Yeah, that's a problem with many books. They are often geared to one climate or the other. Many of the books listing ornamental, for example, are geared to the East Coast of the United States and are pretty useless to us near the West Coast.
It's true that there are perennial vegetables and then there are many annuals that sort of act like perennials because they reseed themselves so readily.
I'm not sure what the overall effect of rootstock is on the natural form of a pear tree is either. The old pears around here that have not been pruned do not come out strictly as a single-leader form. They develop into a fountain at the top with several main trunks. They really are quite beautiful. Of course many pear trees around here are pruned in youth as well.
All your points are well taken, Paul. No one, including Fukuoka, expects perfection. How unnatural that would be. A tree that is damaged by snow, wind browsers and so forth is as perfect as the one that happens to escape those things. And, yes, some orchard trees do better with no or minimum pruning than others. Peaches, as you said, are more difficult, pears are wonderful if left unpruned. Many of the famous pear orchards here in the Rogue Valley were grown unpruned in the commercial orchards for generations.
The yield of Fukuoka's no-prune citrus trees is remarkable. That may have as much to do with his soil building groundcover plants as anything else. I don't know. He is happy with what he harvests and is happy to leave fruit for wildlife. Much of the discussion about Fukuoka's no-pruning techniques revolves around the idea of maximizing yield. He just wasn't that interested in that. He was interested in maximizing the yield in the rice/barley fields, however, since that is the standard by which farms are evaluated in Japan and he wanted to show that he could at least match the yields of the most productive industrial farms without plowing, using chemicals, tractors and so forth.
Good lively discussion! There are some things you can only do on a lawn. Kids, particularly, love to play barefoot on a lawn. However there are lawns and there are BIG lawns that use way too much water and chemicals. Chemical free and minimum water lawns are really not that difficult to maintain especially if you can tolerate some clover, crabgrass, dandelions and other "imperfections." Fukuoka called lawns "artificial green," because they covered what nature would naturally be doing there if it weren't covered with "green concrete" (another of his terms for lawn).
To show how people's idea of lawns has changed, the garden center I used to work at in Berkeley, CA, discourages customers from installing big lawns. Recently I heard a customer ask the owner of that store, "What can I do to get rid of the crabgrass in my lawn?" The owner, Paul, replied, "Instead of trying to get rid of it how about learning to love it?"
We are all bound by the laws of karma and ecology. It would be weird to think that permaculture, of all activities, should be exempt. I used to think that Muhammad Ali was exempt from natural law. He seemed so god-like. They he was thrown in jail and got Parkinson's.
One thing about our permaculture community that I really admire is that it is grass roots with a minimum of structure. I have always been wary of top-down structures. Goes back to my college days at Berkeley.
It would seem that the next great permaculture frontier would be perennial vegetables. How about adding asparagus and garlic to the list? There is also the book, Perennial Vegetables, by Eric Toensmeier (Chelsea Green Press). He's got a lot of good ideas and spotlights many vegetables that are grown as perennials. I hadn't heard of many of them and I understand availability of some of these "oddballs" is limited. If someone is successful with some of these please let us know and save the seeds.
That was so well said, Marinna. There is no substitute for experience. Sometimes I see students come out of their first PDC and want to start teaching right away. I think to myself, "Whoa! Wouldn't it be better if you got some practical experience first?"
Also, some people are better at teaching than others. A good combination, I've found, is to have one or two experience teachers lead the course...that is teach the basic curriculum. If they are from outside the area it is helpful to have someone with experience with the local natural natural and cultural conditions there, too. It add richness if guest instructors with hands on experience with practical skills, like setting up graywater systems or cob building, are in the mix as well. So far we have no way to ensure that the PDCs are taught by competent teachers, but the vast majority seem to be fine. The word gets out right away if a course is poorly taught and those courses have trouble attracting students the next time. It's kind of ecological that way.
