Do Nothing Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka Method

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fukuokaIn reviewing the archives of the Fukuoka_Farming mailing list, it became obvious that trying to grow vegetables using Fukuoka's method is the most frequently discussed topic. It also became obvious that most of us, including myself, were woefully ignorant of all that Fukuoka had to say on the subject. This is due primarily to the unavailability of his "how-to" book, "The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy".

The book has been out of print for years, can only be found occasionally in public libraries, and on those rare moments when someone offers to sell a used copy it usually commands an exorbitantly high price.

That seems to be slowly changing now as English translation reprints become available at reasonable prices from a publisher in India (see the links section on this website for sources that offer them for sale). But in the meantime many long-time list participants are actively trying to apply his method to their vegetable gardens using only the bits and pieces of information available while new list participants frequently ask "how do I get started". To help fill that that information void, the following excepts from "The Natural Way of Farming" are offered. They are, in no way, an exhaustive treatment of the subject. For that you really need to "read the book".

Fukuoka on Vegetable Gardening

"By sowing a mixture of many field crops, allowing them to grow naturally, and observing which thrive and which do not, one finds that, when grown in the hands of nature, crops superior to what would normally be imagined can be obtained.

"For instance, when the seeds of different grains and vegetables are mixed together and scattered over growing weeds and clover, some vanish and some survive. A few even flourish. These crops flower and set seed; the seed drops to the ground and is buried in the soil where the seed casing decomposes and the seed germinates. The seedling grows, competing with or being assisted by other plants. This process of growth is an amazing natural drama that appears at first disordered, but is eminently rational and orderly."

"Although this method of mixed, semi-wild cultivation may appear reckless at first, it more than suffices for the small family garden or for vegetable gardening on barren land by those who seek to live self-sufficiently.

"What I mean by the 'semi-wild' cultivation of vegetables is a method of simply scattering vegetable seed in a field, orchard, on earthen levees, or on any open, unused land. For most vegetables, mixed sowing with ladino clover gradually gives a vegetable garden with a cover of clover. The idea is to pick a good time during the sowing season and either scatter or drill a seed mixture of clover and many vegetables among the weeds. This will yield surprisingly large vegetables."

"Semi-wild vegetables have a pungent aroma and good body. Because they have been produced in a healthy soil containing all the necessary micronutrients, they are without question the most healthy and nutritious food man can eat."

"Vegetables grown for home consumption are most likely to be raised for a five- or six-member family on a small plot of perhaps 100 square yards next to the house, or in a larger field. When grown in a small garden plot, all that is involved is growing the right crop at the right time in rich soil built up by the addition of manure and other organic matter."

"However, for permanent cultivation on large acreages, this type of natural cultivation must be carried a step further. Systematic rotation schemes must be set up and cultivation planned and carried out in accordance with these."

Fukuoka discusses rotation schemes, with diagrams, in great detail. Too great to reproduce here, and providing excepts from it would probably be more confusing and misleading than helpful.
The Four Principles Applied to Vegetable Gardening

"No tilling: This consists typically of ridging the field at intervals of 3 to 6 feet or digging drainage channels every 13 to 16 feet the first year, then either not plowing the next year or, at most, shallow plowing followed by seeding and rotary tillage."

"No fertilizer: Leguminous green manure is grown as a basic crop each year and a mixture of coated crop seeds sown. If direct sowing is not possible, seedlings are transplanted. In addition, the land is enriched without plowing or tilling by planting root crops throughout."

"No weeding: The second crop is either seeded over the maturing first crop or transplanted prior to harvest so as to minimize the period during which the field is left fallow. The straw and leaves from the crops just harvested are used as a mulch to retard weed emergence while the second crop in the rotation is still very young."

"No pesticides: Of course, one can also make use of plants that prevent or inhibit the emergence of diseases and insect pests, but true non-control can be achieved when all types of insects and microorganisms are present."

On Sowing

"The best time to sow vegetables in the autumn is when weeds such as crabgrass, green foxtail, wheatgrass, and cogon have matured and started to fade, but before the winter weeds have begun to germinate. Spring-sown vegetables should be seeded in late March and April after the winter weeds have passed their prime but before the germination of summer weeds."

"Sowing a good quantity of fall vegetables such as daikon, turnip, and other crucifers will hold back the emergence of winter and spring weeds. When left in the orchard until the following spring, however, these flower and age, becoming something of a nuisance in gardening work. If a few of these vegetables are left to grow here and there, they will flower and drop seed. Come June or July, the seeds will germinate, giving many first-generation hybrids close by the original plants. These hybrids are semi-wild vegetables that, in addition to having a taste and appearance quite different from that of the original vegetable, generally grow to absurdly large proportions: great big daikon, turnips too large for children to pull up, giant Chinese cabbages, crosses between black mustard and Indian mustard, … a garden of surprises. As food, they are likely to overwhelm and many people may be hesitant about sampling, but depending on how they are prepared, these vegetables can make for very flavorful and interesting eating."

