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Discussion Starter #1
Greetings All!

I'm new to the HT forums and pretty new to homesteading; it'll be two years in July and this is the start of only our second full growing season. Each winter my wife and I bury our heads in books and online research as we plan our next season.

This winter's research exposed me to the work of Masanobu Fukuoka, whose most famous book The One Straw Revolution made quite a mark on the world and gave a name to Fukuoka's farming philosophy as "Natural Farming" or "Do-Nothing Farming." I found his work so compelling we've altered our short and long term plans to accommodate the principles of natural farming. So my question to this community:

Is anyone else practicing Fukuoka-inspired natural farming on their homesteads?

If so, would you mind giving a brief description of what that looks like on your homestead?

Many thanks!
 

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Never heard of it before now. I'll look into it.
Well, only if it interests you, of course :D Cliff's Notes version:

The philosophical roots of it can sound a little odd to those raised in modern, western civilization. The basic gist is when humans first began to see themselves separate from nature, we guided our civilization into an increasingly adversarial relationship with nature. Most of our modern woes from patterns of thinking/behavior that are rooted in this. When we try to improve upon nature, or bend it to our will, we cause harm even if it isn't obvious.

Philosophy aside, the techniques that flow out of it when applied to farming are pretty surprising:
- No plowing, tilling, or cultivation is needed
- No chemical fertilizers or prepared compost are needed
- No chemicals are needed
- Weeds are taken care of automatically
- Crop rotations and cover cropping are unnecessary
- Fields may remain in continual production for decades and still see an increase in fertility and soil organic matter
- (in orchards) Pruning is almost unnecessary.
- No fossil fuels are required
- Only simple hand tools are required

Using these techniques he ran a 1.25 acre grain growing system (considered normal-large for a family farm) and a 12.5 acre citrus orchard. His yields at least matched, if not exceeded those using modern, industrial agriculture. His only imports were poultry manure for the grain fields, and he had volunteers help with with the farming chores (i.e. he couldn't provide all the labor for the the whole farm and orchard by himself).

I've been communicating with several US-based market gardeners that have made use of his techniques. Very interesting... Further his work later transitioned from farming into reforestation and combating desertification. Pretty wild stuff!
 

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Well, only if it interests you, of course :D Cliff's Notes version:

The philosophical roots of it can sound a little odd to those raised in modern, western civilization. The basic gist is when humans first began to see themselves separate from nature, we guided our civilization into an increasingly adversarial relationship with nature. Most of our modern woes from patterns of thinking/behavior that are rooted in this. When we try to improve upon nature, or bend it to our will, we cause harm even if it isn't obvious.

Philosophy aside, the techniques that flow out of it when applied to farming are pretty surprising:
- No plowing, tilling, or cultivation is needed
- No chemical fertilizers or prepared compost are needed
- No chemicals are needed
- Weeds are taken care of automatically
- Crop rotations and cover cropping are unnecessary
- Fields may remain in continual production for decades and still see an increase in fertility and soil organic matter
- (in orchards) Pruning is almost unnecessary.
- No fossil fuels are required
- Only simple hand tools are required

Using these techniques he ran a 1.25 acre grain growing system (considered normal-large for a family farm) and a 12.5 acre citrus orchard. His yields at least matched, if not exceeded those using modern, industrial agriculture. His only imports were poultry manure for the grain fields, and he had volunteers help with with the farming chores (i.e. he couldn't provide all the labor for the the whole farm and orchard by himself).

I've been communicating with several US-based market gardeners that have made use of his techniques. Very interesting... Further his work later transitioned from farming into reforestation and combating desertification. Pretty wild stuff!
So if his method worked, why did he go with compost for the wheat fields?

I'll take a deeper look into it. Personally I rather like making/using my compost and reading nutrients/minerals/soil back to the soil.

I wonder if he used "night soil" or humanure for his crops.
 

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I did try it, several times. The thing is, I live in a different climate than he did.

