On Tuesday afternoon, 24th November, Evita and I ventured to meet Shane at his 40 acres near Pomona. I first heard Shane on an Abundant Edge podcast in July 2020. It was his first podcast and it was incredible to hear him talk about growing food without using inputs such as irrigation, fertiliser, and imported nutrients. It’s the first podcast I have heard in the permaculture space where this approach has been seriously taken and where results are very encouraging. I messaged Shane after checking out his blog enquiring about getting some of his seeds to try. While we are in a cool temperate climate about 400km away and he is the subtropics I was keen to try seeds from plants grown without irrigation as water is often our limiting factor. Shane was very responsive to my message and we communicated many times about seed saving, plant breeding, and goats. He did send me some seeds and cuttings and I promised to return the exchange by gathering and sending our local bunya nuts in February to contribute diversity to his breeding program. So, it was somewhat serendipitous that we were able to have a holiday nearby and visit in person.
A smiley Shane greeted us and we enthusiastically went for a walk within minutes. Shane’s philosophy of zero input is immediately evident as there are weeds everywhere. “The weeds are repairing the paddocks from decades of cattle overgrazing and cutting them or removing them
around trees will make little real difference in their long life.” “It’s just not worth the time and effort. If the weeds do outcompete the tree for light, water, nutrients, then so be it, we want strong trees.” So Shane has various widely spaced rows of trees that are densely planted with as many genetics of each type as possible. This density either naturally diminishes as weaker trees die or less desirables can be taken out after a few years. Purchased trees from nurseries often die first and trees planted from seeds are preferential as they are easier to source or collect and have greater genetic variance. Trees planted by seed cannot suffer from having pot bound roots and are in one type of soil right from germination (no potting soil). This all makes such logical sense, but it’s usually human nature to think we can speed things up significantly by buying plants, weeding, mulching, applying fertilisers, etc instead of being more patient and
letting nature do its thing. So, Shane plants seeds and waits and sometimes it takes 2 years for the seedlings to appear poking up through the weeds. If seedlings do die he just keeps replanting with something slightly different until he finds things that want to grow on this land and in this climate.
Queensland arrowroot is one of many starch crops that Shane is breeding and/or growing. Starch forms a key part of the human diet with an average consumption of around 300g per day. This is used by the body to provide energy. Other crops being trialled for starch include typha (bulrushes, cattails), low input potatoes, tuberous Plectranthus, cocoyam, Dioscorea, chestnuts, bunya, and blackbean (Castanospermum). Starch extraction uses simple technology (pressing and mixing with water, leaving to separate by settling, and then drying by sun and oven/kiln) and when dry stores indefinitely.
Vegetable crops are being rapidly bred to suit the conditions. A simplified example of this technique is to buy 20 varieties of tomatoes, plant, and then cross breed any survivors (no
inputs) and select for desired features over the next 1-3 seasons. In about 5 years, the resultant tomato(es) are very localised. Vegetables are grown without irrigation, mulch, or mineral additions. Beds are top dressed with goat manure and bedding from the nearby night enclosure and with biochar and ash.
A trial of the Inga Alley Cropping technique. Inga edulis (ice cream bean) is a nitrogen fixing legume that is coppiced to produce a leaf mulch. Annual crops are planted into this mulch. Timing is critical so that the centre crops receive the correct light in the beginning of their life with some shade as the Summer temperatures get
Shane has goats in some paddocks and uses a geese flock to ‘graze’ in the tree paddocks. He has hybridised the geese (European and Asian) aiming to get a large bird that can defend itself and needs very minimal grain and flourishes on greens and seeds. Finding more and more goat fodder plants to grow (to eliminate buying feed) is another avenue of research and collection.
We left Shane’s place dumbstruck and in awe of the importance of his work. Permaculture as a movement and set of ideals has much to learn from this zero input approach. Too often permaculture projects use heaps of hydrocarbon and human energy to get started and then continue to rely heavily on fossil fuel inputs and also on much human labour even once established. We need more people to commit fully to localising food plants, avoiding earthworks with machines, growing carbohydrates, meat, and dairy without external inputs, integrating seed grown trees and livestock, and setting the example of minimal fossil fuels use for others to follow.
Shane writes excellent articles at: https://zeroinputagriculture.wordpress.com/