The Helpful Gardener
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Four Principles Of Natural Farming

Apologies for a late posting; we had a mishap Friday night and our cat Dougal was struck by a car. He had surgery yesterday afternoon when he stabilized, and we saw him this morning. Despite being down to six lives, he is doing well and we expect a full recovery, but between that and the new job the weekend dissappeared...

To task. This is the core of F-san's teachings, the crux of the matter. The Four Principles are...

No Cultivation.
This seems to be the hardest hurdle for many; those withg a thousand dollar rototiller are escpecially hardpressed to wean off of tearing the soil up. But as we learned from our last book club book, destroying soil tilth and fungal hyphae sends soil backwards down the soil succesion, towars a soil that favor weeds. F-sensei has come to this realization from another angle than soil analysis, from the realization that nature does not need tilling (Ruth Stout had the same satori). But the ends remain the same; the longer you do not disturb soil structure while still adding nutrition, the better it gets. Chop it all up and anything you add is a wash...

No chemical fertilizer or prepared compost.
We part ways here (a little); anyone spending any time on this site knows how I feel about compost. It is an answer to most everything. But even F-san used some compost of the houise garden, he was more about not doing on field crops. I still feel ok with compost there. But we are sure in the same place on chemical ferts.

No weeding by tillage or herbicides.
I have followed this well this year, both by design and by lack of time. I need to work on my paths some, but the beds are pretty weed free (except for the ones I like). The wife has some issues with the lack of aesthetic value she usually espouses elsewhere and we are negotiating. But no turning, no weeding (a few scythings here and there to knock them back some) and leave the roots in the ground (more carbon). Soil building continues.

No dependence on chemicals.
We may part ways on compost, but F-san and I are pretty much in synch about the chems. I have tried to cut back on even the organic stuff this year; some successes, some failures. But I found a lone horn worm on the maters yesterday COVERED in wasp eggs. I left things be. Life is good. I did try knocking back the squash bugs with various weapons this year, but they tore me up again (the business travel left too many big windows). Solution? Next year my friends Scott and Cherie grow the squash and we do more maters and pickles and such. I will starve them out for a few years. There are always ways around the chemical routine.

So there we have it. The plan defined. Thoughts?

HG
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rainbowgardener
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I agree... I am totally with all the other parts of the plan .. no tilling, no synthetic fertilizers, no -cides. But NO COMPOST?? Strikes fear into my heart! Along with you saying "compost, compost, compost," I keep telling the people writing in about starting a garden: "Start a compost pile, best thing you can do for your garden."

I was just out yesterday turning over my pile, admiring all the lovely finished compost at the bottom.

Now part of the difference is that he uses chicken manure or runs ducks in his fields. I am in the city and can't easily do either of those. Anyway, part of what I am trying to do is sustainability, run my garden without outside inputs. Since I can't have chickens or ducks, I don't want to import manure. Therefore, MUST HAVE my compost! :)

But outside that, I think if I had a few acres in the country and had chickens (I'm not talking about hundreds of acres of farm here, that would be different again), I would STILL want my compost. I think the compost has a broader range of nutrients and soil biologies, does more to improve soil tilth etc., than the manure.

BESIDES that... if I didn't compost what would I do with all those kitchen scraps, pulled weeds, etc etc. Throw them "away"? (there is no such place!) Run the kitchen scraps through a garbage disposal into the sewer system? That obviously is NOT an improvement and is NOT more natural than composting them.

Sorry, he just loses me there....
Last edited by rainbowgardener on Mon Aug 23, 2010 3:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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One more thing. Principle One he says "NO CULTIVATION, that is no plowing or turning of the soil." I understand no plowing/ tilling. But what counts as turning? What I have always done is lay down mulch in the fall and then turn it under in the spring, with shovel and/or trowel, and then use fork and/or trowel/ hoe to break up the ground a little bit to make a seed bed.

