Friday, January 30, 2009

Masanobu Fukuoka's Natural Farming and Permaculture

SPECIAL ARTICLE:

Here is another special article that I believe deserves a lot of attention – the subject is permaculture.

You might have guessed by now that I have a long and broad background in farming, ranching, crops, gardens, and growing things. This background was augmented tremendously by my near-death experiences and what I learned from them. Because food and gardening become of deep interest to many near-death experiencers and those like them, I consider Masanobu Fukuoka and what he has to say about permaculture to be of upmost importance. This offering has two parts. PMH

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http://www.permaculture.com/

Masanobu Fukuoka's Natural Farming and Permaculture
by Larry Korn

Masanobu Fukuoka is a farmer/philosopher who lives on the Island of Shikoku, in southern Japan. His farming technique requires no machines, no chemicals and very little weeding. He does not plow the soil or use prepared compost and yet the condition of the soil in his orchards and fields improve each year. His method creates no pollution and does not require fossil fuels. His method requires less labor than any other, yet the yields in his orchard and fields compare favorably with the most productive Japanese farms which use all the technical know-how of modern science.

How is this possible? I admit, when I first went to his farm in 1973 I was skeptical - but there was the proof. Beautiful grain crops in the fields, healthy orchard trees growing with a ground cover of vegetables, weeds and white clover. Over the two-year period I lived and worked there his techniques and philosophy gradually became clear to me.

Mollison and Fukuoka took entirely different routes to get to essentially the same place. Permaculture is a design system which aims to maximize the functional connection of its elements. It integrates raising crops and animals with careful water management. Homes and other structures are designed for maximum energy efficiency. Everything is made to work together and evolve over time to blend harmoniously into a complete and sustainable agricultural system.

The key word here is design. Permaculture is a consciously designed system. The designer carefully uses his/her knowledge, skill and sensitivity to make a plan, then implement it. Fukuoka created natural farming from a completely different perspective.

The idea for natural farming came to Fukuoka when he was about twenty-five years old. One morning, as he sat at sunrise on a bluff overlooking Yokohama Bay, a flash of inspiration occurred. He saw that nature was perfect just as it is. Problems arise when people try to improve upon nature and use nature strictly for human benefit. He tried to explain this understanding to others, but when they could not understand, he made a decision to return to his family farm. He decided to create a concrete example of his understanding by applying it to agriculture.

But where to begin? Fukuoka had no model to go by. "How about trying this? How about trying that? That is the usual way of developing agricultural technique. My way was different. How about not doing this? And, how about not doing that, this was the path I followed. Now my rice growing is simply sowing seed and spreading straw, but it has taken me more than thirty years to reach this simplicity."

The basic idea for his rice growing came to him one day when he happened to pass an old field which had been left unused and unplowed for many years. There he saw healthy rice seedlings sprouting through a tangle of grasses and weeds. From that time on he stopped sowing rice seed in the spring and, instead, put the seed out in the fall when it would naturally have fallen to the ground. Instead of plowing to get rid of weeds he learned to control them with a ground cover of white clover and a mulch of barley straw. Once he has tilted the balance slightly in favor of his crops Fukuoka interferes as little as possible with the plant and animal communities in his fields.

This is not to say that Fukuoka did not experiment. For example, he tried more than twenty different ground covers before noticing that white clover was the only one which held back weeds effectively. It also fixes nitrogen so it improves the soil. He tried spreading the straw neatly over the fields but found the rice seeds could not make their way through. In one corner of the field, however, where the straw had scattered every which way, the seedlings emerged. The next year he scattered the straw across the entire field. There were years when his experiments resulted in almost a total crop loss, but in small areas things worked out well. He closely observed what was different in that part of the field and next year the results were better. The point is, he had no preconceived idea of what would work the best. He tried many things and took the direction nature revealed. As far as possible, Fukuoka was trying to take the human intellect out of the decision making process.

His vegetable growing also reflects this idea. He grows vegetables in the spaces between the citrus trees in the orchard. Instead of deciding which vegetables would do well in which locations he mixes all the seeds together and scatters them everywhere. He lets the vegetables find their own location, often in areas he would have least have expected. The vegetables reseed themselves and move around the orchard from year to year. Vegetables grown this way are stronger and gradually revert to the form of their semi-wild ancestors.

I mentioned that Fukuoka's farm is a fine model of permaculture design. In Zone 1, nearest his home in the village, he and his family maintain a vegetable garden in the traditional Japanese style. Kitchen scraps are dug into the rows, crops are rotated, and chickens run freely. This garden is really an extension of the home living area.

Zone 2 is his grain fields. He grows a crop of rice and one of barley every year. Because he returns the straw to the fields and has the ground cover of white clover the soil actually improves each year. The natural balance of insects and healthy soil keep insect and disease infestations to a minimum. Until Bill Mollison read The One-Straw Revolution, he said he had no idea of how to include grain growing in his permaculture designs. All the agricultural models involved plowing the soil - a practice he does not agree with. Now he includes Fukuoka's no-tillage technique in his teaching.