By the way, I'll be teaching a course in February in Western Washington. www.sahalepermaculture.com Hope you can make it
Wow! There are so many good lists of permaculture guilds available on line. One other good place to start is with Toby Hemenways book, Gaia's Garden. Besides being one of the best overall books on permaculture it also has lots of plant lists and suggested guild combinations. Many are specific to the Pacific Northwest, but many are for other regions as well.
When permaculture first appeared in North America in the 1980's we had to figure out guilds from scratch through trial and error. That was almost 30 years ago and some really good research has successfully been done since then. Perhaps the best way to start is to visit Zone 5 in your area. What plants naturally grow together? What natural guilds exist under different conditions such as in sun, shade, low or high water areas, and so forth.
Figuring out how to grow perennial grains in an unplowed field is one of the greatest challenges for a permaculturist. When I first saw Fukuoka's rice/barley fields in the early 1970's I was truly amazed. I didn't know it was possible to grow grain in an unplowed field. Sadly, few others have been able to figure out how to do it since. Bill Mollison didn't even mention growing grain in Permaculture One because he knew of no way to do it without plowing.
There is a group of farmers in the Corvallis area, notably Harry McCormack of Sunbow Farm and some of his local friends, who are working to solve this poser. They are working with various cereal grains and beans. So far they have had some success with triticale, which is a cross of wheat and rye. I'll keep you posted.
Please check out our permaculture design course for February in Western Washington. www.sahalepermaculture.com
Hello again, The keyline/chisel plow can be a handy tool for getting a soil building rotation going especially on land that has become hard or developed a hardpan for one reason or another. The "plow" cuts slits in the earth rather than inverting the layers of the soil. It allows air and water to find their way into the deeper layers of the ground. Each year for two or three years lower the tines so it goes a little deeper. Once the soil-building plants have taken hold you won't have to chisel plow anymore. Be sure to include some deep-rooting accumulator plants in the mix (such as radish family members) along with some grasses and legumes.
The groundcover plants can be mowed and left on the surface or you could disc it into the top inch or two of the soil. The discing would simply speed the decomposition without plowing and inverting layers and leaving the soil open to erosion.
Please check our permaculture design course in February in Western Washington!
Wow! I go away for a week and look at all the activity. Where to begin. First the dust bowl. Farmers plowed and harvested wheat for about 40 or 50 years without adding any organic matter. The crops grew fine since they were nourished by the organic matter that was naturally in the soil under the native prairie. Not as om much as in Illinois or Nebraska because of lower rainfall, but still a lot. The om, which among other things binds the soil together, became depleted. Then there was a 10 year drought during which even the crops didn't grow well and there were no roots to hold the soil in place. Result: Soil mineral particles, mainly silt and clay blew into the atmosphere during wind storms. Awful! Plowing, by adding huge infusions of oxygen literally burned out the life-giving organic matter. Now we have turbocharged the process by plowing AND adding chemical fertilizer.
That's really interesting about mowing thistle when it is in bloom.
Even the title of Fukuoka's book speaks to this. If people only understood the value of straw it could start a revolution that would change the destructive momentum of modern agriculture. He means this literally...straw is crucial to his method of farming, and also figuratively. We should notice and appreciate even the most insignificant things. Straw is considered pretty insignificant in Japan as elsewhere. Yes, it is a humble way of seeing the world.
Although immensely talented as a farmer and writer, Fukuoka was not a full-of-himself guy. "There's nothing special about me, but the understanding I was given is vastly important."
Hey, Joel, how are things in the East Bay? Before I moved to Ashland, Oregon 2 years ago I lived in Oakland and Berkeley for 25 years...Santa Cruz before that.
The buckwheat I was referring to is the European variety which is mainly grown in agricultural fields as a food crop. (Soba noodles, Kasha and so forth). It is also fantastic as a crop to improve soil especially when used as a cover or fallow crop.
There are lots of beautiful native buckwheats (Eriogonum). Most are from California, the Channel Islands, Arizona, Mexico and the Rockies. Some get 6 or 7 feet high, arborescence for example, but most are small clumpers or trailers. Bees and other insects love the flowers. Buckwheat honey is really good! You can find many Eriogonum varieties in local retail nurseries or native plants nurseries.