Does that fall under his proscription "no turning"? Why is it bad? What "should" I be doing instead, per the One-Straw Revolution method? Let me guess... leave the mulch there and just seed into it? Wouldn't work very well to just drop seeds on top, but maybe pull the mulch out of the way a little bit and put the seeds in the soil? But you couldn't put it back or it would suppress the seed growth the same as it suppresses weed growth. I like leaving the soil open to the sun for a little while in early spring, to help it warm up... As soon as the seeds are well started and plants are planted, I put mulch back.

Even for someone who is on a very similar course, some of this is difficult to sort out/ understand.
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I'm in agreement with Raibowgardener about needing the compost piles for waste disposal. There is a HUGE difference in the volume of trash we put out and the neighbors'. It's pretty obvious to see. Then every spring, the neighbors' driveways sport piles of mulch and/or compost/soil. I buy bags of gravel and sand, as well as bales of hay and straw, but I'm working to reduce even those outsourced items if I possibly can. Also, in place of "scattering a small amount of chicken manure" I "scatter"/broadcast my compost, which I now mostly use unscreened in the garden.

For planting, I have been experimenting with scattering naked seeds. Some do well, even with deep mulch -- they just find their way down, then germinate and find their way up. Some need more bare soil, and others simply must be covered and can be covered with a bit of mulch, and yet others need to have a hole poked in the soil to drop the seeds in.

I'm starting to suspect that a part of the problem I'm experiencing is that I'm gardening in raised beds, whereas Fukuoka san was working in fields. He scattered the seeds, stepping on them in the process, and scattered the straw and manure, and stepped on them some more. Remember jal_ut's assertion that rows of seeds need to be stepped on for good soil contact and wicking up moisture from moisture reservoirs below?

It's hard to reverse the now in-grained "do not step in fluffy soil in the raised bed" rule.

I'm also trying to make clay seedballs more. I coated my fall seeds of mustard, turnip, daikon, spinach, and lettuce in kaolin clay/tp clay mixture and sowed them yesterday. These are not the elegant well-worked clay seedballs, but a quick attempt to make "something" :oops::
[img]https://i290.photobucket.com/albums/ll272/applesbucket/Image7918.jpg[/img]
The seed/clay mixture was too wet to start with, then after I left them to dry a bit, I came back too late and it dried up into stiff clumps you see here. I broke them up and scattered them anyway. I'll do better with my next batch.
I followed with mulch of weeds scattered on the top, but I couldn't broadcast the compost because it started to rain.

There are still much to learn and one of them is to learn, memorize, and internalize the steps and the rhythms of planting. :roll:

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AS has answered RBG's question on what to do instead of turning, seed balls. We are putting the seed in good soil contact, adding a layer of clay with it's high CEC to hold nutrition, and we are putting it on top of naturally decomposing material that is not shedding carbon willy nilly because we are knocking back fungal content thus increasing bacterial side. I am a fan of compost but let's be serious, it is more carbon intensive than putting it directly back into the plant cycle in a slow, natural way... ANd ALL soil disturbance is bad from the fungal perspective.

I can't give up the compost yet myself, but I get the basic premises here. I think any regimen can become too restrictive and if you can afford to make compost (time is money) then have at it, and it will not hurt garden soils. But I understand where it would be too much of an added burden (either temporal or financial) in agriculture...

HG
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"ANd ALL soil disturbance is bad from the fungal perspective. "

So if we are growing trees, shrubs, perennials we should never disturb/ turn the soil around them. And in fact I don't, just keep renewing the mulch for the perennials (the trees fend for themselves).

But if I'm remembering from our last book Teaming with Microbes, we were saying that annuals like the garden veggies want their soil more toward the bacterial side. That's the premise on which I switched from brown mulch (leaves, wood chips) on the veggie beds to green mulch (hay, grass, weeds). TwM was even advocating keeping different compost piles, more brown and more green (too much work for me).

