Syntropic Farming Basics: Plant Spacing And Consortium Design

In Syntropic Farming, a consortium is a strategic grouping of plants working together to maximize the use of sunlight while providing a continuous yield, from as soon as 3 months to over 30 years.

To create an intelligent consortium, we need to understand how long each plant will remain productive in the system and the required, ideal spacing to maximize photosynthesis.

As a result, you will first have to collect this information and structure it in such a way as to provide a simple overview of the entire system as it evolves over time.

This article will look at the spacing of trees in each stage and then combine them to create our design. 

Before We Get Started…

We need to be aware that certain plants will eventually displace others as the system advances.

For example, as time passes, trees’ canopy will start to fill in, resulting in unfavorable growing conditions for plants of the previous stage.

Ultimately, the goal of a Syntropic Farming system is to evolve into a forest. 

When designing, we can start with the big picture; how the forest will look in 80+ years and work backward to the point, we are now.

Let’s dive in!

Plant Spacing For Climax Stage Trees

In Syntropic Agroforestry, the trees that live and produce for more than 80 years belong to the Climax Stage of succession.

However, we usually combine trees that belong to both Climax and Secondary III stages in tropical systems. These include softer timbers and fruit-producing trees that can live for over 30 years.

You should plant trees within the same stratification level with a minimum distance as follows:

StratumSec. 3 / Climax (30 yrs+)Minimum Spacing
EmergentMahogany, Cedar Wood40 feet (12 m)
HighCoconut, Breadfruit, Mango, Jackfruit, Tamarind, Avocado30 feet (9 m)
MediumCashew, Mandarin20 feet (6 m)
LowCoffee, Cocoa10 feet (3 m)

However, you should maintain about 7 feet (2 meters) between plants from different levels. 

This spacing can be represented as follows:

Stratification LevelStratification LevelMinimum Spacing
EmergentEmergent40 feet (12 m)
HighHigh30 feet (9 m)
MediumMedium20 feet (6 m)
LowLow10 feet (3 m)
EmergentMedium7 feet (2 m)
HighLow7 feet (2 m)

For example, you can plant Mango, Jackfruit, and Avocado 30 feet away from each other (High). 

Then interplant with cocoa or coffee (Low), spacing them about 7 feet from the Mangoes, etc. 

However, you will need to maintain at least 10 feet between cocoa plants. (Low To Low)

Note: You can plant Biomass Trees as close to 20 inches (½ meter) apart from other plants.

Plant Spacing For Secondary Stage Trees

The Secondary Stage comprises trees and shrubs that generally live from 2 to 30 years.

This group also includes most biomass trees, which continue to support the system throughout their lifespan.

The minimum spacing for Secondary I and II plants are as follows:

StratumSecondary (2 to 30 yrs)Minimum Spacing
EmergentAcacia, Eucalyptus30 feet (9 m)
HighMoringa, Gliricidia, Leucaena, Inga20 feet (6 m)
MediumLemon, Grapefruit, Orange, Soursop, Barbados Cherries,10 feet (3 m)
LowAnnatto (Lipstick Plant)3 feet (1 m)

As mentioned before, Biomass trees are spaced as close as 20 inches (½ meter) apart from each other.

Note: Trees that belong to the Secondary stage follow a similar spacing to that of the Climax trees with about 7 feet (2m) between plants from different stratification levels.

Plant Spacing For Placenta Plants

The Placenta Stage includes plants that produce in less than 2 years. 

However, the lifespans and needs of these plants can vary considerably. As a result, it is usually split into two distinct groups.

These plants are usually intercropped in the tree rows or planted in the alley between tree rows. 

1. Placenta II – Shrubs and Tubers

Placenta II includes plants with short life cycles between 6 months and 2 years. E.g., bananas, papayas, and many crops are considered staples.

The minimum spacing for these crops are:

StratumPlacenta II (Up To 2 yrs)Minimum Spacing
EmergentPapaya, Sugar Cane10 feet (3 m)
HighBananas, Cassava10 feet (3 m)
MediumPigeon Peas, Dasheen (Taro)3 feet (1 m)
LowPineapple3 feet (1 m)

2. Placenta I – Vegetables and Short Crops

Placenta I includes plants with short life cycles, up to 6 months. E.g., vegetables and most crops grown in market gardens.

The minimum spacing for these crops varies considerably based on the varieties and the growing conditions. 

In some instances, you may wish to rely on the spacing requirements suggested on the packaging. 

However, you should monitor the growth of the respective crops as the system progresses and adjust accordingly.

We opted for 10 inches as our smallest unit to make harvesting easier.

You can use the following spacings as a starting point, adjusting if necessary.

StratumPlacenta I (0 to 6 mths)Minimum Spacing
EmergentCorn, Okra3 feet (1 m)
HighLettuce, Cabbage, Broccoli10 inches (25 cm)
MediumTomato, Eggplant, Pole Beans3 feet (1 m)
LowPumpkin, Sweet Potato10 feet (3 m)
Note: If we notice spaces in the system, we usually plant crops from Placenta I to fill them. Due to their short lifespans, they can yield a harvest before the area is needed by other crops.

How To Design A Syntropic Consortium

You can design your consortium now that you know where certain plants fit into the various stages.

However, you will need to adjust to suit your available growing space. 

With some additional research and observation, you can find other vegetation that is not cited.

Here is an example of a simple consortium design using the information above. 

Placenta IPlacenta IISecondarySec. III / Climax
EmergentCorn, OkraPapayaAcaciaMahogany
HighLettuce, KaleBananasMoringaMango
MediumTomato, BeansPigeon PeasLemon, SoursopCashew
LowPumpkinPineappleAchioteCocoa
Note: I only used two plants per section in the example above. However, you can use as many as you wish as long as space permits. 

Final Thoughts

The Consortium Design is a valuable tool in planning a Syntropic Agroforestry system.

In theory, it provides the designer with a bird’s eye view of the system throughout time. Still, it does not account for the unique characteristics of different plant varieties or growing conditions.

As a result, the design should be referenced mainly as a general guide, a great starting point. 

However, you will still have to rely on your observation and management practices to ensure that the plants receive the conditions necessary to thrive.

Related Questions

Can A Syntropic Consortium Work Without Climax Trees?

A Syntropic Consortium can be modified to work without Climax trees in areas with limited space. These changes will, in essence, shorten the system’s life cycle but will not prevent it from evolving over time.

References

Global Freedom Project. Syntropic Farming Guidebooks. global-freedom-project.org.Accessed January 2022

Agenda Götsch. Life Cycle Stratification And Succession agendagotsch.com. Accessed January 2022

Adam Nz. Syntropic Agroforestry Resources. adam.nz. Accessed January 2022