You know, I don't remember that one, at least we never did it while I was at his farm. It doesn't seem like such a bad idea as long as one isn't robbing Peter (the forest) to pay Paul (the human tended garden). Mainly he felt that as long as he had a mixed ground cover including herbs and legumes, like clover, and he made sure that everything stayed on the site creating a natural sheet compost he wouldn't have to worry about fertility. The crops are removed, of course, but the other plants and chickens and wild animals running wild was enough once the soil had been rehabilitated so that nature could take over.
Going to the forest to gather mulch sounds like work to me. Perhaps useful while bringing the soil back to life, but unnecessary thereafter.
Sounds like you did well. Buckwheat is one of the easiest crops to grow. It is not demanding of anything (likes good drainage so you got lucky), accumulates nutrients from the lower levels of the soil, adds loads of organic matter and produces fine food. It also comes up readily as a volunteer if you let the seeds ripen and then mow, but doesn't become a pest.
You might also try to get some brassica family plants out there...thats the mustards, radishes, and many of common garden vegetables. For soil improvement I'm mainly referring to mustard and radishes.
Fukuoka does not grow his commercial trees from seed. He uses known varieties which often have been grafted. It is a commercial orchard, afterall. But he uses varieties which have a characteristic form which grow well with a minimum of pruning. And he insists that the nursery not clip the main leader. Most of the "pruning" he does is the result of accidental problems such as those you have mentioned (naturally broken branches, excessive snow load, browsing by animals, etc.) It helps that he goes through the orchard in the early summer and reduces the weight on the branches by picking off fruit from potentially overloaded branches.
As for abandon orchard trees producing well anyway, some fruits and varieties do better than others. Apples usually do much better than other fruits. It also depends on how the trees were pruned before the orchard was abandoned.
Thanks for this! Maps are quite helpful and are easier to make and use with a little practice. Although the scale is large and the contour lines far apart I like the aerial soils maps which are readily available from the Natural Recourses Conservation Service (or whatever the SCS is known as these days). The soil types usually change with the contours and the vegetation, so even though the contour lines may be far apart it is easy to see where the changing features begin and end so you can get oriented. By looking at the characteristics of the soil and the resulting vegetation, and seeing the terrain you can often get a fine idea of what will do well there. Just walking the land while making these maps is a very helpful exercise.
Hi again, Travis, and Joel, This is an old tried and true permaculture technique. Weed seeds that come up are usually nothing more than a mild nuisance. They can be dispatched by depriving the young seedlings of light. It's a lot like hugelculture (let's see if spell check gets that one), but there the long-term beds are created by using decomposing logs and branches mixed with a little compost and/or soil.
OMG! Spell check didn't even blink. It must speak German.
Thanks for your reply, Travis. I'll never forget my first encounter with "guard" geese. I was in Kentucky. My friend dropped me off near the house and said he would park the truck and be right back. Then 6 or 7 really loud and mean geese appeared. I have never been so terrified in my entire life. My friend reappeared a few minutes later to find me stranded standing on a table in the woodshed with the geese squawking and biting at my feet. So, yes, ducks and chickens may be a better choice.
Check with the extension service or neighbors on the breeds that best can do the job. That's great that white clover grows well there. Encourage it, plant the veggies into a thick mulch of straw or whatever and keep the clover away from them until they get a good start. You shouldn't have any trouble after that, and the soil will improve for your efforts.
I usually talk quite a bit about Fukuoka at the permaculture courses I teach. It's not only for the intrinsic value of Fukuoka's example, but also because he adds so much in the areas of critical observation and spirituality that is sometimes lacking in the general PDC course of study. Also, at a two-week residential course there is plenty of time for personal discussions at meals and during non-class times. Actually, those are the discussions I enjoy the most. I learn a lot at these courses too!
