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2759Ancient winter wheat; Commercial potential of Fukuoka

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  • Robert Monie
    Jun 3 7:39 AM
      Hi John, Jamie, and all,

      John Jeavons' mail-order seed catalog at "Bountiful Gardens" regularly offers several ancient wheat varieties, including Early Stone Age Wheat (Einkhorn hornemanii); Stephens (Is this from Synergy Seeds?), "a soft white winter wheat with very large kernels"; two of Tim Peters' varieties, "SS791," "a light brown winter wheat ...in short awned heads that thresh easily," and "PRS 3628 Perennial Wheat,"with good resistance to lodging and diseases." Jeavons also has the Maris Widgeon "an old variety from England that was grown for its tall straw for thaching"--really an autumn wheat, and Black Emmer Wheat for "crafts and arrangements."

      Jamie, I have always said that we have the most to learn from successful commercial applications of Fukuoka's ideas. Anyone can grown a mixed, polyculture backyard garden if enough mulch is available. The question is, can this method be productive and sustainable enough to "feed the world" or at least to do well on a commercial scale. John Seymour, a British farmer and self-reliance advocate of many decades experience says in one of his books that "no-dig" gardening is excellent, but its practitioners always keep it going by "stealing" somebody else's organic matter for mulch. For Seymour you have to double- and triple-dig and use a variety of deep-root accumulator plants to "mine" the mud and bring the nutrients up. He believes this is the way to sustainability.

      John seemed to be making the same point when he said that he has to import leaves from trees grown in soil fed by the Haber process to get enough mulch for his garden. So he is really living off the industrial technology that he is trying to transcend. I responded by saying that the indebtedness to imported material (fed by the Haber-process or not) can be reduced by growing more crops like buckwheat that return nitrogen to the soil and nitrogen fixers such as clover and bean or peas, as well as trees and shrubs that are perennial nitrogen fixers. I gave the example of commercial farmer Steve Groff, who has has greatly reduced the need for Haber-Process fertlizer on his large farm in Pennsylvania, by using a crop cover of vetch and rye. If Steve Groff were to add nitrogen-fixing trees, his need for artificial fertilizer would drop even more.

      But here we run into a storm of questions that have not been answered. If we adopt forest farming (or premaculture/forest-farming methods using canopies of trees and walls of shrubbery, including nitrogen-fixing ones, does the output decrease? In my limited experience, it does, partly because of the increased shade that these plants bring and partly because they seem to slow down the delivery of nutrients to the plants we are growing to eat. That is, the price we pay in approaching a nearly self-sustaining (non-Haber-process) system is less output, less produce. I would like to be proven wrong about this, but I suspect that just as the "slow food" movement in Europe requires the diner to have plenty of time to sit down and savor the taste of the food, the natural farming approach may require us to get used to slower and smaller yields than we get with green revolution methods. If someone can show that this is not so, I would welcome the demonstration. It may turn out that if we use natural methods to grow food, nature is very slow in complying with our wants.

      We cannot predict the future, and we cannot know what method (or methods) of farming will give the best balance between sustainability and feeding the world. I have long grown vegetables and some legumes hydroponically and aeroponically, and the output is greater than what I get from my natural garden. (Of course the direct input is greater too.) How sustainble hydroponics or aeroponics can eventually become is also a matter for speculation; for the present we cannot know. In a hydrogen/photovoltaic solar energy economy where clean energy is abundant, the "inputs" available to farming may change.

      For now, I, like Jamie would like to see how close commercial farms can come to being "natural" and still turn a profit.

      Bob Monie, southeast Louisiana

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