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Marc Troyka
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Welcome Larry! It's been a while since you've been through these parts, and I wasn't around the last time you were here.

I've read through The Natural Way of Farming and One Straw Revolution recently, and I have a few questions about things that weren't quite clear.

1: Fukuoka mentioned that he raised chickens (even after the highway was built, I think), but he didn't say much about the methods he used to raise them. Did he use a coop? If so, where was/is it located? It was more or less my understanding that he used his own chicken poo to fertilize his fields, but you mentioned sometime previously that he imported some from a neighbor, could you clarify that some?

2: Fukuoka makes a claim of being able to build ~1 foot of topsoil in 10 years or so, but mentions only having 4" on the hillside after 20 years or so. I would say given the ultisol (to which I can relate) and the fact that he didn't employ rock dust or biochar, that 4" would be more likely. What's the deepest soil you've seen on his land, and on what part did it occur?

3: Did you ever get to work with tree pruning? Especially apples, he mentions that he did do some pruning to strengthen them and to make them more productive, but he doesn't mention much about how he did prune in those cases.

4: I've seen a lot of people make seedballs who say to add compost, and who make balls that are quite large, like a large meatball or golf ball. Fukuoka's description sounded more like a pea-to-small marble sized ball (depending on seed size) with only clay. Do you have experience with making them different ways?
 
larry korn
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Sorry I missed these questions yeaterday. I think I just answered your questions about chickens in another area. The chickens are allowed to run freely in the orchard but are kept in a coop at night for protection. Having animals around really holds everything together. He also had rabbits from time to time which he mainly kept in a wire house and two goats. Tell me if you couldn't find the more complete answer I just wrote about these things, OK?

I can't really say how much topsoil Fukuoka-san created or how fast. What I do know is that it was rich, black with organic matter, was teeming with earthworms and other creatures and smelled wonderful. He said that the orchard was poorly managed before he took over so there was little vegetation growing below the sickly orchard trees. The topsoil had eroded so he was mainly rehabilitating subsoil. He tried burying organic matter that he brought from the surrounding woodland, but decided that it was entirely too much work.

What he settled on was a combination of soil-building plants. These included deep taproot plants like comphrey, docks, burdock, dandelion, and daikon. Then he added a group of plants with extensive fiberous root systems, mainly members of the radish family and mustard, as well as buckwheat, alfalfa, grains (not as a crop but as a soil-builder), herbs, perennials, berries and shrubs both native and non-native. The leguminous ground cover was white clover, partly because its matted root system helped to control the grassy weeds, and hairy vetch. To fertilize the soil deep down he used nitrogen-fixing trees, mainly acacia.

These plants were growing continuously all year around. In mid-summer he mowed the whole thing with a long-handled scythe and left the trimmings where they lay. It all just grew up again right after that. You can only imagine how good this combination of plants was for the soil. Rather than creating "new" topsoil he was transforming the subsoil, then the biological activity of the plant roots, earthworms and microorganisms must have led to stratification between topsoil and the newly inriched subsoil. No matter how you evaluate it, the soil was fantastic. Plants sprung out of the ground and had a vibrant color and flavor. It really was a magical place.

I don't remember seeing him prune apple trees. In general he felt that pruning was overrated and even unnecessary...IF the young seedlings were allowed to grow to their natural form from the beginning. If a tree diverted from its natural form, either by the hands of people or naturally by wind or snow for example, pruning might be necessary, but only to get its growth back as close as possible to the natural form. He grew a lot of standard-sized fruit trees from seed even though he knew few if any of them would be useful as a crop or even as human food. He just wanted to keep the natural genetic diversity alive. People often asked him why he grew such big trees. He said the are healthier, live longer and are beautiful. When it was pointed out that he couldn't possibly harvest all the fruit, he said that he harvested the fruit he could get to with his ladder then left the rest for birds and other wildlife. "You don't think I'm doing this just for myself do you?" he would respond.

Seedballs! There is a lot about seed balls in Sowing Seeds in the Desert. We called them clay pellets in the book. It is at the center of his plan to revegetate the deserts of the world using natural farming. Included is an appendix which gives the details how to make them and why certain ingredients were used. Notice that this is the deluxe seedball version since the seeds cast into the desert will encounter the harshest of conditions and have to survive being scattered from airplanes. Just covering the seeds with clay, or clay with a little compost will greatly enhance their ability to sprout and thrive. There are a number of Youtube videos showing Fukuoka-san making seedballs. There is a good video on my website www.onestrawrevolution.net which shows people in Greece making and spreading seedballs. Its the video labled natural farming in Greece, or something like that.