So on that basis turning the soil a little bit in my veggie beds keeps it more suitable for veggies, not so?

Sorry, I'm not arguing, just trying to think it all through and integrate the different learnings...
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I think with the compost scale makes a big difference. Compost is so useful in a backyard or smallish comercial vegetable garden both for increasing the organic matter in the soil and having something to do with all the bio-mass the garden creates. I'm always hoping to get to the point where I don't have to bring materials onto the site or let anything leave the garden. A closed system. In an orchard it's easy to chop down the ground cover and simply let it sit there on the surface. It takes longer and you loose some nutrients that way, but it's so easy. For the backyard garden compost seems to be the ticket.
"There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song" --Masanobu Fukuoka
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Rhisiart Gwilym
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Cooling it about 'No fertiliser -- INCLUDING compost.

The best way to get a creative compromise about this supposed problem of 'No compost' (it isn't one really, in fact) is to watch this You Tube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugFd1JdFaE0

(3 X 10-minute parts)

Emilia does her own voiceover, in English, but with a heavy -- and very charming -- Spanish accent. And there's a LOT of vital detail in what she says. So it's well worth running back and playing things over again if you don't get them exactly first time.

As she makes clear, she does make compost, from all those household kitchen scraps (I make it from humanure also, from my composting, non-flushing john; but that's another story). But all of Emilia's compost is used as potting medium for her greenhouse seedlings. It goes out to the raised beds around the roots of the young plants, when they're planted out. Other than that, no compost is spread.

But the really important point about compost on the beds is that there's lots of it anyway, but you don't have to make it in bins and then carry it and spread it. Too much unnecessary work! Too much busy interfering and "We can improve on Nature" thinking. Remember that Fukuoka-san called his method 'Do nothing farming'.

Instead, what you do is this: As well as never disturbing the soil and the topping deep mulch any more than the very localised absolute minimum when planting and harvesting, you also leave all plant roots where they grew (except for the root vegetables which you mean to harvest, of course); and, after some wilting and trampling on the walkways between the beds when necessary, you leave all the above-ground foliage on the beds where it grew.

Voila! Instant mulch, which is turned by the soil community into in-situ compost over the next few months. In a nutshell, you leave the compost to make itself automatically, in the place where it's needed, not in a separate bin. Or rather, you leave the usual soil-community suspects to make it, in situ.

Further very big sources of plant food in the soil come from the decomposing bodies of the masses of soil micro-organisms in a healthy 'wild' soil, after they die; and from the equally weighty mass of worm-casts placed just where your food plants need them, free of all charge, by the earthworms.

Furthermore, in answer to the big question: 'Well, if we're taking lots of food out of the beds, how is that removed nutrient replaced?' the answer lies in what Emilia calls The Fundamental Reality of Fukuoka Farming', thus:

QUOTE:

"The Fundamental Reality that Underlies Fukuoka's Principles

Soil is created by living plants working with microorganisms, and by the plants' residues and the microorganisms' corpses after their death.

Soil is drained of nutrients by cultivation, NOT by plants.

Tilling and cultivation of any sort diminishes the natural fertility of the soil in three ways:

· Mechanical grinding of the soil particles reduces their size and smooths them. This greatly reduces the size and number of micro-cavities between the particles, which are the habitats of balanced bacteria breathing out gases essential to mineral absorption and plants' health.

· Tilling kills vital microorganisms in the soil by exposing them to excessive oxygen in the air.

· And tilling exposes the organic matter in the rhizosphere (soil around the roots) to the atmospheric gases, precipitating the combustion of the humus, turning it into soluble mineralized nutrients . This provides a quick fertilizer for the plants, but at the cost of destroying permanently the texture and tilth of the organic, humic, rich soil, which accelerates erosion as well as contamination of the watertable with nitrates.

