Re: [fukuoka_farming] draft of Overview PART III
- Hi Larry,
Reading through this section I found myself saying again and again "yes, that's Fukuoka." Particularly entrancing are his ideas of "weed utility" or "removing weeds with weeds," his anticipation of so many related approaches, such as the "power of duck," the Hart miniforest, the idea that microoganisms, earthworms, and small mammals "soften the soil." His recommendation to start gardens by putting rough organic matter in trenchs is a counterbalance to the idea that one just scatters seedballs.
Fukuoka emerges from your account as a "seminal" grower in every sense of the word. His observation that the soil can be perpetually fertile is probably what brings most of us to this site.
Just two editorial nits to pick: In "If human knowledge is unenlightened and imperfect, then nature perceived and built up mist in turn....," change "mist" to "must." In the "Fukuoka on compost" section: "nitrogen fertlizers, line, superphosphate" change "line" to "lime."
Larry Haftl wrote:I had a twinge of guilt thinking about how I was plugging up all
of your inboxes with these posts, then I remembered that you asked
Here is the third part of the Overview. Since the weather is breaking
I intend spending the next two days out in what passes for sun around
here this time of year so no more parts. I will, however, gladly
read and respond to all of the comments I expect to get from you
The following includes excerpts from, and is based on, Fukuoka's
book "The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green
Fukuoka divides farming into three types: Mahayana, Hinayana, and
"Mahayana Natural Farming: When the human spirit and human life blend
with the natural order and man's sole calling is to serve nature,
he lives freely as an integral part of the natural world, subsisting
on its bounty without having to resort to purposeful human effort.
This type of farming, which I shall call Mahayana natural farming,
is realized when man becomes one with nature, for it is a way of
farming that transcends time and space and reaches the zenith of
understanding and enlightenment. Those who live such a life are hermits
and wise men."
Hinayana Natural Farming: This type of farming arises when man earnestly
seeks entry to the realm of Mahayana farming. Desirous of the true
blessings and bounty of nature, he prepares himself to receive it.
This is the road leading directly to complete enlightenment, but
is short of that perfect state."
"Scientific Farming: Man exists in a state of contradiction in which
he is basically estranged from nature, living in a totally artificial
world, yet longs for a return to nature. A product of this condition,
scientific farming forever wanders blindly back and forth, now calling
on the blessings of nature, now rejecting it in favor of human knowledge
Being less than fully enlightened at the moment, this document will
be limited to examining the Hinayana and scientific types of farming.
Scientific farming includes all other types of farming - sustainable,
organic or otherwise.
Fukuoka acknowledges the power of scientific farming.
"Cases where scientific farming excels: Scientific methods will always
have the upper hand when growing produce in an unnatural environment
and under unnatural conditions that deny nature its full powers,
such as accelerated crop growth and cultivation in cramped plots,
clay pots, hothouses, and hotbeds. And through adroit management,
yields can be increased and fruit and vegetables grown out of season
to satisfy consumer cravings by pumping in lots of high technology
in the form of chemical fertilizers and powerful disease and pest
control agents, bringing in unheard-of profits."
"Yet even under such ideal conditions, scientific farming does not
produce more at lower cost or generate higher profits per unit area
of land or per fruit tree than natural farming."
"For several decades now, I have devoted myself to examining whether
natural farming can really compete with scientific farming. I have
tried to gauge the strength of nature in rice and barley cultivation,
and in the growing of fruit trees. Casting off human knowledge and
action, relying only on the raw power of nature, I have investigated
whether "do-nothing" natural farming can achieve results equal to
or better than scientific farming. I have also compared both approaches
using man's direct yardsticks of growth and yield. The more one studies
and compares the two, whether from the limited perspective of growth
and yields, or from a broader and higher perspective, the clearer
and more undeniable becomes the supremacy of nature."
