Reading Landscapes #03

Edition #3 of Reading Landscapes is out now!

Good morning, and welcome to the third edition of our monthly newsletter, Reading Landscapes.

We hope that you have had a lovely Easter with family and friends.

Now let’s dive into this new edition.

Every section will be split with this divider

Here’s what we’ve got for you today:

  • Fertility moving in a landscape

  • Marshmallow, what’s it telling me?

  • I’ve got no creeks or streams. Can I still implement Natural Sequence Farming?

  • What we’ve been learning

🔎 Looking at the Landscape

Like us to discuss a photo of your landscape? Share it with us here. 

If I told you that this property ran sheep, is there anything you can pick out from the image that is interesting or stands out to you?

If you were thinking about how the hilltop is considerably greener than the land further down, then you’re spot on. That’s what we’re looking at in the image.

Why is it greener? Is it because there’s more rain there, or managed differently?

It’s actually because sheep are naturally aware of predators and, because of that, will often choose to camp at a higher point of the paddock where they can watch out. Because of this, over a long time, the sheep have been choosing to camp at the top of that ridge, and the fertility from their excrement has built up in that area. Over time, gravity takes that away with water and moves it down the landscape, which is why the green continues further down the hill until it reaches as far as gravity has taken it.

Why is this something we need to look at?

Well, once upon a time, the landscape worked by recycling fertility around and around. We talk about that in the fifth pillar of Natural Sequence Farming—Return To The Top To Recycle The Lot—where nature is always trying to move fertility back to the top and create a feedback loop.

This was completed by large numbers of animals, birds and insects grazing in the lower parts of the landscape during the day before moving back up to the higher points of a night and depositing fertility, which built up and maintained the fertility of a landscape over a long period. These higher areas were always forested, and the large diversity of plants is what built the landscape below over time; the role the animals, birds and insects were playing was recycling the fertility that was being lost to gravity.

Many of our landscapes are losing fertility, as they're not connected anymore, and fertility is being lost through runoff, leaching, and other processes. By examining how the sheep are cycling fertility in this image, we can develop ideas on how to better manage and maintain fertility in our own landscapes.

How can we start recycling fertility and creating feedback loops using our own animals?

  • Set up our paddocks to entice livestock to the highest part when camping using water and shade.

  • Manually move fertility from a lower part of the landscape to a higher part. One example could be cutting mulch hay from your flats and leaving it to break down on the slopes.

  • Bring in an external source of fertility, like compost or chicken manure, and place it below a contour to spread slowly over time down a landscape.

  • Incorporate trees and other forest species back into the higher parts of our landscape to build fertility and restart the natural cycles.

That’s just a couple of ways, and there are plenty more you could implement.

I hope that looking at this image can help you get a better idea of how our landscape functions and how everything is connected. It shows how fertility moves and helps us understand how, in our own businesses, we can get that process to happen once more and continue running efficiently. This increases our production while also ensuring that we can keep the landscape functioning correctly.

🌳 Learning from Plants

Have a plant you’d like to discuss? Share it with us here.


Common Names: Marshmallow, Small Flowered Mallow, Cheeseweed, Little Mallow

Scientific Name: Malva Parviflora

Where in the Succession: Balancer

What is it telling me about my landscape?

Marshmallow is a balancer species. The role of the balancer is to come in and balance excess fertility, most often nitrates.

Common characteristics of balancer plants include;

  • A large amount of biomass

  • Fast growing

  • Dark green leaves

  • Large leaves for capturing sunlight

Where am I going to find Marshmallow growing, and why is it growing there?

🐂 Stock camps like under trees or yards

🥕 Your vegetable garden

🚜 Recently ploughed land

⬆️ Areas that are high in fertility

The image below is an excellent example. This is a set of cattle yards where calves were weaned. It is now wall to wall Marshmallow growing to balance out the Carbon:Nitrogen ratio in the soil.

This makes Marshmallow particularly easy to understand why it is growing - an imbalance in your Carbon:Nitrogen ratio.

How can we manage Marshmallow?

So, how can we manage it?

Ideally, we’d like to let it grow out and finish its cycle. This allows it to build up biomass and consume the excess nitrates in the soil while also adding carbon back into the soil. Marshmallow's growing cycle is short and will be completed within a couple of months. If the nitrogen level in the soil is too high, then it might come back the following season and repeat the process.

Alternatively, we can manually intervene and manage, knowing what the Marshmallow is trying to achieve. Some ways we can manage the Marshmallow include:

🚜 Slash or mulch the Marshmallow, when it has the maximum biomass and harvest and move the material to another site and open up the opportunity for the next succession of plants to come in

🐂 Use livestock to trample down the Marshmallow and get it in contact with the ground. At the same time, feeding hay to the stock provides additional carbon for the soil to help balance out the nitrates.

Overall, Marshmallow is an easy plant to manage once we understand why it's growing and how we can focus on managing for the plants that we want to see growing instead of the ones that are growing, especially considering that its lifecycle is fast.

