Well, Travis, you tried. The best we can do is create examples of our own so others can see the difference. Also, it takes some patience which most farmers these days do not have. They are pushed to the limit each year by economics. Often it is how they can make payments on their equipment. The equipment was sold to them as "labor saving devices," but in the end many farmers need to take work off the farm to pay for them. I don't know the situation of your particular farmer, but it is often the case.
Fascinating. I had heard about how important volcanic ash raining down was to long term soil fertility. Jared Diamond in his book, Collapse, for example pointed out how the tiny, and not so tiny, islands in the Pacific could be separated into two groups...those that got ashfall from the winds from Asia and those that didn't. The ones that did were much better off. Of course that didn't help all that much if they eventually cut down all the trees and then over taxed the land and the fisheries.
Hello Ms. Mama, I think the herbal lawn that so impressed me years ago was indeed chamomile. Later I experienced a thyme lawn that was so relaxing that I didn't want to get up and continue on the garden tour. No, I don't know the person you mentioned from Indonesia personally, but I loved the photos he posted of his fields. You actually went there and met him?! Do tell more.
Chiming in here. A two-week PDC is not for everyone. As far as we try to make the cost as low as possible it is still a lot of money. And then, how many of us can get away for two solid weeks? The weekend courses are practical for many people.
One really nice thing about the intensive courses, though, is the sense of community that develops during the course. It illustrates so much of what permaculture is saying about people getting along and creating their own villages, rural or urban. Either way, there is a core teaching that one will get from either approach. There are many fine teachers out there who are not "big names" in the field. But they know permaculture.
Find what is right for you, but do try to get a track record for the instructors. More than 95% of the time it will be just fine.
Oh my goodness. You guys and gals are on the cutting edge. Please take some photos and let us know all about it. This could be big...REALLY big. Well, at least it should be enjoyable for the kids.
Lawn substitutes are really fun. You can do anything you want, really. If it's low and green, more or less, during the summer it works. Some herbal ground covers are supposed to have medicinal qualities. You lay down and nod off and your cares are answered. I don't know the details, but I have heard of such "lawns."
Hey Travis, Grain seeds are huge compared to tiny clover seeds and radish/mustard seeds are somewhere in between. That's usually taken into account when you buy a mix. It's not by weight and I don't know how to figure out how much of each you would need. They are usually okay with grass/legume mixes. Then ask how many pounds it takes to seed an acre with mustard and add it to the mix if it isn't already in there. You can't seed too much clover, but you really don't want to seed too much grass.
There's no technical name for it. It's a contraption pulled behind a tractor. Using plants for soil building will be more beneficial than the problem of making one or two passes over the field. It's just to get things going. I have no idea of seed quantities. You should be able to get that sort of information from local farmers or the seed supplier. They will all still remember what you are doing...it's a variation on basic good soil conservation practices from the 50's and 60's.
Good question. No set answer. It will take more than one season, but probably not more than two. The quickest way to get it going would be to disc in the soil building crop to a depth of not more than a few inches. This will leave the roots in the soil to decompose and will put the tops in touch with the soil to begin creating a rich surface layer. It would be nice if you could clip the troublesome weeds before they flower, but thistle and horsetail present special problems, don't they.
Sounds great, Pat. Any chance of fitting in a n-fixing groundcover like low growing clover in there? The trees would love it. With the roots of the grain to go along you'd be making compost right under the surface.
I think I was, Travis, but when I looked up above I couldn't find the reference. It was about a neighbor farmer's field that had been cropped then fallowed and various weeds like thistle and horsetail came up. Maybe I mixed up the threads, or should we call them hyphae?
Your list of weeds indicates that the field lacks structure and organic matter. Plowing causes both of those. I think he needs to go on a soil-building program using a combination of grasses and legumes along with some deep rooting plants such as daikon and dandelion as well as mustard and other radish family plants. Instead of plowing it in, how about mowing and leaving the cuttings in place to mulch the next season's crop of soil builders or discing into the tow few inches of soil, then planting another round of soil builders. It's so much easier to improve the soil by letting the plants do the work.
Sunset Western Garden Book has a list of lawn substitutes. Some of the ones I remember are various species of thyme, chamomile, yarrow, lippia, adjuga, dichondra (ouch!), erodium, knotweed, Irish moss and ornamental strawberry.
Hey, Joe. In The Natural Way of Farming Fukuoka did mention using some of the litter layer from the forest as mulch in the orchard. A few things to consider...he could only bring down as much as he could carry by buckets or wheelbarrow. He understood that the forest needed that mulch as well and didn't take much even when he did do it. Also, he only did this for the first few years when he was getting his soil building team together. That's the daikon, mustard, dandelions, clover, comphrey, burdock, buckwheat team. Once those guys/gals went to work there was no longer a need to bring mulch down from the forest. Besides it was a lot of work!
That's a very interesting story about your PDC in New Zealand. Fukuoka-sensei often said that the one thing he knew for sure was how little he "knew." For all the teaching he did he was an extremely humble man. One lifetime is way too short. Anyway, we can never truly know nature.