In his analysis and comparison of the three types of farming, Fukuoka
provides the following diagram to illustrate that while scientific
farming can exceed the production of Hinayana natural farming in
some ways, the product of scientific farming is a collection of distorted
INSERT FIG 3.2
Central to Fukuoka's teachings, and ignored by all of the other farming
methods currently being used, is that human knowledge is, and will
always be, imperfect. When this imperfect knowledge is used to mimic
or attempt to "recreate" nature the result is inevitably "�the disasters
that the frightening defects of modern practices are visiting on
"Imperfect Human Knowledge Falls Short of Natural Perfection: Understanding
the degree to which human knowledge is imperfect and inadequate helps
one to appreciate just how perfect nature is. Scientists of all ages
have sensed with increasing clarity the frailty and insignificance
of human knowledge as man's learning grew from his investigations
of the natural world around him. No matter how unlimited his knowledge
may appear, there are hurdles over which man cannot pass: the endless
topics that await research, the infinitude of microscopic and submicroscopic
universes that even the rapid specialization of science cannot keep
pace with, the boundless and eternal reaches of outer space. We have
no choice then but to frankly acknowledge the frailty and imperfection
of human knowledge."
"If human knowledge is unenlightened and imperfect, then the nature
perceived and built up by this knowledge mist in turn always be imperfect.
"An imitation can never outclass the original. Imperfection shall
always lie in the shadow of perfection. Even though man is well aware
that the human activity we call science can never be superior to
nature, his attention is riveted on the imitation rather than the
original because he has been led astray by his peculiar myopia that
makes science appear to excel over nature in certain areas."
If you think back to the brief descriptions of the other methods
of "organic" farming you will notice that all of them are human-dominated
and depend upon human knowledge for everything: plant selection,
placement, and manipulation; soil manipulation; fertilizing; watering;
planting and pruning; and controlling "weeds" and "pests". In this
sense they are all active whereas Fukuoka's method is passive in
comparison, letting nature make most of the decisions.
Let us now look at the principles underlying Fukuoka's Natural Farming
The Four Principles of Natural Farming
According to Fukuoka: "I will admit that I have had my share of failures
during the forty years that I have been at it. But because I was
headed basically in the right direction, I now have yields that are
at least equal to or better than those of crops grown scientifically
in every respect. And most importantly:
1) My method succeeds at only a tiny fraction of the labor and costs
of scientific farming, and my goal is to bring this down to zero.
2) At no point in the process of cultivation or in my crops is there
any element that generates pollution, in addition to which my soil
remains eternally fertile.
"And I guarantee that anyone can farm this way. This method of 'do-
nothing' farming is based on four major principles:
1. No cultivation.
2. No fertilizer
3. No weeding
4. No pesticides"
"� as the farmer turns the soil with his hoe, this breaks the soil
up into smaller and smaller particles which acquire an increasingly
regular physical arrangement with smaller interstitial spaces. The
result is harder, denser soil. The only way to soften up this soil
is to apply compost and work it into the ground by plowing. But this
is only a short-lived measure. In fields that have been weeded clean
and carefully plowed and re-plowed, the natural aggregation of the
soil into larger particles is disturbed, and the soil particles become
finer and finer, hardening the ground."
"It is in the nature of soil to swell and grow more porous with each
passing year. This is absolutely essential for microorganisms to
multiply in the earth, for the soil to grow more fertile, and for
the roots of large trees to penetrate deep into the ground. Only,
I believe that, far from being the answer, working the soil with
plow and hoe actually interferes with these processes. If man lets
the soil take care of itself, it will enrich and loosen itself with
the powers of nature."
"When roots reach down into the earth, air and water penetrate into
the soil together with the roots. As these wither and die, many types
of microorganisms proliferate. These die off and are replaced by
others, increasing the amount of humus and softening the soil. Earthworms
eventually appear where there is humus, and as the number of earthworms
increases, moles begin burrowing through the soil."
"The Soil Works Itself: The soil lives of its own accord and plows
itself. It needs no help from man. Farmers often talk of 'taming
the soil' and of a field becoming 'mature,' but why is it that trees
in the mountain forests grow to such magnificent heights without
the benefit of hoe or fertilizer, while the farmer's fields can grow
only puny crops?"