How to make the most of your Marshmallow

🪨 As a Soil Indicator: Very Low Calcium, High Potassium, Very High Magnesium, High Iron, High Aluminium, High Nitrates, and Low Humus in the soil. Anaerobic bacteria dominance due to potentially waterlogged area, compacted soil or poor drainage.

🐮 Livestock: Capable of providing benefits to livestock because of its nutritional and medicinal properties, when forming part of a diverse mix of plants.

However, as a balancer plant and manager of an excess of nitrates, livestock must be watched if placed in an area with a high density of Marshmallow, as toxicity could become an issue, especially in smaller animals like sheep. But as we say, a monoculture of anything for livestock is a problem.

Interestingly, a study found when Marshmallow was used as an herbal additive in a broiler chicken diet, there were improvements in weight gain, feed conversion ratio, growth rate, production index, and reduced mortality rates in the broilers.

💊 Medicinal: Marshmallow has a long list of medicinal benefits, with a rich history of being used in traditional medicine. This is because of its high levels of mucilage (a sticky substance high in protein and carbohydrates).

Historically, Marshmallow has been used to heal digestive and urinary tract infections, soothe stomach aches, and control coughs caused by inflammation. Modern studies have proven the herb to be an effective treatment for these.

🍽️ Consumption: Mallow has been an important food source for a long time, with records dating back as far as the third century BCE commenting on its role as part of a wholesome diet. Many cultures around the world regularly use Marshmallow as part of their diet.

Diego Bonetto points out in his article dishes from Turkey, Greece, and Palestine that all use Marshmallow. So maybe we should all be looking at it for our tables and not just as a weed. Especially considering that it is rich in vitamins A, B, and C, along with calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Learn Natural Sequence Farming in 2024

Upcoming events open for enrolment

Learn Natural Sequence Farming 4-Day Course

Sunshine Coast QLD 17 - 20 June

Charleville QLD 29 July - 1 August

Inverell NSW 2 - 5 September

Springsure QLD 23 - 26 September

🙋 Answering your Questions

Ask the Team! Share your question here, and we’ll answer it in a future newsletter.

💬 Julie Asks:

How do I implement Natural Sequence Farming when I have no waterways to work in?

🎙️ Hamish’s Answer:

Thanks for the question, Julie. Natural Sequence Farming is about managing water and plants first and foremost. So, whether you have a stream or not, you still have water moving, no matter what landscape you're in. Whether it's steep, flat, coastal, or inland, wherever it rains, you have water moving so we can manage the water.

Instead of thinking about building leaky weirs and getting your floodplain hydrated, which is what lots of people think about when discussing Natural Sequence Farming we want to focus on getting the hydrology of your whole landscape working.

The first step is managing any water you receive and not letting it run off. Now, if you don’t have a floodplain, that doesn’t matter. Everything we implement is completed on a step in the landscape, and steps are located on slopes and flats.

If you don’t have a stream, we would look to start managing your water with a contour and focus on connecting the low, wet areas of your property to the high, dry areas with a level contour. Once we start managing the water, we can create an environment that allows plants to get involved and take over the work for us.

And for anyone else who is unsure whether they can implement Natural Sequence Farming, if you have rain and a landscape, then yes, you can get started. You can build contours, hill ponds, gully ponds, and, of course, leaky weirs. You can focus on maximizing your diversity and the number of plants you have growing. You can incorporate trees and manage your livestock in a way that better suits the landscape and the hydrology. The opportunities are endless.

🧩 Trivia Time

Have a crack at this week’s question!

How much additional water can a 1% increase in soil organic matter hold per acre to a depth of 30 centimetres?

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📚 What We’ve Been Learning

A quick list of our favourite things we’ve been watching, reading, listening, and writing.

Tarwyn Park Training graduate Adam Coffey shared a tweet showing the impact of a mob of cattle in the area around where a lick block was placed. This is an excellent example of how to use stock impact to change our succession and fits in well with our discussion of Marshmallow, as another way of stimulating the change of plant species.

Natural Sequence Farming with Stuart Andrews | #15: The Smartsoil Media team released an excellent podcast that they completed with Stuart and went in deep on a number of different topics; well worth a listen.

Regarding your dam complaint: Following our tweet about beavers in our last edition, we thought it might be worthwhile to follow up with another beaver story, this time about the illegal construction of dams!

Farm Yarns: Forage Farms: Blair and his family from Farmer’s Footprint Australia stopped in at our farm, Forage Farms, for a couple of days to chat with us about all things food, farming and the future and recently released this story from the trip. The story shares a lot about why we started the farm and how Natural Sequence Farming and food production are deeply interlinked.

That’s all for this edition. Thanks for stopping by.

Looking to learn more? Check out our blog

⛰️ Take the next steps to restore your landscape with our on-ground Learn Natural Sequence Farming course, or add your name to the waitlist for our upcoming online course.

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