Integrated Living Systems Design LLC
Soil to Soul

Viva Coconuts!

Dwarf coconuts are easy to grow and provide the world with great benefits.


This sign from Maui tells how to germinate the coconut. Ideally, the nut will completely mature (turn brown) on the tree.


In an area of high rainfall it is important to plant the sprouted nut slightly raised up for good drainage. In this case, a mixture of macnut compost and black cinder is dumped in mounds (2 wheel barrow loads per tree). The earth below is turned and mixed some as to form a large raised bed. The beds are bordered with Albizia logs cut into 2 - 4' lengths.


In this case the goal is to grow the coconut trees to a mature size and then uproot them and transplant them as a high-value landscape tree. Many other crops are planted with the coconut to help hold the soil together, provide micro-climate, and produce other products along the way. The nuts are harvested after 4 - 6 years providing pure water and meat. The coconut tree is the primary crop and is usually ready for sale after 8-10 years.


The site is volcanic cinder that had been previously cleared of Albizia trees.


The perimeter is Timbers trees (mostly Eucalyptus) and more Albizia.


The coconuts are planted as synergistic guilds. Nitrogen fixing shrubs, and other weedy species are allowed to grow during establishment but are phased out over time.


Pineapples, herbs, lemon grass, chiles, yucca, taro, turmeric and others form barriers to intruding grasses.


It is important to plant diversity at the beginning in order to minimize competitors and maintenance.


Grass and Coconuts compete with each other so it is important to remove the grasses or keep them away from the root zone of the Cocos.


Papayas sprout behind a rotting Albizia log covered with fungi.


The log borders also define the plantings so they are easily maintained via mowing or weed-whipping.


This happy guild is ready to be pruned. The nurse trees are allowed to grow up until they begin to shade or crowd the primary, then they are cut back and the resulting organic matter is mulched around the base of the primary. (see below)


Maintenance during establishment consists of pruning back the nurse trees, harvesting fruit, pulling grass and mulching.


The trees are spaced 15' apart in any direction forming offset rows.


The fungi release phosphorus as they decompose the wood.


Phosphorous is the rate limiting nutrient in fruit, flower, and nut production. Think ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) in biological processes.


Healthy spacing.


The grasses are pulled initially to protect seedlings and other delicate transplants until they are established enough to fend off encroaching roots from nearby grasses.


The plantings can be dense as long as they are planted with non-competing assemblages.


The system builds with biological momentum as everything grows by absorbing and transforming the sunlight beaming down on the site. During a cycle of accumulation energy is actively being stored in the plants tissues.


Eventually, much energy has built up in the nitrogen fixing trees and other fast growing nurse trees. This is just about the time when the site becomes energy rich and fire prone.


It is important for the gardener to observe the cycles and understand which stage of development the system is in.


Manioc ("Yucca") forms dense stands that can easily shade out grasses and other unwanted ground covers. The manioc roots store energy and provide food over time with minimal inputs.


The grasses are beginning to fold over on top of the rest of the plants, thereby competing for energy.


This papaya leans away from a Melokia in an effort to obtain more light. It is time to cut back the Melokia and mulch it around the base of the primary. Thus begins the cycle of abundance.


The pineapples are beginning to flower. More phosphorous is needed in the system.


Pulling the competitors allows in more light, aerates the soil and allows the primary greater access to nutrients. Piles of rotting weeds help retain moisture and release fertilizer over time.


Harmonize the system by adjusting light levels, moisture retention, ventilation and access to fertility.


Balance 4 dimensions: Quantity vs. Quality (of life)

Space vs. Time


Freshly mulched!


Be sure not to mulch too close to the primary and not to smother neighboring beneficial plants.


Weed-whipping strengthens the grass roots and makes them difficult to remove. If labor allows, it is best to rake up the grass trimmings and make piles of concentrated nutrients nearby the primary.


Neighboring trees may shade the entire system from a distance. When this happens it is time to chainsaw the trees down and buck up the limbs into manageable pieces. These logs are piled together in stacks or laid flat on the ground side-by-side to make a thick mulch.


Pruning brings the canopy down and mulching uses the former canopy as a barrier to protect the soil from the newly penetrating sun light.


Now with more sun light, nutrients and moisture conserving mulch, the primaries will have a growing spurt. The biological momentum increaes.


The trees are 3-5' tall now and are expected to fruit in 2 more years.


The overstory of Albizia grows, fixing nitrogen and eventually providing food for the future.


An abundance of Albizia seeds ensures renewal of this valuable fertilizer.


Once established the companion plants mature and can be divided and spread around, thereby increasing both yield and decreasing maintenance of the system.


Leaves and sticks need to be mulched while green to maximize fertility. Cutting and mulching liberates energy into the system which was previously being absorbed by other plants.


This is an example of Species Sequenced Agriculture.


This type of agroforestry system builds soil fertility while providing a variety of products over time.


At first glance this orchard my appear chaotic but in reality it is mimicking the successional process that naturally occurs only this system is gardener assisted and produces food along the way.


After these trees produce nuts for a season or two, the offspring will begin a new orchard and the mature trees will be uprooted and shipped off to their new home. The rotation takes 7-10 years to complete.


Now the trees are 4-5 years old. Soon they will flower for the first time. Since being planted, many trees haven grown up around the coconuts and been chopped down, and mulched to provide fertilizer. Several seasons of pineapples and papayas have yileded fruit. Basil, lemon grass, turmeric and other hebrs and spices shade out grass and provide more reasons to visit each tree.


Mature coconut trees sell for ~$1,200 each (or more). Each acre of Coconut orchard planted in this way can yield ~50 trees or $60,000 after 10 years.


If left in place rather than transplanting for landscaping, the orchard will grow up to be a dense plantation of coconut overstory and other food crops in the understory.


Coconut water is clean and healthy. Each tree can yield ~250 coconuts every 9-12 months or ~ 60 gallons of water/year. Each acre can yield 3,125 gallons of safe drinking water per year depending upon rainfall.


Coconut sprouts are highly nutritious.


If all edible parts of the coconut are consumed, the coconut is a complete food in and of itself.


Suck out the chlorophyll from the young shoots.


Coconut water is clean and healthy. Some nuts hold as much as 1 liter.


Vendors in Zapotillo, Ecuador selling sprouted coconuts and agua de pipa.


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