Hi Travis and Marinajade, Thanks for your interest. It's really a trial and observation thing. You didn't say exactly where you are. White clover loves water. In the maritime Northwest it can grow quite strongly. Many people plant the vegetables then set the clover back about two feet from the plants, then mulch with straw. Most of the larger veggies, like peppers, squash, eggplant, tomatoes and so forth have roots that go much deeper than the shallow rooted but mat-like clover so they don't compete once the veggies are established.
Fukuoka had geese running around in his rice fields to eat insects, weeds and deposit poop all over until a highway was constructed between his home and the fields. Then he occasionally supplemented the sheet mulch of white clover, weeds and straw with chicken manure he got from neighbors. His wife, Ayako, also had a traditional vegetable garden outside the back door of the house where she deposited kitchen scraps.
Hey Deston, Nice to hear from you. I appreciate and enjoyed your important contribution to this discussion. It is not surprising that Fukuoka's agricultural techniques are in synch with Asian and other spiritual practices. All the Japanese arts grow from the same "do-nothing" attitude. The spirit eventually flows through you effortlessly. Easier said than done, of course.
Many people have assumed that Sensei's agriculture and philosophy are based on Zen, Taoism, or whatever. "No," he argued, "it is simply farming." Paraphrasing, he said that farming was intrinsically no better than any other way of making a living, but in farming you are always working within nature so the farmer has a better opportunity of glimpsing the perfection of nature. It also provides you with food. "If you meditate all the time someone else has to provide you with food."
Fukuoka believes that unpruned, or minimally pruned, trees in the long run is is in the best interest of nature and therefore people. The commonly used techniques of pruning are mainly to make the trees easy to harvest and get maximum yields. While Fukuoka was a commercial farmer and yields were important, it was not the most important factor. He never cared if he couldn't get to the top of the tree to harvest all the fruit. The rest was left to wildlife.
If you use the common techniques and prune low and wide, or in a vase, etc. there will be consequences...perhaps weaker trees and branches structurally, more disease problems and so forth, but one thing is for sure, it will mean more work overall for the orchardist.
That's a good question about seedlings grown from seed and not grafted. Thoughts anyone?
Yes. Fukuoka did not consider snipping as pruning. Remember trees become misshapen for a number of natural reasons as well, like damage from animals, snow burden, wind and so forth. That damage, of course should be attended to. The trees will need attention to a greater or lesser degree forever after that. Oh, well. But he would be fine with snipping a branch that was getting in the way such as knocking ones hat off as they went by. Pruning refers to the structure of the tree.
For permaculturists it is important to choose varieties that are rugged and grow easily in the given conditions. If we choose to grow trees that are geared simply to high yields of popular the popular varieties of fruit without regard to form and hardiness the outcome will be more work in one way or another.
Good discussion! I'll add what I can about Fukuoka's ideas about pruning. Paul is correct that Fukuoka prefers that trees grow to their natural form without pruning. He got this idea after he left previously pruned trees to grow on their own and they did very poorly or died. Then he asked the question, "What is the natural form of a tree?" To find the answer he went to the forest and observed trees growing in the wild. For the most part they have a main single leader with branches growing out in whorls or in an opposite pattern.
He said that people these days have probably never seen the natural form of a domestic fruit tree because they have been so highly bred over the centuries, but he assumed that their form would be similar to their wild counterparts. Most of our current fruit trees have been bred to have a heavy load of large, sweet fruit. It's no wonder that many of them have problems with branches being overloaded and breaking off.
Hi, there, Sorry I do not know of a source for Fukuoka-sensei's rice seed. As far as I know he did not share it and never made it available widely. He had a nasty encounter in the 1980's with the local agricultural co-op who didn't want him to plant it because they thought it might mess up their latest seed types. If I do hear that some of his rice is available I will be sure to post a message.
I agree completely, Brenda. Fukuoka's rice and barley growing, and even his way of growing vegetables like wild plants works perfectly well in Japan but may not work where you are. Where he is farming there is a relatively mild climate with reliable summer rain. His technique arose by following the principles of natural farming where he lives. We need to closely observe and experience our situation and create a way of producing food which is appropriate to where we live.