Zone 3 is the orchard. The main tree crop is Mandarin oranges, but he also grows many other fruit trees and native shrubs. The upper story is tall trees, many of which fix nitrogen and so improve the soil deep down. The middle story is the citrus and other fruit trees. The ground is covered with a riotous mixture of weeds, vegetables, herbs and white clover. Chickens run freely. This multi-tiered orchard area came about through a natural evolution rather than conscious design. It still contains many of the basic permacultural design features. It has many different plant species, maximizes surface area, contains solar sunlight traps and maintains a natural balance of insect populations.

Fukuoka invites visitors from Zone 4 anytime. Wild animals and birds come and go freely. The surrounding forest is the source of mushrooms, wild herbs and vegetables. It is also an inspiration. "To get an idea of the perfection and abundance of nature," Fukuoka says, "take a walk into the forest sometime. There, the animals, tall trees and shrubs are living together in harmony. All of this came about without benefit of human ingenuity or intervention."

What is remarkable is that Fukuoka's natural farming and permaculture should resemble each other so closely despite their nearly opposite approaches. Permaculture relies on the human intellect to devise a strategy to live abundantly and sustainably within nature. Fukuoka sees the human intellect as the culprit, serving only to separate people from nature. One mountain top, many paths.

Natural farming and permaculture share a profound debt to each other. The many examples of permaculture throughout the world show that a natural farming system is truly universal. It can be applied to arid climates as well as humid, temperate Japan. Also, the worldwide permaculture movement is an inspiration to Fukuoka. For many years he worked virtually alone. For most of his life Japan was not receptive to his message. He had to self-publish his books because no publisher would take a chance on someone so far from the mainstream. When his experiments resulted in failure, the other villagers ridiculed him. In the mid-1980's he came to a Permaculture Convergence in Olympia, Washington and met Bill Mollison. There were nearly one thousand people there. He was overwhelmed and heartened by the number and sincerity of the like-thinking people he met. He thanked Mollison for creating this network of bright, energetic people working to help save the planet. "Now," he said, "for the first time in my life I have hope for the future."

In turn, permaculture has adopted many things from Fukuoka. Besides the many agricultural techniques, such as continuous no-tillage grain growing and growing vegetables like wild plants, permaculture has also learned an important new approach for devising practical strategies. Most importantly, the philosophy of natural farming has given permaculture a truly spiritual basis lacking in its earlier teachings.

Fukuoka believes that natural farming proceeds from the spiritual health of the individual. He considers the healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit to be one process, and he proposes a way of life and a way of farming in which this process can take place. "Natural farming is not just for growing crops," he says, "it is for the cultivation and perfection of human beings."

Text and images copyright 2003, Larry Korn.
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Larry Korn

Trained and certified by Bill Mollison in 1983, Larry is best known for his years of study with Masanobu Fukuoka, author of the One Straw Revolution. Larry not only translated this landmark book into English but also traveled with Fukuoka on his trips to the U.S. Larry applies his knowledge as a Permaculture designer and landscape contractor, teaching in both the Pacific Northwest and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Larry has a Masters Degree in soil science and teaches us to see the soil as a living, breathing organism. He also teaches about Fukuka's farming methods, which he briefly describes in his informative essay above.

Masanobu Fukuoka is a farmer/philosopher who lives on the Island of Shikoku, in southern Japan. His farming technique requires no machines, no chemicals and very little weeding. He does not plow the soil or use prepared compost and yet the condition of the soil in his orchards and fields improve each year.

His method creates no pollution and does not require fossil fuels. His method requires less labor than any other, yet the yields in his orchard and fields compare favorably with the most productive Japanese farms which use all the technical know-how of modern science.

General Email: info@alcoholcanbeagas.com

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4 Comments:

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Kayse said...

I am establishing a garden in arkansas with 5 foot weeds,and many rocks. What is your suggestion for dealing with all of these weeds? Any help is greatly appreciated.

in gratitude,
kayse

 
At 8:46 AM, Blogger PMH said...

Kayse, look around in your area and find an organic gardener. I know there is one, as they are everywhere. Also, obtain some of the magazines that tell you what to do, like “Rodale.” They have many books on the subject. So does the Perelandra Gardens (their reference is on my website in the Marketplace (www.pmhatwater.com).  I would make a suggestion, though. Because of your land, you may want to build raised beds. Cut down those weeds. If they have a lot of seeds, burn them (if that is permitted in your area). Use the rocks you have to contend with to make your raised beds. Once you have a layout and begin, you will be amazed at the energy that will well up inside you to do the job. There’s nothing like gardening. I’ve done a lot of it in my day, and hope in a year or two to begin once again. Blessings, PMH

 
At 5:22 PM, Blogger media said...

Documentaries, videos, ebooks, texts and news related to permaculture, sustainable design, gardening, ecovillages, nature, indigenous people, animal rights,activism, (alter)globalization, ecology and health.

http://permaculturemedia.blogspot.com/

 
At 10:09 AM, Blogger PMH said...

Thank you. I appreciate you telling us about your website. PMH

 

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