For your questions at the end. I had already studied soil science and plant nutrition at Berkeley before I went to Fukuoka's farm. At college there were lengthy discussions about how costly plowing is for the environment and for society. Sadly, we don't know any other way was the answer to the question, "So why do we plow?" When I saw Fukuoka's rice/barley fields that hadn't been plowed for more than 25 years and yet achieved the yields of conventional farmers I immediately understood its significance. This was the example no one knew existed! I dropped what I was doing and became committed to making his understanding and techniques available to the rest of the world.
The philosophy, although timeless, seemed fresh and compelling. I knew people would would be challenged by it and embrace it. There was never a question in my mind. Thank goodness Wendell Berry took the book under his wing and made sure everything went smoothly for it. The One-Straw Revolution has been translated into more than 20 languages...all from our English translation. There is really no way to tell, but it is estimated that over a million copies have been sold world wide.
Westerners generally use an analytical way of seeing and understanding the world. This posed challenges for us in doing the translation. Rather than seeing the core approach, which is spiritual, many Westerners focus in on techniques. The method has to be adapted to everyone's unique site characteristics, yet so many of the questions that were asked when he visited the United States revolved around such mundane issues as, "So how many pounds of clover did you say you used per quarter acre." Questions like that gave Sensei a headache. Since th message is essentially spiritual it is not surprising that the place in the world where natural farming caught on most vigorously is India.
Hey Joel, One of my problems with science is that it is used to justify some really bad ideas. Pure science is one thing...the quest for knowledge, rigorous observation, one idea building on the next and so forth. But it is a relative knowledge, especially in its early stages. Something thought to be true today is often disproven tomorrow. Take the GMOs for example. Science thinks it has found a good idea and rushes it out there without really knowing what it is doing. In fact, society as a whole has no idea where it is going. It does know that it wants to get there as fast as possible, however. Until we have a clear course in mind I think we should stop doing anything new. We are simply digging a bigger hole for ourselves. Do human colonies on the moon or Mars sound good to you? Many people actually think that we should be figuring out how to do that.
I lived in the Dimond district for many years. When my daughter reached high school age I found a rental in Piedmont so she could go to school there. I moved to Ashland a month after she graduated but still enjoy coming back for visits. Temescal is a really nice neighborhood. It feels real, somehow. And it's so close to the Regional Parks. I spent many happy days hiking and throwing a Frisbee in the redwoods in Joaquin Miller and Sibley parks. I really like the Albany Bulb, too.
Hey Scott...Fukuoka's main problem with science is that it can't help but isolate what one is studying from what that subject is connected to. The problem was worse in the 1930's when he became a scientist, but the general problem will always exist. No matter how sophisticated our scientific techniques become we can never "know" nature. Our human intellect is simply not capeable of that. I appreciate the work Laura Ingham is doing (she's right here in Oregon), but how can people ever "understand" the super complex relationships of microorganisms in the soil, their interaction with plants, root hairs and their exudates and so forth? It's impossible.
The problem is that we take the results of scientific research and then apply them to either fixing existing problems or creating new, "better" ways of say, increasing productivity. Either way it seems that no matter how good the research we always seem to make things worse. What was that quote by Einstein? Something like how can we fix our problems if we use the same methods to solve them that created the problem in the first place.
I'm with you Travis. Gaia's Garden is probably the best overall summary of permaculture, especially on an urban, suburban and small farm scale, and Jacke's Forest Farming is the standard for that topic. Eventually any information from a book will have to be adapted for one's own site. The books are a guide and set the course. Each of us has to work out the specifics. The local county extention service is usually a good source of information for some of those specifics.
Hi. I have heard of "biological transmutation" before and heard it explained more than once. Everything went fine until there was this, shall we say "jump" that didn't seem to be based on anything scientific that I knew of. I'm in kind of a weird position since I studied soil science then went to "grad school" at Fukuoka's farm. Actually he was first trained as a plant pathologist then developed a strong aversion to the way scientist went about doing research and solving problems since they are so specialized and largely ignored the interconnectedness of nature.
Even with the sciences like ecology that studies the interconnectedness of living things and the environment he felt that the human intellect was simply incapeable of understanding nature.
Hey Joel, where do you live in Oakland? I just moved to Ashland, Oregon from Oakland after running a landscape contracting in the East Bay for about 25 years.
First, I want to tell you how much I am enjoying this conversation. Yes, careful and sensitive observation is at the heart of Fukuoka's natural farming. The reason he had the students living in the orchard under semi-primitive conditions is so we would have a close understanding and connection with the land and with nature. Some have said he was exploiting his workers by not paying us. Ha! We were being paid so well by his allowing us to live in his little orchard of eden. Plus, he freely shared his knowledge with us. Priceless. It's one of the reasons that even now, more than 30 years later I freely share what I learned from him.