Yes, my grain would sprout *IF* we got a couple of days of rain after I scattered the seeds. If not, then the grain would fail. And, we had to continue getting rain every 2-3 days or again the grain would fail. And that was when I carefully did what he did.

Seriously, in Kansas the way to get RELIABLE grain crops is to cover it with about an inch or so of soil, which means plowing.

His idea of building soil fertility by mowing weeds and letting them rot did work for me, as did using chicken manure that was thinly scattered. My soil really is very good, partly because I allow clover and such in my lawn and when I mow I either let it lie and break down or I use it in my garden. And when I clean the hen house I scatter the chicken litter.

I suspect that the spring in Japan is wetter than it is in Kansas, because if it rains a lot for a week I get a stand of grain when I use Fukuoka's methods but if it does not rain every other day I get nothing.

The gent who helped develop the Troy-built tiller had an interesting way of planting peas. First he tilled, then he scattered seed rather thickly, then he set the tiller on shallow and he tilled again. Yes, some of the peas seeds would be on the surface and the squirrels and such would get it, which was fine with him. Remember he seeded rather thickly.

Then, he would thin by raking until the density of the plants were what was proper for the type of plants. THEN, he moved on to the next bed, and he did not try to keep it weeded. I suspect that is a better match for our climate, as half the years in Kansas we only get rain once a week, and that was not enough moisture to get a good stand when scattering seed balls.

I do not know where you live, but everybody has a slightly different climate, and what I just said ONLY holds true for my part of the world. You may have entirely different results.

By the way, I like his habit of allowing volunteer vegetables to do their thing. Unless it is in my way I take care of any volunteer vegetable in my garden, and it is fun to see what it will be. I often use hybrid seeds, so the child is similar to the parent but no identical.

Heavy Hauler, Fukuoka liked to put the straw in the field and let it compost in the field. From "Farmers of 2000 years" I get the impression that the old style Oriental farmers used ALL of their organic matter in their fields instead of discarding it, and excepting for night soil so did Fukuoka. He simply allowed the organic matter to rot in the fields instead of in compost piles.
 

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I never read the book, and didn't know much about the One-Straw concept until now. But I see I may have been doing my own abbreviated version of it for years.

I have a habit of mulching with weeds (before they go to seed), and allowing them to rot as mulch in the garden. When it rains, the nutritional goodness from the weeds seep into the soil. I also make "weed tea" to water my houseplants and seedlings by soaking chopped weeds in cool water for a day. The water definitely contains something good, if the color of the liquid and the results on plants are any indication! I also grow nutrient-rich comfrey to use as a tea and as a mulch.

I never need to till, the worms are plentiful and do all the work.
 
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Discussion Starter #7
So if his method worked, why did he go with compost for the wheat fields?

I'll take a deeper look into it. Personally I rather like making/using my compost and reading nutrients/minerals/soil back to the soil.

I wonder if he used "night soil" or humanure for his crops.
He didn't use prepared compost on the grain fields, he returned the straw and chaff, then scatted poultry manure. So the composting happened in the field rather than as a manual process.

The night soil, kitchen scraps, and wood ash all went into the kitchen garden, which was a separate process, and a very small one compared to the grain and orchard operations.

No problem if you prefer to make compost! Many great gardeners/homesteaders make compost on a large scale, and enjoy doing so.

It was practice in Japan that farmers were told they MUST compost rice straw to break the cycle of certain rice diseases and it was a labor intensive burden. He simply didn't want to do what he saw as an unnecessary task, especially a to be avoided because it was hard work. The disease cycle could be broken just by scattering the straw on an emerging "winter grain" crop (rye, barley, or wheat) and the rice straw (and any potential pathogens) would be gone by the time it came to plant the next rice crop.

I'm planning on starting a natural orchard and a soil rebuilding effort this spring. I'll try to document it on YouTube. Unfortunately it'll take years to figure out of I'm really on to something or barking up the wrong tree. But I'm optimistic :)
 

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Thank you, @Terri - Great information!