Minerals and trace elements, although present in soil, may not be accessible to plants due to the absence of the microorganisms (killed by tilling, pollution, or the use of herbicides or pesticides) that participate in the plant's mineral nutritional process. Just as microflora in our own digestive systems are needed so that our bodies can absorb and use the nutrients of the ingested food, microorganisms in the soil perform the same function for plants.

In crops, if the edible parts of a plant are harvested and the rest left to return to the soil, the organic mass left by the decaying plants will be superior to the volume of nutrients taken from the soil.

A plant gets up to 95% of all the nutrients it needs from the sky (gases and sunlight), NOT the soil. Of the 5% taken from the soil, half of it is the essential nutrient nitrogen, which, if the plant is grown in combination with a legume, can also come from the air.

ONLY 2 1/2% of the total nutrition of a plant IS COMING EXCLUSIVELY FROM THE SOIL in the form of soluble minerals and trace elements.

That is the fundamental reality that underlies and supports Fukuoka's principles of: No tilling, No fertilizer, No weeding, and No pesticides or herbicides. Natural agriculture refutes and disproves the foundation of current agronomical logic, and because it does it is seen as heresy by most of the agronomic community.

Fukuoka proposes, and supports with evidence, the first fundamental agronomic reform since agriculture was invented."

-- Emilia Hazelip"

UNQUOTE

As you'll see from the video, Emilia describes the Four Principles there slightly differently, like this:

* No tillage of any description, ever.

* No fertiliser of any description is needed. (Including compost and poultry manure! They do no harm, of course, if you have some to scatter on. But they AIN'T NECESSARY!)

* No chemical treatments of any kind, ever.

* No compaction of the soil.

She also points out that your beds will be an evolving system, changing over a number of seasons, as they work there way towards their own climax ecosystem. So stick with it when things seem to go haywire the first year or two. It DOES get better!

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Great post RG. We are fans of Emilia's work here as well and have posted her vid a few times. But one more time is fine by me... 8)

It is good to remember that her work was in reaction to her learning from F-sensei, and at no time does she deviate far from the core message. While she has adapted to a different climate and type of gardening, the meme remains the same.

In the farmer's field, the scale precludes the use of compost (in the usual sense), but the return of straw is a sheet composting of sorts. Are we arguing semantics here?

HG
Scott Reil

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Here's another way to look at it. In Fukuoka's orchard the ground is covered with a continuous cover of clover, herbs, weeds, and vegetables. The roots penetrate the soil bringing up nutrients from below. There is also leaf fall and chickens and other critters walking and flying around depositing manure and eventually their dead bodies, as well as the microorganisms, earthworms and other soil animals burrowing around. There is straw and branches scattered here and there and the tops of the cover have been mowed and left on the surface. The clover, manure and fresh leaves are supplying nitrogen and the roots and woody tissue provide the carbon. It seems that the compost is being made right in the soil. How convenient...and right where it will do the most good.

Fukuoka mentioned several times how greatful we should be that the decomposers are so efficient. "They keep the place so clean for everyone."
"There is no time in modern agriculture for a farmer to write a poem or compose a song" --Masanobu Fukuoka
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I think Larry answered my question; it seems we ARE arguing semantics. Decomposition, with the nitrogen releases of microbial predation (as oft mentioned here, and as proven time and again by the studies of [url=https://www.rain.org/~sals/ingham.html]Dr. Elaine Ingham[/url] et al) are more than enough to power plant growth. Add this thought to the [url=https://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/08/fertilizer-runoff-developmental-reproductive-toxicity.php]growing body of work[/url] that suggests that chemical fertilization does more damage than good to the environment, and we find an increasing need to shift modern agriculture to more sustainable methodology. Natural farming, perhaps? 8)

As for the compost question, if you have the time and inclination, I do not find anything that says you are doing harm using compost. F-san simply found it a waste to do all that turning and amending (he did work without machinery) and found another way to do it. But knock yerself out if you want to have at it...

HG
Scott Reil

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