It seems we exist in some sort of balance between two major forces. While the force of gravity pulls everything downwards, life force promotes movement in the opposite direction. In the first part of our lives, life force shoots us upwards against the dictates of gravity. In the later part of our lives, with each passing day, we see the force of gravity being written more strongly into our stooping frames and sagging flesh.
Owing to the development of science, gravity is well known as one of the basic forces of nature and its effects are generally understood. On the other hand life force is unacknowledged by science. Since science had to fight its way out of suppression by religion, it seems to be no coincidence that it has ignored a force which looks very much like the force religions embody as god/dess. This force promotes the evolution of all life - from the great range of options available to us we tend to choose those with the most life force. In this age, which is the only age where depression is a widespread phenomenon, acknowledging the presence of life force/universal energy as the directing influence in life, gives us a way of moving out of depression into hope and enjoyment.
We can choose to work with or against these forces. Life is abundant when we work with the force and life is difficult when we work against it. In the movie Star Wars, the 'baddies' were those working against the force and the 'goodies' were those working with it. Their farewell greeting was, "May the force be with you." Since the force is always there and it is our choice whether we are with it or not, a more appropriate expression would be, "May you be with the force!"
The principle of zoning, sectors and elevation planning includes ways of working with, not against, the force of gravity so that we are moving water and full wheelbarrows etc. down, not up the slope. In this current principle we are looking at ways of working with the upward thrust of this life force. This is seen very clearly in the natural succession of species.
In most places in the western world, if we look of out the window it is likely that we will see at least a small patch of lawn or mown grass. Imagine what would happen to that grass if we stopped putting energy into mowing it and kept grazing animals away from it too. The grass would grow longer and after a while the plants we call weeds would start to appear. Sooner or later bushes would begin to grow among the weeds and finally trees would grow up and form a forest.
So we can look at weeds as stage one forest. The bushes or pioneer plants are stage two forest and what we have always thought of as forest, the trees or climax species, are actually stage three.
At each successive stage there are a greater number of plants and animals per unit area. That is, natural succession gives us increasing diversity over time.
In conventional agriculture, most food is produced at the herb layer. We grow grains and vegetables and we eat meat from cattle and sheep which graze grasses. Instead of working with nature, much of our agriculture is actually working against nature. We put a lot of human and mechanical energy and chemicals into tilling and weed control. The purpose of this is to stop natural succession and to keep most of our agricultural land in stage one vegetation!
What would happen if we worked with nature instead? Where nature grows weeds we could substitute edible species with similar growth habits.
Instead of leafy green weeds we could grow American land cress and corn salad. We could substitute Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes for tuberous weeds, salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) and scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica) for deep rooted weeds and so on. We can substitute the bushes of the pioneer stage with species such as gooseberries and blackcurrants. For the forest trees of stage three, we can substitute fruit and nut trees. The result is continuous food production, starting immediately with annuals into which are planted the trees and shrubs, that take longer to grow and bear.
In natural succession, each stage creates the necessary conditions for growth of the stage which follows. The weeds or herbs cover bare and damaged ground, protecting the soil from erosion by wind or rain, protecting the soil moisture and soil organisms from the sun and building up the nutrient status of the soil. The bushes can grow and take over this process. They also increase the microclimate effect and many species bear edible berries which attract birds and animals who bring more nutrients and seeds with them. Consequently if we want to grow an orchard, it is beneficial to grow vegetables and bushes first. They replace the grasses which inhibit the growth of young trees and reduce the fruiting capacity of older trees and create optimum growing conditions for the younger trees.
But we do not have to wait until each stage is established before we can plant the next one. We can put in plants for all three stages at the same time. In this way we are stacking time - that is, we are taking the shortest possible time to get from vegetables to fruit production.
In nature as each subsequent stage grows it shades out the prior stage that nurtured it. The forest evolves from weeds to trees. In our food forest, however, we want to continue to have production from all three stages of plants. There is one area where all three layers exist - the area of greatest diversity: the edge. This is particularly true in climates with lower light levels where few edible plants can survive under the tree canopy. Therefore it is of great importance that we include an abundance of edge when we are planning our cultivated forest garden. We can do this in two ways.
Firstly we can include a lot of edge by having adequate pathways for access and maintaining the edges of the pathways as a band of vegetables with a band of bushes behind it.
With natural forests the canopy is relatively flat near the equator where light is abundant and becomes more and more crenellated as we get closer to the poles, thus allowing more light levels to penetrate the forest as light levels become lower. This shows us the second way we can add edge to our cultivated forest. By spacing the climax trees further apart than they would be in a natural forest, we leave space for bush and vegetable species to continue growing between them. The more temperate the climate the more we need to increase the spacing.
Having plants of all three stages growing in the same area is a way of stacking all the available levels of space. So copying natural succession allows us to stack both space and time.
There is a natural succession in the establishment of organisations and institutions. Being aware of this process can allow us to look for and recognise the appropriate individuals for each stage, stack time and anticipate and accept the inevitable process of change.
The 'weeds' of stage one are the rugged, dynamic individualists. Their vision and strong egos allow them to colonise bare and inhospitable pieces of ground, building up its potential until the area is sufficiently fertile for the pioneer species to start moving in.
The pioneers are more co-operative, able to work both as individuals and in teams. They are still dynamic in outlook but have sufficient stability to be able to change the visions of stage one into more of an established reality. They get the long term systems set up and nurture their functioning. By the time they are getting their work well established the stage one people will have become allergic to the shade and moved on to colonise other bare and inhospitable pieces of ground. At the stage where pioneers find that the pleasure is going out of their work, now that everything has been set up and stage three teams are beginning to take over the established routines, the organisation will reach it's peak of diversity. The stage three people are the team of people who enjoy keeping systems running smoothly and nurturing them into stable ongoing production.
At the edge where the organisation is expanding into new areas, we will find some of the original weeds, backed up by the bushes. The organisation has moved from dynamic colonisation to ongoing stability.