I did try it, several times. The thing is, I live in a different climate than he did.

Yes, my grain would sprout *IF* we got a couple of days of rain after I scattered the seeds. If not, then the grain would fail. And, we had to continue getting rain every 2-3 days or again the grain would fail. And that was when I carefully did what he did.

Seriously, in Kansas the way to get RELIABLE grain crops is to cover it with about an inch or so of soil, which means plowing.

...

I suspect that the spring in Japan is wetter than it is in Kansas, because if it rains a lot for a week I get a stand of grain when I use Fukuoka's methods but if it does not rain every other day I get nothing.

...I suspect that is a better match for our climate, as half the years in Kansas we only get rain once a week, and that was not enough moisture to get a good stand when scattering seed balls.
That makes perfect sense. So you did try seed balls and they didn't work? Interesting. I have heard there is an art to them and have seen MANY different recipes (some use compost, some don't/ some recommend big seed balls, some small / some have a mixture of multiple seeds in them, some are only one seed per pellet and the pellets are quite small... etc). I'm sure rainfall is different between Shikoku and Kansas. I'm in Maine and that will be different still (definitely wetter than Kansas, though).

I'm currently trying to build a "von Bachmayr drum" to make seed balls so I can experiment with different styles and see how that works.

His idea of building soil fertility by mowing weeds and letting them rot did work for me, as did using chicken manure that was thinly scattered. My soil really is very good, partly because I allow clover and such in my lawn and when I mow I either let it lie and break down or I use it in my garden. And when I clean the hen house I scatter the chicken litter. ...
Good to know! I've heard the same from others.

...By the way, I like his habit of allowing volunteer vegetables to do their thing. Unless it is in my way I take care of any volunteer vegetable in my garden, and it is fun to see what it will be. I often use hybrid seeds, so the child is similar to the parent but no identical.
I am very excited to try semi-wild cultivation of veggies in the orchard! Once it's up and running of course. Unfortunately our raised beds are intensively planted so the chances of volunteer plants is small. I think everything we plant is open pollinated so any volunteer will likely be an interesting plant!

Heavy Hauler, Fukuoka liked to put the straw in the field and let it compost in the field. From "Farmers of 2000 years" I get the impression that the old style Oriental farmers used ALL of their organic matter in their fields instead of discarding it, and excepting for night soil so did Fukuoka. He simply allowed the organic matter to rot in the fields instead of in compost piles.
Oops, was hitting replies one at a time in order. :) According to Larry Korn the nightsoil and kitchen scraps went into the kitchen garden and I THINK it was in One Straw that Fukuoka mentioned all the wood ash going in there as well after he tried spreading it on the grain field and was horrified that it killed all the spiders in very short order.
 

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I am very excited to try semi-wild cultivation of veggies in the orchard! Once it's up and running of course. Unfortunately our raised beds are intensively planted so the chances of volunteer plants is small. I think everything we plant is open pollinated so any volunteer will likely be an interesting plant!
I almost forgot to mention...winter sowing is almost like the semi-wild/volunteer concept. I like how I get to control where these plants come up. They have all the same growing conditions as a volunteer plant.
 

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I never read the book, and didn't know much about the One-Straw concept until now. But I see I may have been doing my own abbreviated version of it for years.

I have a habit of mulching with weeds (before they go to seed), and allowing them to rot as mulch in the garden. When it rains, the nutritional goodness from the weeds seep into the soil. I also make "weed tea" to water my houseplants and seedlings by soaking chopped weeds in cool water for a day. The water definitely contains something good, if the color of the liquid and the results on plants are any indication! I also grow nutrient-rich comfrey to use as a tea and as a mulch.

I never need to till, the worms are plentiful and do all the work.
Brilliant! I think you do, too! I just started reading Ruth Stout and I think she was on exactly the same page... but she is a lot more jovial person than Fukuoka, and probably an easier introduction to the concepts. Her carefree, yet determined demeanor is the same attitude I want to have.

