fit in. Autoflowering Cannabis can use these nutrients and mulch. In the Forest Garden system Cannabis can be used in many ways. As canna can provide lots of different uses, let’s focus on one. Lets say we were growing Cannabis to provide a food source from the seeds. Firstly, Autoflowering cannabis can yield seed several times in one growing season due to the autoflowering characteristic. Lets say you plan for 3 harvests, after each seed harvest you will be left with other surplus products. Dead leaf material – this will also be a valuable compost/mulch or food.

The stems could also be mulch. Or string – which is easily made from cannabis stems, animal bedding, animal food. The roots of the cannabis will be left to rot to feed the other layers. This will aid soil structure by providing nutrient and aeration. Autoflowering plants come in many different shapes and sizes. This means the plant can fit into this system in many different places. Due to Autos also tolerating partial shade this also maximizes its design potential. Another use of say larger Autos is to plant them –  harvest your leaves –  flowers or seeds. Leave the stem in the ground. Peas, beans or other climbing annuals could readily use the stem as a climbing structure. Autoflowering cannabis could provide a fodder crop for chickens or pigs. After taking what you want from the plants, chickens or pigs could come and graze what is left, seed on the ground or plant material left for pigs. The animals then would be fertilizing the ground at the same time. Forest gardening is a very flexible system and Autoflowers are a very flexible species – they are made for each other.

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Here is an excellent example of how flexible hemp is:

The Hemp Farm is the world’s first public demonstration, education and working farm growing low-THC industrial hemp.

Based on the North Coast of NSW (Byron Bay), the hemp farm is dedicated to the many uses of this estranged plant. Grown under Government license, hemp does not contain psychoactive quantities of the drug ingredient.

The benefits of growing hemp fit with permaculture principles. Hemp requires no pesticides or herbicides, can clean up waste water (of which it does not require much) and offers many uses from both its stem and seed.

The stem has a very strong fibre, based on its cellular structure that is being used locally in creating 100% hemp bio-plastics. The same stalk is used to make building materials. At the hemp farm there are two examples of this — one of hemp and lime, and one of hemp and clay. The hemp buildings are breathable, easy to produce from local ingredients and require no special machinery. The same stalk can be used to produce textiles, geotextiles, paper, garden mulch and animal bedding (it is super absorbent). A new technology developed in New Zealand and Germany also allows the hemp stalk to efficiently create bio-diesel from the high cellulose content found in hemp.

As well as all of these uses for the fibre, the hemp seed contains a superior form of plant protein to most other sources. With all essential amino acids the hemp seed is easily digestible unlike most of its counterparts — making it ideal for vegetarians, body builders and anyone needing high quality protein. It is the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acid content that really makes hemp seed shine with its ideal proportion for the human body. The high quantity and quality of EFAs in hemp seed have been shown in various global studies to assist in most skin issues, promoting velvety skin and luscious hair, brain development in pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, prevention of some heart problems and much more.

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Autoflowers in Agroforestry

Agroforestry

Agroforestry is the growing of both trees and agricultural / horticultural crops on the same piece of land. They are designed to provide tree and other crop products and at the same time protect, conserve, diversify and sustain vital economic, environmental, human and natural resources. Agroforestry differs from traditional forestry and agriculture by its focus on the interactions among components rather than just on the individual components themselves.

Research over the past 20 years has confirmed that agroforestry can be more biologically productive, more profitable, and be more sustainable than forestry or agricultural monocultures.

Many other benefits have been shown. Temperate agroforestry systems are already widespread in many parts of the world and are central to production in some regions.

Success of agroforestry is largely determined by the extent to which individual forest and agricultural components can be integrated to help rather than hinder each other. The choice of tree and crop species combinations is critically important when setting up systems.

The Orchard – Agroforestry in practice

Tree crop, grass fodder, sheep fertilise trees, sheep provide food and wool. A low input/maximum output system Combining a diversity of species. The pasture would traditionally not just have contained grass. Lots of different species in the pasture e.g Wild Strawberry, Chicory, Plantain – providing essential health giving nutrients that keep the animal healthy and less reliant on medicine or supplement food supplies.

Autoflowering Cannabis gives the plant greater flexibility, globally. As the plant can grow, virtually, anywhere on the planet, where plants can grow!  And could suit many a diverse range of an agroforestry design. All ready there are literally thousands of strains with different qualities. Specifically bred for a particular use, be it medicine, bio-mass, insulation…

So all you ‘permi’s’ or ‘grow your own’ people. forget your Japanese Wine Berry, forget your Goji and your Monkey Puzzle trees. This is the plant we should all be focusing on to see its true potential. The breeding of Autoflowers could be so beneficial in this day and age. The medicinal properties alone give the plant its worthiness. The world of  medicine is more and more, each day, realising the potential of this plant. The hemp/biomass qualities are quickly being utilised through society. And there is all ready a need for breeding hemp in these industries (hemp production in the UK).

The Future of Autoflowers

This plants potential could be reached with greater participation in study and breeding. The internet offers invaluable resource for people to grow these plants and offer information or research that would benefit other people.

This is one of the purposes of The Autoflower Portal. Breeders and canna medicine users, working together to find solutions and aids to everyday life through breeding and sharing experiences.

Sources:

Agroforestry Research Trust

Hemp Farm article

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