We are just starting an agricultural project in the jungle region of Pucallpa, Peru in South America and unfortunately the government is colluding with squatters and we are at risk of losing the donated land. The land is zoned for agricultural use and since we recently got it we have not been able to develop it yet as we are still designing for it (also currently we’re stuck in the USA due to COVID-19, but have partners in Peru helping us). If the property looks abandoned as it does now, we are at risk of losing losing it so we need to quickly plant some productive species in order to keep it. I want to use sustainable long-term design such as is taught in Permaculture so eventually I want to implement swales, ponds, fruit trees, leguminous nitrogen fixing trees, etc. Now it is over 2 hectors of tall jungle that has been fallow for probably eight years although multiple times my neighbors’ fires have come over and burnt parts of it. Slash and burn is the normal practice here but I am trying to teach our agricultural Peruvian neighbors other practices and how to maintain soil fertility with using sustainable practices such as mulches and in the future other techniques as well possibly including biochar, etc.
Right now the urgency is that we have people that we are paying to cut down the tall jungle but since it is over 10 foot high, there is a ton of biomass on the jungle floor now. I really really want to avoid burning at all as that would represent losing years of available nutrition for the soil, but I’m not sure of the best way to plant trees such as guaba (legume - AKA Inga or icecream bean), coconuts (we have about 10 probably over a meter tall), or other nitrogen fixing ground covers (like perennial peanut / clover) that could grow faster than the native weeds / biomass that was just cut down. I want to leave the biomass, or maybe just move it, so it can rot and basically eventually turn into good soil to not lose 8 years of growth with just a fire. Is it feasible to leave the mulch there without burning or will the undesirables overcome and smother the coconuts and new guabas? ￼￼￼
Can I just for example clear very low to the ground 1 square meter in order to plant a coconut tree, then leave the rest of the cut down stuff around as mulch? I have videos and pictures here with explanations in Spanish in this video (click here). As you can see in the video, the biomass is significant.
Or should I do like a type of alley cropping where we clean very low to the ground like a row of two of 3 m wide by 30 m long? And Plant in that low cleared area￼￼?
What legume nitrogen fixing species grow super fast and easy in this tropical climate?
Another complicating factor is that we don’t currently have water on site, September is a dry month, but since we have a place on site that is super close to the water table (could be flooded during the rainy season Dec - Feb) our partners believe they can just dig down a meter or two and find water and can bucket it up to water the plants, although the walk could be about 100m, so not terribly easy.
Can you brainstorm with me to help think of other ideas to keep the biomass in order to maximize our success of maintaining plant nutrition and helping the plants we want to grow outcompete the plants we don’t want to grow?￼￼ In just a couple weeks the cut down stuff could spring to life possibly. I wonder if we piled up the mass like 50cm high or more if it could grow back…
Any other ideas on how to avoid burning everything? The suggestion from our partner there is to just burn it once (now) and never again… yet I’m not sure about that either. From my limited research burning can burn the weed seeds if it’s complete, yet it also leave room for invasive weeds to spread like crazy too. So either way it seems there’d be a fight with weeds, right? Maybe less of a fight at first if we burn.
I’m concerned if we burn about:
- Erosion and losing top soil when the heavy rains come (tropical monsoons)
- killing earthworms
- eliminating the nitrogen and potassium, and magnesium
- lowering the organic content of the soil
- killing the biota / microbiome / good bacteria in the soil
- controlling the fire from burning neighbors’ yards
Yet burning seems to release some other nutrients too.