Hooray for worms!! I recently learned that earthworm secretions actually cement their tunnels' walls making them perfect (and robust) channels of air and water exchange. No human tilling can even approach that efficiency!
 

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I almost forgot to mention...winter sowing is almost like the semi-wild/volunteer concept. I like how I get to control where these plants come up. They have all the same growing conditions as a volunteer plant.
I'm very intrigued by winter sowing! But where I'm at in Maine we've had heavy snow since early December. There is still a foot of snow on the ground now and we're forecast to get another foot in the next couple three days (I think we're getting off easy compared to the Eastern Seaboard south of us). Last year we got 5 feet of snow in the first two weeks of March over only three storms.

If it wasn't for these "last hurrah" storms I might have more luck winter sowing. But 2018 is looking like 2017 right now... likely to be snow on the ground until the second week in April. So winter sowing is being relegated in the research to-do list :)
 

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Here are a few places to start digging (pun intended) into the world of winter-sowing:

permaculturenews.org/2012/01/10/winter-sowing-%E2%80%93-germinating-the-natural-way/

www.wintersown.org/

There are several Facebook groups. Here is one, called Winter Sowers:

www.facebook.com/groups/wintersown/?ref=nf_target&fref=nf

With your weather, right now might be a good time to start a winter sowing experiment!.
Lovely, thank you! I have deleted my Facebook account as of about a year ago, so no access there. But I'll do reading on the other links and see if there are any fun experiments I can dream up!

Right now I'm just dreaming about no snow and ground thicker than quicksand! :p BRING ON THE SPRING THING!!
 

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Ha. I know what you mean about deleting FB. I have an account with a made-up name that I use for educational purposes, such as Mother Earth News Magazine, Permaculture magazines and groups, homestead-y stuff, and many other interests. No people-y stuff, no drama! I love how I get a nice feed of updates and tidbits that are not usually found elsewhere.


.
 

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Ha. I know what you mean about deleting FB. I have an account with a made-up name that I use for educational purposes, such as Mother Earth News Magazine, Permaculture magazines and groups, homestead-y stuff, and many other interests. No people-y stuff, no drama! I love how I get a nice feed of updates and tidbits that are not usually found elsewhere.
I just remembered I had credentials that an old friend of mine spread around as a collective "fake person" on social media. Hundreds of people could act as this fake person. Zero people actually do. BUT! There is an FB account so I DO have access!

Great minds think alike, yes? So much research, so little time...
 

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Haven't googled but it sounds alot like back to Ed gardening.
It isn't.

In back to eden gardening a heavy mulch is used to supress weeds and in Fukuoka style farming the weeds grow up with the crops and the crops are expected to out-compete them. The threshed straw is scattered on the field to provide nutrients but it is not enough organic matter to keep the weeds from growing, and he does not wish the weeds to be suppressed.

I am winter sowing just a few vegetables on the back deck, and after they start growing I will bring the containers in if we are threatened by a late killing freeze. This takes a bit of attention as the weather guys are not good at warning us about them: they figure that nobody has plants out this early but a few of us do. Once the weather has settled down I will transplant my veggies into the garden.
 

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Haven't googled but it sounds alot like back to Ed gardening.
A little more, @dmm1976 BTE is about no bare ground by applying heavy mulch, and natural farming is about no bare ground because it should be covered in growing plants. Consider the difference visual difference between Paul G's BTE orchard and Fukuoka's:
http://www.onestrawrevolution.net/One_Straw_Revolution/Photos_Galleries/Pages/Fukuoka_Farm.html#41
http://www.onestrawrevolution.net/One_Straw_Revolution/Photos_Galleries/Pages/Fukuoka_Farm.html#42
http://www.onestrawrevolution.net/One_Straw_Revolution/Photos_Galleries/Pages/Fukuoka_Farm.html#43

In the case of the grain field, as @Terri mentioned, weeds are suppressed, but not eliminated. His grain grew through stands of white clover, so between the clover and the grain there was very little foothold (but not zero) for weeds grow. Fukuoka believed weeds were not only not bad, but that they were absolutely necessary. Obviously they need to be suppressed in the production of crops, but never thought of as "pest" and never to be eliminated. If a weed grows in a suppressing environment it's obviously there for a reason. Only nature knows what that weed is doing there, but we humans can at least know it is doing SOMETHING just by the fact that it's there.