He generally kept the size of the seedballs down to about quater inch or a half inch in diameter and ideally one seed would be in each pellet, but hey, it's not rocket science. People generally over think these clay pellets. It's hard for me to imagine how you could mess things up too badly no matter how you made them. I have seen the golf ball sized ones with zillions of seeds inside. Not exactly what Fukuoka-san intended, but even that will probably work out just fine.

I hope these comments answer your questions. If not, let me know...

People
 
David Good
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"You can only imagine how good this combination of plants was for the soil. Rather than creating "new" topsoil he was transforming the subsoil, then the biological activity of the plant roots, earthworms and microorganisms must have led to stratification between topsoil and the newly inriched subsoil. No matter how you evaluate it, the soil was fantastic. Plants sprung out of the ground and had a vibrant color and flavor. It really was a magical place. "

That sounds exactly like what I need in my front yard food forest project. One third of my yard has fertile loam, and the other 2/3 is compacted, sandy and poor in nutrients. I've been really fighting to make the trees happy there. My guess is the house builders stripped the surface to level it - or perhaps the years of grass lawn, mowing and chemical fertilizers just too their toll.

Any idea how Fukuoka-san planted his seeds in the orchard space? I have about a 1/3 acre of rough grass and patchy weeds right now. I don't know if it would make sense to make a million seed balls or if it would be better to soak and throw buckets of seeds and then toss straw over them. I'm leaning towards broadcasting and hoping for the best, then punching in larger seeds like favas.
 
larry korn
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Hello Vidad,

Without visiting your yard it is hard for me to say for sure, but maybe I can offer a few general comments. For soil improvement, especially in large areas, it is best to use plants to do the work of soil building. In general it is good to use a combination of plants that roughly approximates the balance of a good compost pile. What you are really doing is creating a compost system on top and within the earth itself. No need to gather, layer and turn, turn, turn. It all happens by itself. Grasses and lagumes are a classic combination, as well as deep rooted plants like burdock, daikon, and dandelion. Buckwheat is super! It holds back weeds, enriches and cleanses the soil of impurities that may be left over from previous activity. Mustard is another good soil builder that cleans the soil. Comphrey and other perennials and nitrogen fixing shrubs would add to the fun. Fukuoka-san goes into these things in some detail in The Natural Way of Farming. Given your two possibilities I would definitely go with the seed balls. Protecting the seeds with clay or clay mixed with a little compost really helps with germination. Yes, punching in fava beans sounds good, too. Later, when the soil begins to improve you might try vegetables. Again, I suggest you check out The Natural Way of Farming.
 
David Good
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Thanks a bunch, Larry - I'll try and see what happens. I have an e-book of "One Straw Revolution," but I'll also pick up a copy of The Natural Way of Farming.

 
Marc Troyka
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larry korn wrote:Sorry I missed these questions yeaterday. I think I just answered your questions about chickens in another area. The chickens are allowed to run freely in the orchard but are kept in a coop at night for protection. Having animals around really holds everything together. He also had rabbits from time to time which he mainly kept in a wire house and two goats. Tell me if you couldn't find the more complete answer I just wrote about these things, OK?


Ah, I was asked to split up my questions to make them more searchable. I was going to delete this thread, but found I couldn't. At any rate I think I got more than I bargained for.

I often see rabbits come up when anyone mentions growing meat, and I can understand why he would like them. Goats also, in a small space.

larry korn wrote:
I can't really say how much topsoil Fukuoka-san created or how fast. What I do know is that it was rich, black with organic matter, was teeming with earthworms and other creatures and smelled wonderful. He said that the orchard was poorly managed before he took over so there was little vegetation growing below the sickly orchard trees. The topsoil had eroded so he was mainly rehabilitating subsoil. He tried burying organic matter that he brought from the surrounding woodland, but decided that it was entirely too much work.

