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Re: [fukuoka_farming] Digest Number 2099

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  • Dieter Brand
    Folks, with so much wisdom in one thread there is very little for me left to say if I don’t want to repeat what you have already said. Tom, it’s of course
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2009
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      Folks, with so much wisdom in one thread there is very little for me
      left to say if I don’t want to repeat what you have already said.

      Tom, it’s of course a good idea to go and work with other farmers. I
      would do some woofing if I were younger. Farmers do have a lot of
      _know-how_ that is often not fully described in any book. Even
      though, Natural Farming is always very place-specific, as Bob said.
      That is a major difference to conventional farming, where a herbicide,
      e.g., will kill herbs no matter where you are. For starting
      commercial farming in an industrialized country, Fukuoka is probably
      not the best of all references. If you were ever to go that way you
      should look at models of small-scale _intensive market gardening_ à la
      Jeavons et al. There are probably different models, but basically it
      entails concentrating organic matter on a small very intensively
      cultivated area in close proximity to your markets so as to sell
      organic produce directly and at a premium. Real estate prices near
      urban markets are invariably high, hence the area you are likely to be
      able to afford is small and you have to optimize yield per area unit,
      which is very different from the _extensive_ cultivation of natural
      farming.

      Annemarie, compared to us you seem to have a lot of rain. This year
      we got the last real rain in February and the soil has been stone dry
      since March. In a normal year, we have zero-rain from May through
      September, but this year the dry season has been particularly long.
      And nobody knows how long this is going to go on. It could be for
      years. We have heavy clay soil, and for any humidity to enter the
      soil at this stage we need at least 2 to 3 inches of rain. Anything
      less will just evaporate at the surface without penetrating the soil.

      You have sandy soil, but I think the basic strategy for soil building
      is always the same: add as much organic matter as you can, preferably
      in small but frequent amounts so as to give the soil time to
      assimilate the material. The most efficient way of returning organic
      matter depends on circumstances. For example, when we get enough rain
      in April, grassy mulches applied to the soil surface will decompose
      completely within 3 to 4 weeks and thus enrich the soil. In this case,
      there is no point in heap composting with all the losses that that
      implies. On the other hand, a surface mulch applied in May will not
      decompose for another 6 months even with irrigation. In this case,
      heap composting may be more advantageous. In most arid regions, manure
      from goats, who can survive on shrub-land where nothing else will
      grow, is the most efficient way.

      On my shallow clay soil with next to no topsoil, I wouldn’t consider
      swales. However, on a deep sandy soil that may be a good option.
      With such a soil, you may also want to look at waffle beds, which are
      the opposite of raised beds. The lowered growing area of the waffle
      beds is to a degree protected from drying out and plants may find it
      easier to reach humidity at lower levels. There are places where a
      few feet of sandy soil cover a clay layer that practically never dries
      out even during extended periods of draught because the capillaries in
      the clay soil through which soil humidity evaporates do not reach the
      soil surface. It may be worthwhile digging a hole 3 to 5 feet deep to
      see what’s underneath.

      Tom G., you are right that the alluvial plain where Fukuoka had his
      rice paddies has been cultivated and enriched by farmers for
      centuries, but he also described how he rebuilt the much depleted clay
      soil on his hillsides to plant his orange tree orchard. This is
      probably a good method for most humid regions. Unfortunately, it
      doesn’t work in an arid climate. I have plenty of hillsides with
      heavy clay and next to no topsoil. However, since the soil is stone
      dry right down to the bedrock for most of the year, there is very
      little biomass production. Even on my level fields, which haven’t
      been plowed for 14 years, the losses of humus due to the high
      temperatures are in some cases greater than what is added due to new
      plant growth. In these cases, the soil is actually impoverished by
      not plowing even when no crop is taken off the field.

      I have been working on my land almost every day for the last 14 years,
      but there are still new things I can learn all the time. That doesn’t
      mean that it necessarily takes a lifetime to get somewhere. Quite on
      the contrary, unless you are really unlucky you are likely to have
      some food on the table from year one. To grow food crops without
      fertilizers, manure and only very little compost under our extremely
      difficult conditions has been a challenge, but I have been able to
      grow much of our food naturally without any outside input for nearly
      10 years. I think very few people have the great luxury of eating
      natural (not organic) food fresh from the garden all year round. I
      can’t go out eating anymore because anything else just doesn’t taste
      right.

      Like you, I’m intensely aware of the ill-effects of industrial farming
      on the environment, agricultural soils and last but not least human
      health. I think organic farming, permaculture and other forms of
      sustainable farming deserve our support. Hopefully, Natural Farming
      too will one day evolve into a practical method to make a difference
      in the World of farming.

      Dieter

      PS: Dr. Cho in South Korea developed his own type of Nature Farming
      (Janong) which is based on techniques he has learned from Yamagishi
      Miozo and other Japanese Farmers. At the heart of his method are
      microbial preparations (IMO: Indigenous Microbial Organisms). These
      are different from the Effective Microorganisms (EM) of Prof. Higa in
      Japan in that the farmer doesn’t have to buy the preparations but can
      make them from natural resources occurring on her own land. The
      founder of Natural Farming is Mokichi Okada who published the first
      text on Natural Farming about 20 years before Fukuoka. The Mokichi
      Okada Association (MOA) who continues his philosophy was taken over in
      the 1980s (?) by the Prof. Higa people and is now heavily involved in
      promoting EM. Shumei is a split-away from MOA. I think the split
      occurred in the 1970s (?). In Japanese both “Nature Farming” and
      “Natural Farming” are written the same: “Shizen Nouhou”. The former
      translation is favored by the Okada Association while the latter has
      come into use due to the translation of Fukuoka’s books. Apart from
      the above there are a number of different types of Natural Farming
      schools in Japan. Kawaguchi probably has the greatest following. His
      method is written: “Shizen-Nou” (also Natural Farming) to distinguish
      it from the traditional Shizen-Nouhou of MOA which now uses mostly
      agricultural machines for commercial farming. There are numerous
      other schools of Natural Farming, including the Muhiryou Saibai
      (Cultivation without Fertilizers), the Iwasawa method of growing
      natural rice, the Kimura method of natural orchard cultivation etc.
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