Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One Straw Revolution - natural farming - book review

One Straw Revolution - An Introduction to Natural Farming was published in 1978, a collection of Masanobu Fukuoka's writing translated into English by Larry Korn, who had spent time on Mr Fukuoka's farm.  The most recent edition (2009) also includes an introduction by Frances Moore Lappe, and preface by Wendell Berry.  (Excellent podcast interview with Larry Korn about One Straw Revolution here, in which he explains that natural farming is complimentary to permaculture, but not the same thing)

(photo source)
One Straw Revolution describes Mr Fukuoka's invention and practice of what he calls "Natural Farming", or "do-nothing farming".  The basic concept is to work with nature rather than against it, but not to abandon it completely to the wild.  Natural farming has only four rules:
  1. No cultivation of soil
  2. No chemical fertiliser or prepared compost
  3. No weeding by tillage or herbicide
  4. No dependence on chemicals
If you are starting from either of the alternatives - traditional farming or chemical farming, as Mr Fukuoka calls them - this list can seem daunting, so I'll try to frame it in the positive so explain how Mr Fukuoka farmed his rice fields and his citrus orchard, rather than how he didn't farm them:
  1. Use natural biological and chemical processes to improve soil fertility, aeration and water holding capacity.  Cultivation destroys microbiological, macrobiological (worms) and insect life in the soil as well as exposing the soil to oxidation and causing erosion and compaction, and so gradually destroys fertility.
  2. As above....  feed the microbes using mulch and manure, but compost is too strong.
  3. Cultivation exposes weed seeds, poor fertility also gives the weeds an advantage, so if you do number 1 and 2, you don't have as many weeds.  Use self-seeding cover crops to suppress weeds.
  4. If you return to natural systems and use biological pest control (encourage diversity and predator insects) chemicals are not required.

I do speak from experience here, because at some stage after reading One Straw Revolution the first time, a few years ago (and finding it very confusing), not exactly consciously and possibly because I read about all these things in other books as well, I started using natural farming in my garden.  Do nothing gardening....

I persuaded Pete to park the cultivator, and I very rarely dig more than a small hole to replant a seedling and now my garden soil is full of earthworms.  I never use any chemical fertiliser, but I do use compost, made from the weeds and self-seeding herbs and vegetables in my garden.  I don't use any pest control, not even natural chilli or garlic sprays, I do encourage beneficial insects by planting plenty of flowers.  I also started just letting the vegetables go to seed and come up when and where they naturally will, so then I don't have to worry about when to plant or thinking about succession planting, everything just appears when its ready.  This is a technique that My Fukuoka used in his orchard.

It does get a little bit philosophical for some farmers (photo source)
Natural farming has been more difficult to apply to a larger scale, and we are still thinking about our approach to growing forage for cattle.  Its only been difficult because it requires us to think more creatively, and we will figure it out eventually.  Mr Fukuoka does not discuss management of animals, apart from a small section on cage-egg chickens, however its clear that techniques such as Joel Salatin's Mob Stocking are compatible with natural farming.  I think the other difficulty with One Straw Revolution for farmers is that it strays into philosophy rather than sticking with the practicalities of farming, although it does get into details of growing rice and citrus.  The philosophy is important because not many farmers do just grow rice and citrus, so its the only way to extend the method to other crops and situations, but it can go a little deep if you are just looking for a how-to guide!

Mr Fukuoka writes about thinking "what if I DO NOT do this?".  I think is has been a really useful concept and together with close observation, much can be learnt by not doing conventional farming techniques and testing the consequences.  For example, we left our forage sorghum crop in the ground after summer, to see what would happen, (What if we DO NOT plough our summer crop before winter?) and as our cultivation is above the frost, the sorghum survived and regrew the next year, it was good to know that was possible and maybe we can plan to take advantage of that in future.

my do-nothing garden full of self-seeded parsley, mustard, and asian greens.
If you are interested in natural farming or gardening methods, I recommend that you read One Straw Revolution.  Don't give up if it seems a little strange at first, come back to it later and it might make more sense to you, I have certainly enjoyed it more on the second reading.  It is a big change in thinking and might take a little bit of getting used to.

Have you read One Straw Revolution?  Any thoughts?  Do you practice do-nothing farming? or gardening?

(If you buy One Straw Revolution from my blog site I get a small percentage referral fee as Amazon credit and you don't pay any extra, this helps me buy more books!)



See Youtube video about One Straw Revolution here




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3 comments:

  1. I love videos that deal with Mr. Fukuoka! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for post, it good to look at alternatives and i like the concept of Not doing something rather than constantly searching for a fix.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Read it many years ago and was confused so I get what you're saying! A major mistake of my garden 'design' is to have discrete above-ground garden beds. More difficult to leave plants to self-seed that way. On a slope with plenty of surrounding trees meant my gardens are now wicking beds. Great for water conservation but less natural for 'do nothing' gardening although a great improvement on any kind of digging.
    Enjoyed the review - good to have another perspective on Fukuoka-san.

    ReplyDelete

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