What he settled on was a combination of soil-building plants. These included deep taproot plants like comphrey, docks, burdock, dandelion, and daikon. Then he added a group of plants with extensive fiberous root systems, mainly members of the radish family and mustard, as well as buckwheat, alfalfa, grains (not as a crop but as a soil-builder), herbs, perennials, berries and shrubs both native and non-native. The leguminous ground cover was white clover, partly because its matted root system helped to control the grassy weeds, and hairy vetch. To fertilize the soil deep down he used nitrogen-fixing trees, mainly acacia.

These plants were growing continuously all year around. In mid-summer he mowed the whole thing with a long-handled scythe and left the trimmings where they lay. It all just grew up again right after that. You can only imagine how good this combination of plants was for the soil. Rather than creating "new" topsoil he was transforming the subsoil, then the biological activity of the plant roots, earthworms and microorganisms must have led to stratification between topsoil and the newly inriched subsoil. No matter how you evaluate it, the soil was fantastic. Plants sprung out of the ground and had a vibrant color and flavor. It really was a magical place.


I found some videos that showed more of his farm and at least a little of his work in action. I can't remember which video, but they showed a picture of his soil at one point and it looked to be about 6" deep. That's pretty impressive for red clay, although about 1/5th of what is possible. I also noticed that his clovers are about a foot tall. If I hadn't known for certain that there were clovers in his orchard, I don't think I would have recognized them as clovers. I think 'magical' might be a little overstated, but still not too far off.

larry korn wrote:
I don't remember seeing him prune apple trees. In general he felt that pruning was overrated and even unnecessary...IF the young seedlings were allowed to grow to their natural form from the beginning. If a tree diverted from its natural form, either by the hands of people or naturally by wind or snow for example, pruning might be necessary, but only to get its growth back as close as possible to the natural form. He grew a lot of standard-sized fruit trees from seed even though he knew few if any of them would be useful as a crop or even as human food. He just wanted to keep the natural genetic diversity alive. People often asked him why he grew such big trees. He said the are healthier, live longer and are beautiful. When it was pointed out that he couldn't possibly harvest all the fruit, he said that he harvested the fruit he could get to with his ladder then left the rest for birds and other wildlife. "You don't think I'm doing this just for myself do you?" he would respond.


I think grafting may have a lot to do with it. We planted a cherry that had sprouted from the roots of a larger tree, and it does not look much at all like Fukuoka's pictures, while I've seen a grafted tree that could have been a model. Our tree is younger but already much taller and more vigorous than that grafted tree. On the other hand, in places where it gets very cold people complain that their unpruned trees break under snow whether planted from seed or from grafted stock. Guess I'll just have to possibly ruin a tree branch to find out what happens.

EDIT: Nevermind on destroying branches. I found this cool instructional on how to prune apple trees for a central leader system. That can be extended to most fruit trees, although the shapes still vary quite a bit.

larry korn wrote:
Seedballs! There is a lot about seed balls in Sowing Seeds in the Desert. We called them clay pellets in the book. It is at the center of his plan to revegetate the deserts of the world using natural farming. Included is an appendix which gives the details how to make them and why certain ingredients were used. Notice that this is the deluxe seedball version since the seeds cast into the desert will encounter the harshest of conditions and have to survive being scattered from airplanes. Just covering the seeds with clay, or clay with a little compost will greatly enhance their ability to sprout and thrive. There are a number of Youtube videos showing Fukuoka-san making seedballs. There is a good video on my website www.onestrawrevolution.net which shows people in Greece making and spreading seedballs. Its the video labled natural farming in Greece, or something like that.

He generally kept the size of the seedballs down to about quater inch or a half inch in diameter and ideally one seed would be in each pellet, but hey, it's not rocket science. People generally over think these clay pellets. It's hard for me to imagine how you could mess things up too badly no matter how you made them. I have seen the golf ball sized ones with zillions of seeds inside. Not exactly what Fukuoka-san intended, but even that will probably work out just fine.


I found that documentary on the project in Greece. Also another one in India. I think I got the gist of what he had in mind for other seedball additives, and it looks like they converted a barren heath into forest in two rather different climates. I've seen the giant seedballs work, sort of, but I don't think I would do it that way. Seedballs are perfect for delivering soil inoculant, however..

larry korn wrote:
I hope these comments answer your questions. If not, let me know...

People


No, I think that more than covers it. Most of my questions answered themselves, and otherwise I'm still just amazed at how well he was able to do in that kind of soil.
 
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