"Leguminous vegetables should be included in the seeds sown among the weeds in spring to early summer. Of these, vegetables such as asparagus bean, cowpea, and mung bean are especially good choices because they are inexpensive and high-yielding. Birds will feed on the seeds for garden peas, soybeans, adzuki beans, and kidney beans, so these must be encouraged to germinate very quickly. The best way to get around this is to sow the seed in clay pellets." [Editor's emphasis. The creation and use of the clay pellets, usually called "seedballs", will be discussed in another document.]

About Specific Vegetables

"Once planted, hardy vegetables such as garlic, scallion, leek, honewort, dropwort, and shepherd's-purse take hold and continue producing year after year."

"Weak vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants tend to become overwhelmed at first by weeds. The safest way to grow these is to raise young plants from seed and transplant them into a cover of clover and weeds. Rather than training tomatoes and eggplants into single-stem plants, after transplantation they should be left alone and allowed to grow as bushes. If, instead of supporting the plant upright with a pole, the stem is allowed to creep along the ground, this will drop roots along its entire length from which many new stems will emerge and bear fruit."

"As for potatoes, once these are planted in the orchard, they will grow each year from the same spot, crawling vigorously along the ground to lengths of five feet or more and never giving in to weeds. If just small potatoes are dug up for food and some tubers always left behind, there will never be any want of seed potatoes."

"Cucumber should be of varieties that trail well along the ground. The same is true for melons, squash, and watermelons. These latter have to be protected from weeds at the seedling stage, but once they get a little larger, they are strong crops. If there is nothing around for them to climb, scattering bamboo stalks with the tops remaining or even firewood will give the vines something to grasp onto and climb; this benefits both plant growth and fruit production."

"Yam and sweet potato grow well at the foot of the orchard shelterbelt. These are especially enjoyable because the vines climb the trees and produce fairly large tubers."

"With vegetables such as spinach, carrot, and burdock, seed germination is often a problem. A simple and effective solution is to coat the seeds with a mixture of clay and wood ashes or to sow them enclosed in clay pellets." [Editor's emphasis]

"Things to Watch Out for: One must be prepared for the possibility of failure if the goal is large yields per unit area. Growing one type of vegetable in a field is unnatural and invites disease and pest attack. When vegetables are companion-planted and made to grow together with weeds, damage becomes minimal and there is no need to spray pesticides."

"Even where growth is poor, this can generally be improved by seeding clover together with the vegetables, and applying chicken droppings, manure, and well-rotted human waste."

On Diseases, Pests, and Pesticides

"… I am convinced that by reviving the pest control measures of the not-so-distant past and practicing semi-wild cultivation, people can easily grow more than enough vegetables for their own consumption."

"Because hardy varieties are used, the right crop is grown at the right time in healthy soil, and plants of the same type are not grown together. Companion-planting vegetables of many different types in place of weeds in an orchard or on idle land is an eminently reasonable method of cultivation.

"As an additional precaution, I would also recommend that pyrethrum and derris root be planted at the edge of the garden. Pyrethrum flowers and derris root must be dried and stored as powders. Pyrethrum is effective against aphids and caterpillars, while derris root works well against cabbage sawflies and leaf beetles. However, these may be used against all insect pests, including melon flies, by dissolving the agent in water and sprinkling the solution onto the vegetable plants with a watering can. Both agents are harmless to man and garden vegetables."

"…although from ten to twenty types of pests and diseases generally attack any one kind of vegetable, the only ones that are really major pests are cutworms, borers, leaf beetles, certain types of ladybugs, seed-corm maggots, and aphids."

"Farmers a while back never used pesticides on vegetables in their kitchen gardens. All they did was to catch insects in the morning and evening on some gummy earth at the end of a piece of split bamboo. This worked well for caterpillars feeding on cabbage and other leaf vegetables, melon flies on watermelon and cucumbers, and ladybugs on the eggplant and potatoes. Disease and pest damage to vegetables can usually be prevented by being familiar with the nature and features of such damage rather than attempts at control, and most problems can be taken care of by practicing a method of natural farming that gives some thought as to what a healthy vegetable is."

"Try raising vegetables as the undergrowth in an orchard and let native fowl loose in the orchard. The birds will feed on the insects and their droppings will nourish the fruit trees. This is one perfect example of natural farming at work."

Fukuoka writes that the following vegetables have a strong resistance to disease and pest damage:

Chinese and Japanese yam, taro, spinach, chard, Chinese cabbage, carrot, honewort, celery, parsley, burdock, butterbur, lettuce, garland chrysanthemum, perilla, Japanese mint, udo, ginseng, Japanese angelica tree, ginger, Japanese ginger, sweet potato, Chinese leek, garlic, scallion, Nanking shallot, Welsh onion, onion, dogtooth violet, asparagus, lily, and tulip.

The following have only moderate resistance

Garden pea, broad bean, adzuki bean, soybean, peanut, kidney bean, asparagus bean, Egyptian kidney bean, sword bean, Chinese cabbage, cabbage, daikon, turnip, Indian mustard, rapeseed, leaf mustard, potherb mustard, sea-kale, and black mustard.

The following have low resistance

Watermelon, cucumber, Oriental melon, pickling melon, squash, white gourd, chayote, bottle gourd, tomato, eggplant, potato, red pepper, and tobacco.

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