"We can either choose to see the soil as imperfect and take the hoe
in hand, or trust the soil and leave the business of working it to
While there is general agreement on this principle, there has been
extensive discussion on the Fukuoka Farming Mailing List about how
to get started farming a piece of land that has been damaged by human
intervention (heavy equipment compacting it, depleted by overplowing
or heavy grazing, etc.), or covered by non-native invasive grasses
and "weeds". At this time two suggestions have been offered.
The first is to simply cover the soil with a deep layer of organic
matter and just let it go from there. An example would be Ruth Stout's
no-till, deep mulch method. A recent practice known as "Lasagna Gardening"
uses a variation of Stout's method - newspaper and cardboard are
first laid on the soil and then covered with a deep layer of organic
The second suggestion is to dig a deep layer of organic matter into
the soil and then never cultivate it again. One example of this technique
is Emilia Hazelip's Synergistic Gardening method.
Fukuoka himself seems to support this method:
"The basic strategy for achieving long-term, totally fertilizer-free
cultivation on a natural farm is to create deep, fertile soil. There
are several ways of doing this. Here are some examples.
1. Direct burial of coarse organic matter deep in the ground.
2. Gradual soil improvement by planting grasses and trees that send
roots deep into the soil.
3. Enrichment of the farm by carrying nutrients built up in the humus
of the upland woods or forest downhill with rainwater or by other
"Whatever the means employed, the natural farmer must secure a nearby
supply of humus that can serve as a source of soil fertility."
"One may establish an orchard and plant nursery stock using essentially
the same methods as when planting forest trees. Vegetation on the
hillside is cut in lateral strips, and the large trunks, branches,
and leaves of the felled trees are arranged or buried in trenches
running along hill contours, covered with earth, and allowed to decompose
naturally. None of the vegetation cut down in the orchard should
be carried away."
"As I mentioned earlier, the most basic method for improving soil
is to bury coarse organic matter in deep trenches. Another good method
is to pile soil up to create high ridges. This can be done using
the soil brought up while digging contour trenches with a shovel.
The dirt should be piled around coarse organic material. Better
aeration allows soil in a pile of this sort to mature more quickly
than soil in a trench. Such methods soon activate the latent fertility
of even depleted, granular soil, rapidly preparing it for fertilizer-
Hazelip also recommends the use of raised beds (Fukuoka's "pile")
with the dirt coming from the pathways around the raised beds (Fukuoka's
Fukuoka also used rice and barley straw as a mulch on his fields.
"Crops Depend on the Soil: When we look directly at how and why crops
grow on the earth, we realize that they do so independently of human
knowledge and action. This means that they have no need basically
for such things as [manufactured] fertilizers and nutrients. Crops
depend on the soil for growth.
"I have experimented with fruit trees and with rice and winter grain
to determine whether these can be cultivated without fertilizers.
"Of course crops can be grown without fertilizer. Nor does this yield
the poor harvests people generally believe. In fact, I have been
able to show that by taking full advantage of the inherent powers
of nature, one can obtain yields equal to those that can be had with
On the evils of fertilizers:
"1. Fertilizers speed up the growth of crops, but this is only a
temporary and local effect that does not offset the inevitable weakening
of the crops. This is similar to the rapid acceleration of plant
growth by [added] hormones.
"2. Plants weakened by fertilizers have a lowered resistance to diseases
and insect predators, and are less able to overcome other obstacles
to growth and development.
"3. Fertilizer applied to soil usually is not as effective as in
laboratory experiments. [Fukuoka cited two examples, but many more
have come to light since his book was published].
"4. Damage caused directly by fertilizers is also enormous. More
than seventy percent of the 'big three' - ammonium sulfate, superphosphate,
and potassium sulfate - is concentrated sulfuric acid which acidifies
and causes great harm to the soil, both directly and indirectly.