There are some big philosophical differences between natural farming and BTE even though some of the techniques are similar. Fukuoka's philosophical pillar was the outright rejection of the human analytical reason, which is the basis of modern civilization. He advocated humanity strive to return to our prehistorical connection with nature, where humans live IN nature and recognized to the core of our beings that we are an outworking of nature. Nature is the source and we are derivatives of it. Therefore everything we do impacts nature, which in turn implies each thing we do impacts everything else that is.

All that means rejecting science, advanced technology, modern agriculture, nationalism, governments, etc as we understand them today. Not a popular message in this day and age! I'm guessing that's why he is not more widely known.

That philosophy led to the techniques of never spraying any chemical of any kind. EVER. Going to lose an entire season's crops? Then it must be lost (and he DID lose entire crops... many times!). He argued that pests and disease are are nature trying to restore balance in the unnatural environments we've created in our agricultural systems. If we would desire to see fewer "pests" and disease we must take action to repair the unnatural conditions we've created. There is no tilling and no chemical spraying in nature. And human agriculture CANNOT match the productivity of nature under any circumstances. Therefore we must emulate everything we see in nature to the closest degree possible.

This means there is no future for large scale agriculture nor the industries (nor the governmental organizations nor the economic engines) that support it. The logical conclusion of his philosophy is subsistence and small-scale farming are the only truly sustainable agricultural practices. Further our survival as a species is dependent on transitioning back to those practices on a global scale.

Again not a popular message! And not one to be taken up by the typical farmer or gardener. Yet the more I dig into his work the more sense it makes. So I'm committed to trying to "intuit" what natural farming can look like on my little plot of land. Hope that helps give you a little bit of a feel for it.
 

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. He advocated humanity strive to return to our prehistorical connection with nature, where humans live IN nature and recognized to the core of our beings that we are an outworking of nature.



. He argued that pests and disease are are nature trying to restore balance in the unnatural environments we've created in our agricultural systems. ..... And human agriculture CANNOT match the productivity of nature under any circumstances.

The logical conclusion of his philosophy is subsistence and small-scale farming are the only truly sustainable agricultural practices.

.
--Return to pre-historic conditions?? Great!-- if you don't mind a 25 yr life expectancy and 9 pregnancies in order to guarantee 2 children live long enough to reproduce.

--Pests are Nature's way to return balance?? No, pests live in a dynamic equilibrium with non-pests. When balance goes out of control, you get pestilence and lose your crop. If Fukuoka lost whole crops along the way, then he was lucky his neighbor's weren't following his advice and could share their successful crops with him to keep him alive another year.

--Can't match Nature's productivity? Then why didn't we stay satisfied with the original ears of corn, only 1 inch long? We greatly improve productivity beyond Nature's ability by fertilizing, putting more nutrients, water & minerals into a plot than Nature was doing.

--No form of agriculture is sustainable unless you replace the nutrients back into the soil that you carried away with your harvest. There is no reason industrial ag can't keep up with that--and does it more easily than "organic" techniques.

For the record, I've been gardening like Fukuoka for 40 yrs (see thread on "No Till.") Just remember that those of us who are "homesteading" and pride ourselves in the level of self-sufficiency we've achieved, for the vast majority of us, we're really more like 9 y/o kids experiencing the Great Adventure of camping out in our tent in our suburban backyard-- if a thunderstorm comes up unexpectedly, we can always run back into the house.
 
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