Are Miyawaki mini-forests regenerative?
Published on: November 18, 2022
The transition to regenerative farming is a key action for a sustainable future. Focus on a healthy soil is also shared with other living practices such as covered soil plantations, permaculture, agroforestry and mini-forestry. Planting Miyawaki mini-forests has a common ground with regenerative farming as it is first inspired by Nature. In this article, Jean-Baptiste (JB) Chaudron, founder of RestoreForest.com will explain the base of the mini-forest method from Dr. Akira Miyawaki and how it can be used in partnership with regenerative farming.
Who is Dr Akira Miyawaki?
Akira Miyawaki was born in Japan in 1928. He passed away in 2021, at the age of 93 years old.
He got a graduate in biology, studied both in Japan and in Germany. He became a botanist, inspired by the potential of Nature.
He studied first how forests develop over the years, naturally, in cooperation with the soil. Forests develop from the first stage with grass, to pioneer tree species and then to a climax forest, more than 100 years later.
The Miyawaki unique point of view all started with something he noticed. The forests around Japanese temples were quite different from others he went to. Around these sacred temples, no human being is allowed to touch Nature. There, trees and forests can thrive naturally, without any human intervention.
It was his first premonition. Then he studied how Nature developed forests in its own way, forming tree communities from native species. Compared to man-made forests with imported exotic species, he wanted to understand why natural forests were much:
- more resilient.
Dr. Akira Miyawaki has spent his entire life studying local environments. The main goal was to find out which species were most suitable for a specific site. He enriched the concept of “Potential Natural Vegetation”. This is the selection of native species that are adapted to the local environment. And this is a major step forward in boosting the planted forests.
His main life goal was then to reproduce mature multi-layer forests, mimicking Nature. He has applied his method to more than 1,700 mini-forest projects around the world, in very different environments.
Here are the four main lessons he discovered from Nature. These principles are now applied in the Miyawaki method of reforestation.
#1 – Close collaboration provides the best results
In cities, you may see lone trees. Sometimes planted in big pots. You can see that these trees suffer. In an artificial forest for the timber industry, you have also 1 tree every 10 meters, planted in a line.
As the opposite, what is striking when you walk inside a natural forest or a jungle is the density of the trees. You can even barely cross it sometimes.
In a natural forest, trees interconnect their roots underground, with the help of mycelium. They share nutrients and information, in a cooperation effort. Scientists call this underground network the “Wood Wide Web”!
In the natural forests, each member has its place, in the community. From the old mother tree to the young shoots, from the tree that loves sunlight to the species that prefer more shade.
This cooperation effort explain the higher growth rate of dense Miyawaki forests. In the end, they grow 10 times faster than conventional man-made forests. Rather than being isolated, trees collaborate together and share for the common good.
Dr. Miyawaki first studied local environments on all his projects around the world. The aim was to adapt to the local needs. He planted from 2 trees/m² up to 7 trees/m² (mangrove projects). On our side, for our projects in temperate forests, we plant 3 trees/m².
Lesson #2 – Diversity is the key to build a resilient system
On this photo, you see a monoculture for birch production. This industrial way is much easier to handle in terms of costs, logistics, management and return of investment. But in the end you get an army of clone trees. It is mass production.
But what happens when a sudden change occurs in this clean environment? A new disease, an imported pest, more frequent droughts due to climate change…? How adaptable is this type of plantation in face to new hazards? This type of monoculture forest has a low capacity of adaptation.
In natural forests, several dozen species are present. With a great mix of different species. This makes it a resilient forest, able to handle outside attacks. There is no fast spread like in a monoculture forest. Different species, side by side, will be able to stop the attack. Stronger trees will share nutrients with weaker ones. Species with deeper roots will bring water to others. It is an anti-fragile system.
In our Miyawaki mini-forests, we plant 30 different species on the same parcel. This diversity brings robustness.