"5. One major problem with fertilizer use is the deficiency of trace
"The effects and interactions of various components of fertilizers
in orchard soil are unspeakably complex. Nitrogen and phosphate uptake
is poor in iodine-deficient soils. When the soil is acidic or turns
alkaline through heavy applications of line, deficiencies of zinc,
manganese, boron, iodine and other elements develop because these
become less soluble in water. Too much potassium blocks iodine uptake
and reduces the absorption of boron as well. The greater the amount
of nitrogen, phosphates, and potassium administered to the soil,
the higher the resulting deficiency of zinc and boron. On the other
hand, higher levels of nitrogen and phosphates result in a lower
"The trees of the mountain forests grow under conditions close to
pure nature., receiving no fertilizer by the hand of man. Yet they
grow very well year after year. Reforested cedars in a favorable
area generally grow about forty tons per quarter acre over a period
of twenty years. These trees thus produce about two tons of growth
each year without fertilizer. This includes only that part of the
tree that can be used as lumber, so if we also take into account
small branches, leaves, and roots, then annual production is probably
close to double, or about four tons.
"If we were talking of a fruit orchard here, then this would translate
into two to four tons of fruit produced each year without fertilizers
- about equal to standard production levels by fruit growers today.
"I am convinced that cultivation without fertilizers under natural
circumstances is not only philosophically feasible, but is more beneficial
than scientific, fertilizer-based agriculture, and is preferable
for the farmer. Yet, although cultivation without the use of chemical
fertilizers is possible, crops cannot immediately be grown successfully
without fertilizers on fields that are normally plowed and weeded.
" [Editor's emphasis]
When trying to convert an existing or older field to the natural
way of farming it is usually necessary to sow a series of cover crops
and green manure to enrich the field before a commercial crop can
be expected to grow successfully.
It must be noted that when Fukuoka talks of fertilizers he is referring
primarily to chemical and other non-natural fertilizers. He did,
in fact, use human, chicken, and other animal manure in his rice-
"Following the rice harvest, spread 650-900 pounds of chicken manure
per quarter-acre either before or after returning the rice straw
to the fields. An additional 200 pounds may be added in late February
as a topdressing during the barley heading stage.
"After the barley harvest, manure again for the rice. When high yields
have been collected, spread 450-900 pounds of dried chicken manure
before or after returning the barley straw to the field. Fresh manure
should not be used here as this can harm the rice seedlings. A later
application is generally not needed, but a small amount (250-450
pounds) of chicken manure may be added early during the heading stage,
preferably before the 24th day of heading. This may of course be
decomposed human or animal wastes, or even wood ashes."
"However, from the standpoint of natural farming, it would be preferable
and much easier to release ten ducklings per quarter-acre on to the
field when the rice seedlings have become established. Not only do
the ducks weed and pick off insects, they turn the soil."
Fukuoka on compost
"All the trouble taken during preparation of the compost to speed
up the rate of fertilizer response, such as frequent turning of the
pile, methods for stimulating the growth of aerobic bacteria, the
addition of water and nitrogenous fertilizers, line, superphosphate,
rice bran, manure, and so forth -- all this trouble is taken just
for a slight acceleration in response. Since the net effect of these
efforts is to speed up decomposition by at most ten to twenty percent,
this can hardly be called necessary. Especially since there already
was a method of applying straw to the fields that achieved outstanding
Fukuoka returned the rice straw to his fields after harvesting the
rice. Nothing was done to the straw (chopping, composting, etc.)
before he spread it as a type of mulch layer on the field.
"I firmly believe that, while compost itself is not without value,
the composting of organic materials is fundamentally useless."
"Is There Such a Thing as a Weed?: Man distinguishes between crops
and weeds, and the first step he takes in that respect is to decide
whether to weed or not to weed. Like many different microorganisms
that struggle and cooperate in the soil, myriad grasses and trees
live together on the soil surface. Is it right then to destroy this
natural state, to pick out certain plants living in harmony among
many plants, to call these 'crops' and uproot all the others as 'weeds'?"