It also comes from the relationship students have with their teachers in Japan. Not only with Fukuoka and his students but with Masters and disciples of all the Japanese arts. The teaching is so valuable that any student would gladly say sweep the floor in a pottery studio for five years before being allowed to form clay for the first time.
Perhaps the most basic principle is that farmers, gardeners and people in general should see themselves as an integral part of a mysterious and wonderful nature that we can never fully understand, not as the "masters" of creation who can use nature strictly for the benefit of human beings.
This is a really good question. Fukuoka walked his land for hours and hours everyday. He came to know it as a part of himself. Some things you just can't explain other than calling it intuition or something like that. He did say, however, that his biggest breakthroughs in the orchard with the groundcover and the vegetable growing came when he came to understand the cycle of the weeds. He didn't just go out there and scatter vegetable seeds...he knew when the seam was between the various weeds.
Also consider that many ground level plants reseeded themselves and were pretty much always around. Some might call them invasive, but these were the hard working soil builders like mustard, radish, burdock, clover, bracken fern, buckwheat family weeds and many different types of herbs. He didn't replace the ground plants as much as he simply mowed them once a year, in the summer, and let they lie there as mulch. There were chickens running around, too, and a few goats.
Your orchard groundcover will be appropriate to where you live.
The parent rock in your area is so diverse that it is hard to say what the soil is like on that next valley next to you. When you say volcanic silt I'm guessing it is what they call andacitic (spelling?) tuff which is blown right out the top of the volcano when it erupts, as opposed to basalt which oozes as lava. Is it light brown? Anyway, Fukuoka does hold water in his fields for about a week or so in the spring to slow the clover and give the rice a chance to get a jump on it. Conditions are so different where you are that it is likely your rotation will be quite different from his.
A great soil-building crop in rotation is buckwheat. It is easy to grow but needs a little water. During the winter think mustard and radish family, with grasses and legumes in the mix. Oh yes, you already have plenty of vetch. Start with one grain crop then add a second if you think you can. Water is the issue. Winter grains are usually easier in Northern California, again, it's the water...and the heat, but mainly water. You live in a very beautiful region!
You're completely right, Marina. The real test of whether or not a method should or should not be called "Fukuoka" is the state of mind of the farmer. The specific farming method Fukuoka worked out was the result of a long journey of following his heart and his principles. The method itself reflects his local conditions. The "Fukuoka method" is based on a spiritual path. I just hate to nit-pick about technique. It usually turns out to be a big waste of time.
Thanks for siting the article about the Bonfil method. I hadn't read about it before. I don't have that much experience in very cold climates but I can share my impression. Then, with your input, we can keep up the discussion.
If he plants in late June and harvests in August, presumably he sows the next year's crop among the ripening grain. With clover growing on the surface to enrich the soil and hold back weeds and the large root mass of the wheat it is hard to imagine that one could intercrop another grain or other crop in succession in the same field. In The Natural Way of Farming Fukuoka goes into great detail about how he worked his rice/barley succession. The barley was much easier. The hard part was to figure out how to sow the rice and get it to overwinter and sprout successfully the following spring. The barley did not need seed balls. Eventually he realized that the rice, sown in the fall, did. At first he had two different methods for the rice and barley. After about ten years of trial and error it turned out that the seeding methods for both grains turned out to be almost the same...except for the need for the seed balls for the rice. He scattered the seed into the clover and covered them with straw from the previous crop.
Bonfil's method seems intuitively sound. There is no shortcut to trying it yourself and observing the outcome. One thing Fukuoka emphasized is that modern agriculture sees what didn't work and tries to fix it. Natural farming see what did work and goes in that direction.
I was just thinking about sweet potatoes when I saw your last posting. Remember when you were in the first grade and stuck half a sweet potatoes in a jar of water supported by toothpicks? Next thing the vines and leaves were all over the kitchen walls and ceiling.
In southern California where I grew up we grew avocados the same way. I'm going to post this quickly before we get sent off to another forumland.
There's really nothing we can do about a person who creates a raised bed loaded with prepared compost, puts in some starters and calls it "a Fukuoka vegetable bed." His wife did have an organic vegetable garden near the kitchen which was tilled and had raised beds, but that's Zone 1 stuff...perfectly appropriate on a small scale and near the house, but hardly natural farming.
I try to be tolerant with people who use the Fukuoka moniker incorrectly. It is almost always done from not knowing, not from deceit. By the way, Fukuoka believed strongly that you can't pick and choose from among his techniques. Like permaculture it all has to fit together. If you use only a part of the system it is not natural farming. It is interesting to read about his trials with the rice/barley rotation in the early years in The Natural Way of Farming. The barley was much easier. It was hard to figure out how to get the rice to successfully overwinter and sprout in the spring. Finally, when he got the answer he saw how perfectly it fit with the barley growing.
I've gotten off the point. No, most of these methods are not natural farming even if it involves no-tillage and is called "Fukuoka ...whatever". It really doesn't bother me that much since these people are well-meaning. Besides I don't really want to get worked up about something over which I have little control.