Mixing species will also create multi-layered 3D forests. Trees do not have the same mature height. In our Miyawaki forests, we plant different species according to their four final heights:
- shrub layer
- sub-tree layer
- tree layer
- canopy layer
Dense multi-layered forest will be a shield against the burning sun and storm winds. The forest will also keep moisture allowing all members to thrive.
Lesson #3 – Life is chaos, accept it and adapt
On monoculture forests, trees are planted:
- in rows
- with the same spacing between each other
- with clear pathways for large machinery.
In natural forests, fertilization is done by the wind or by wandering pollinators. Young trees can begin life at the foot of the mother tree or a few miles away. It is a total random disorder.
This Chaos model is an optimized system. This tactic is the best protection from windstorms, powerful floods or even heavy snowfall. Any outside energy that attempts to attack the forest will be dissipated in a turbulent flow. There will be no chain reaction, with a domino effect, over a long distance. For example in Japan, Miyawaki forests are even planted on the coast to mitigate the effects of tsunamis.
This Nature management of chaos has been applied in the Miyawaki planting technique. For us, for example, we provide 3 saplings per square meter to the planter. Then it’s up to you and your creativity to plant it as you like in your square. This gives a plantation that has a non-linear layout and that is much closer to what Nature does. And that’s why Dr. Miyawaki loved to plant trees with kids. Because it is a well-organized mess!
Lesson #4 – You need a healthy base to thrive
To keep growing, you need good roots. This is true for trees but also for human beings 😊.
When you imagine a natural forest or even a jungle, you can easily feel under your feet a soft and smooth ground. In comparison, most urban lands have a compact and hard soil. It has been compacted by years of human activity, rolling with heavy machinery. On this soil, it will be quite difficult and energy-consuming for trees to develop roots.
In the Miyawaki method, soil preparation is a cornerstone. We add three different types of organic matter:
- water retention
This generates a soft and loose soil. With no pesticides or chemical fertilizer.
Nature brings all the organic enrichment, in a balanced ecosystem.
A good health of the soil is the basis of a thriving forest. For two years, you will weed twice a year in your Miyawaki forest. After that, your mini forest will be completely maintenance-free. Mulching with straw/hay will decay. The leaves will fall to the ground enriching it. It will generate a high-quality humus.
This healthy soil is a major contributor to the success of Miyawaki forests. This partly explains why the seedling survival rate is better with Miyawaki forests. It is around 90% in a Miyawaki forest compared to 65% in a conventional plantation.
How can mini-forests team up with regenerative farming?
Jean-Baptiste (JB) Chaudron is from France. Historically, from a family of farmers and foresters. As many, he moved to the city. He became an engineer and worked for 16 years in Systems efficiency.
As a family and in France, in parallel of his job, he planted several hundred trees, in different mini-forests. These mini-forests can be planted in small areas and are quickly self-sufficient. The positive impacts on the local environment have been noticed directly. Discussing the projects around, a lot of people were interested to do the same. JB has supported mini-forest projects for other people: from schools, to private individuals in their backyard and also companies on the side of their building. Moving to the Netherlands in 2022, he decided to create the company Restore Forest to scale this activity of mini-forest and improve local environments.
JB has created a network of people interested by taking actions with mini-forests. Participative planting festivals are the target. Projects are already funded by donors. Right now, he is missing the connections with Dutch farmers who own some available land where it could be possible to plant mini-forests. He is looking for:
1) Available and free land where to plant mini-forests.
It can start from 100 m². The mini-forest could be used as agroforestry, bocage hedges (for protection against wind, noise or pollutants…) or even just a recreational area (with table in the middle of the mini forest 😊).
2) Supply of materials from the farm
In the soil preparation, animal dung, mulch/straw and organic matter such as wood small parts are needed. He would like to supply these from the farm.
These mini-forest projects would be a great way to create a nice connection between the regenerative farmer community and regular citizens, including children.