"Grasses Enrich the Soil: Rather than pulling weeds, people should
give some thought to the significance of these plants. Having done
so, they will agree that the farmer should let the weeds live and
make use of their strength. Although I call this the 'no-weeding'
principle, it could also be known as the principle of 'weed utility'.
"A Cover of Grass is Beneficial: This method includes sod and green
manure cultivation. In my citrus orchard, I attempted first cultivation
under a cover of grass, then switched to green manure cultivation,
and now I use a ground cover of clover and vegetables with no weeding,
tillage or fertilizer. When weeds are a problem, then it is wiser
to remove weeds with weeds than to pull weeds by hand." [Editor's
"The many different grasses and herbs in a natural meadow appear
to grow and die in total confusion, but upon closer examination,
there are laws and there is order here. Grasses meant to sprout do
so, those that flourish do so for a reason, and if plants weaken
and die, there is a cause. Plants of the same species do not all
grow in the same place and way, but some types flourish, then fade
in an ongoing succession. The cycles of coexistence, competition,
and mutual benefit repeat themselves. Certain weeds grow as individuals,
others grow in bunches, and yet others form colonies. Some grow
sparsely, some densely, and some in clumps. Each has a different
ecology: some grow over their neighbors and overpower them, some
wrap around others in symbiosis, some weaken other plants, and some
die -- while others thrive -- as undergrowth.
"By studying and making use of the properties of weeds, one weed
can be used to drive out a large number of other weeds. If the farmer
were to grow grasses or green manure crops that take the place of
undesirable weeds and are beneficial to him and his crops, then he
would no longer have to weed, in addition to which the green manure
would enrich the soil and prevent its erosion."
"I practice a form of rice-barley succession cropping in which I
seed barley together with clover over the standing heads of rice,
and scatter rice seed and green manure while the barley is up. This
more nearly approaches nature and eliminates weeding."
Fukuoka found that fruit trees and vegetables could also be grown
without weeding using this technique.
"Insect Pests Do Not Exist: The moment the problem of crop disease
or insect damage arises, talk turns immediately to methods of control.
But we should begin by examining whether crop disease or insect
damage exist in the first place. A thousand plant diseases exist
in nature, but in truth there are none. It is the agricultural specialist
who gets carried away with discussions on disease and pest damage.
Although research is done on the ways to reduce the number of country
villages without doctors, no studies are ever run to determine how
these villages have gotten along without doctors. In the same way,
when people spot signs of a plant disease or an insect pest, they
immediately go about trying to get rid of it. The smart thing to
do would be to stop treating insects as pests and find a way that
eliminates the need for control measures altogether."
"Most people seem to believe that the use of natural enemies and
pesticides of low toxicity will clear up the problem, but they are
mistaken. Many feel reassured by the thought that the use of beneficial
insect predators to control pests is a biological method of control
without harmful repercussions, but to someone who understands the
chain of being that links together the world of living organisms,
there is no way of telling which organisms are natural enemies and
which are pests. By meddling with controls, all man accomplishes
is destruction of the natural order. Although he may appear to be
protecting the natural enemies and killing the pests, there is no
knowing whether the pests will become beneficial and the predators
pests. Many insects that are harmless in a direct sense are harmful
indirectly. And when things get even more complex, as when one beneficial
insect feeds on a pest that kills another beneficial insect which
feeds on another pest, it is futile to try and draw sharp distinctions
between these and apply pesticides selectively."
What all of that boils down to is to literally "do-nothing" about
crop diseases or insect pests because doing anything is likely to
have consequences even worse than the disease or pest damage. According
to Fukuoka, plants grown with the natural method are much more disease
and insect damage resistant than crops grown by other methods. This
alone reduces the amount, or even likelihood, of potential damage.
Fukuoka also acknowledges that you must accept the possibility of
some damage from disease and pests as a healthy part of the natural
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