"We see the same moon whether we are in Japan, Africa or Europe. It is the same world...the same nature. We are a part of it, not separate." (Fukuoka)
The essence of natural farming is not the specific technique, but our ability to fit in with nature as a rightful partner, not as a conquerer.
Good question, Polyparadigm, When Fukuoka-sensei first came to the United States in 1979 he hoped students of natural farming would imply follow his example and use similar techniques he developed in Japan. That was the first time he had traveled outside of Japan and was also the first time he had ever traveled on an airplane. His idea was to save time so each of us wouldn't have to spend our lifetimes discovering the same things it had taken him 25 or 30 years to discover.
When he saw how different conditions were here in North America he changed his tune. The Mediterannean climate was totally different and the damage caused by excessive logging and grazing was so extreme that he decided that everyone would have to create their own distinctive way of farming. The techniques must be based on the fundamental principles, however. He also was alarmed at how quickly we had to turn things around. "Regreen the earth" became his mantra and that meant planting more trees. Without fully understanding the principles of permaculture, his solutions closely resembled the plan Mollison and Holgrem set out 30 years ago. So much of his technique involves rehabilitation. So much of the landscape has been trashed. Yes, he was bitter but he never lost hope.
Love your name, Jeremiah, No, as far as I know Sensei did not formally practice a martial art, although he sometimes handled farm tools in a way that suggested that he may have at some time in his life. Besides "natural farming" and "do-nothing agriculture" he also refered to his way as "mu agruculture." Litterally, mu means "nothing," or "empty mind." It is the Zen "original mind" and refers to the egoless state the farmer ideally has when he works in the fields. Since the "no-self" concept of mu is central to all of the Japanese arts, including aikido, I am not surprised that you found a similarity.
Usually people ask if Sensei's farming is Taoist, or Buddhist because it cuts right to the core of Asian spirituality. Fukuoka denied any connection to anything but nature itself. Dispite the similarities he did not want people to pidgeon-hole his philosophy filing it neatly into a catagory created by the human intellect. True nature can only be experienced directly without the distorting and limiting lens of the intellect. You know, the intellect...that unceasing inner dialogue that tries to understand everything it comes in contact with or imagines that it will.
All Right! That last post worked out well, so here are some answers which were written above.
The Natural Way of Farming will probably not be republished. You'll have to find it in a used bookstore, in a friend's library or on line.
When people ask you to PLEASE DO NOT WALK IN THE BEDS they are almost always referring to beds in zone 1 which have been turned over. These are the plowed or rototilled beds, or ones which have been double dug or otherwise been infused with compost and lots of oxygen. Walking on unplowed ground does not pose a problem. The soil "plows" itself by the action of penetrating roots, earthworms, microorganisms, water, trees falling over and so forth. The new grain crops in Fukuoka's rice and barley fields are trampled by human feet during the harvest of the previous crop but they don't seem to even notice. In the orchard it is good if one can avoid stepping directly on a ripe cucumber or daikon radish, but otherwise no damage is caused. Running heavy equipment over and over on the fields...well, that creates problems. ~Larry
Hi, all, I'm still getting out the kinks so I can reply to your questions and insights about natural farming and Masanobu Fukuoka. The Washington State Permaculture Convergence last weekend was really fun and enlightening. It was good to see so many friends and meet new ones. Larry Korn
This weekend I'm beginning a tour of Washington and Oregon to introduce the 30th anniversary edition of Masanobu Fukuoka's "The One-Straw Revolution." See the link below to learn more about the book and my tour schedule:
On my Facebook page I posted some photos from my apprenticeship with Fukuoka in the 1970s. Also included are photos of Sensei's first visit to the US for the 1983 North American Permaculture Convergence in Olympia. It was there that Fukuoka and Mollison first met. Here's the link: http://www.facebook.com/LarryKorn
I look forward to meeting you at one or more of my presentations in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, Corvallis, or Eugene.