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Doubt. Fertility on Fukuoka  RSS feed

 
Fabio Klein
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There is a question i´ve been wondering from long. About Fukuoka´s method (no till, crop residues, green manure). The soil becomes richer naturally. Is it true? But how? For example if, a corn plant needs 2 grams of X to grow and the harvest of the ear would take 1 gram of X out of the soil, than how could it become richer in X? Taking apart N and the legumes, what about other nutrients? The straw of the corn would only give back 1 gram of X. Even green manure would suck all nutrients it gives back to the soil (except N). Where does the surplus come from? Would it be from the minerals (rocks)?
 
R Scott
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Yes. Elaine Ingham and her food web explains it. All dirt has enough of every element to grow plants, they just need the microorganisms to do the work to get it to them.
 
Zach Muller
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Fabio Klein wrote:There is a question i´ve been wondering from long. About Fukuoka´s method (no till, crop residues, green manure). The soil becomes richer naturally. Is it true? But how? For example if, a corn plant needs 2 grams of X to grow and the harvest of the ear would take 1 gram of X out of the soil, than how could it become richer in X? Taking apart N and the legumes, what about other nutrients? The straw of the corn would only give back 1 gram of X. Even green manure would suck all nutrients it gives back to the soil (except N). Where does the surplus come from? Would it be from the minerals (rocks)?


I think in the most basic terms it worked because life begets life. Modern farming breaks things down into grams of fertilizer to be used for x amount of plants, but those equations are only applicable when discussing dead agricultural soils. When you have living soil there are exchanges that go beyond simple restocking of nutrients, it is an entire micro food chain/ecosystem.


It is a common story that fukuoka noticed spiders that would populate his fields and he took them as indicators. Spiders don't just hang out where they cant eat. Don't forget also that he used chicken manure which is Known for its nutrient content.
 
Troy Rhodes
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One of the really detrimental aspects of "modern" farming techniques (aka industrial farming) is that it steadily strips organic matter out of the soil. When you use no-till and other organic/permaculture techniques like chop and drop, plant residues are returned to the soil--a lot. Let's oversimplify that a bit just to look at some rough numbers. Let's assume the organic matter is mostly carbon. (in real life, carbon makes up roughly half of the plant matter. Carbohydrates are the main building blocks of plants, carbon/hydrogen/oxygen. None of these constituents are soil limited in a permaculture system).

The plants use CO2 out of the air to make their carbohydrate cellular structure. The seed of corn was ~0.5 grams carbon. The seeds of corn removed was 150 grams carbon. But the corn stalk and roots was 2,000 grams carbon, so not a net loss at all, but a big gain. By mass, half of the plants structure is made out of CO2, literally thin air...

And of course, if you live on the land, and your recycle your humanure, then ~nothing is lost and it's a huge gain year after year.

As noted by others, the mineral loss is rarely the problem, it's the destruction of soil ecology and microbiology through the use of NPK/herbicides/fungicides/insecticides/tillage/etc/etc that causes the loss of fertility because the plants lose access to the macro and micronutrients.



 
Fabio Klein
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Hmm... Nice answers, thank you.
 
raven ranson
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GREAT QUESTION!

In his books, fukuoka adds the straw back to the soil AND some raw poultry manure. I always imagined that the manure makes up for the loss of the grain from the straw.

There have been some suggestions that Fukuoka's fields leveled out or even fell in fertility towards the end of his life. I wonder if this corresponds to the building of the highway in his area? Before the highway, he pastured his ducklings on the field, and he says something like "they grew up with the seedlings" - which I take to mean he left the ducks in the pasture a month or more. After the highway, he simply spread raw chicken manure on the field at the same time as the straw... maybe this resulted in less manure? I don't know. It's just a thought that's been rolling around in my head.
 
R Scott
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There is a HUGE difference between spreading manure from the barn and let the animals onto the land. It is full of enzymes and nutrients that start to decay the moment it hits the ground, waiting around to be scooped and spread kills much of that goodness.
 
Mary Saunders
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Fukuoka grew different crops, not just grains. If I recall correctly, he sold citrus to make some money, and he rotated crops. Just leaving roots in, over time, adds moisture-holding capacity and food for soil life.
 
raven ranson
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Did he rotate the citrus with grain?

My understanding from his writings is that his grain paddies were separate from his citrus area. He writes about intercropping citrus and vegetables on the hillside, rebuilding the soil by growing and chopping down fast growing trees (this is where in One Straw, I remember him writing about the root system rotting and adding to the soil fertility). But it seems that this was separate from his rice/barley growing which was on old, flat 1/4 acre paddies.

In his writings, these two food growing methods, grain and citrus, seemed very separate to me.

Perhaps I misunderstood?
 
Adam Klaus
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R Ranson wrote:
In his writings, these two food growing methods, grain and citrus, seemed very separate to me.

Perhaps I misunderstood?


That is my understanding as well.
 
Mary Saunders
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He grew vegetables with fruit trees, and you can see from the pictures in A Natural Way of Farming what it looked like--quite wild. It is my understanding that vegetative waste did not leave his farm and was always used to feed the soil. He had clover in rotation in his grain fields. He was successful enough in feeding the soil and in increasing its ability to sequester water that he did not flood his rice fields and did not add water beyond what it held from rain. Even doing this, he got remarkable rice yields and shared seeds that were helpful in China. I recently watched a presentation by a farmer in South Dakota who is able to get remarkable yields with dryland farming using similar methods to obtain more life forms in soil. I wish I remembered more details from that presentation. Perhaps someone here knows of it.
 
raven ranson
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I see where my misunderstanding was. I thought the original post was only about the grain raising aspect of Fukuoka's method. The grain and the fruit forest, although they both adhere to the same four principles, the methods are so different, it's often easier to talk about them separately.

In One Straw (and the desert book), he says he grows clover together at the same time as the crops (both orchard and grain). If memory serves (from One Straw) he sews the winter grain in Sep-oct time, the clover Oct-Nov, and the spring grain in April-ish. So really a two crop rotation with the clover growing year 'round. I think that's what you meant, but I wanted to clarify it for those who aren't familiar with Fukuoka's writings. In One Straw, he does mention deliberately 'holding' the water in the rice field for one or two weeks to weaken the weeds, allowing the rice to get a head start, then opening up the drainage. But like you said, this follows the natural pattern of the rain.

I agree, his yields are remarkable, and what he did for soil fertility - amazing. I'm so grateful he took the time to write about his philosophy and methods. I would love to get my hands on some of his seed - especially rice and barley, as they are far shorter season than we grow here, almost two months shorter.

In One Straw, he talks about selling his rice, fruit and veg in Tokyo and other parts of Japan. Add that to the seeds he sent abroad, then one starts to realize just how much organic matter left his farm over the years. So how was it his fertility didn't decrease? How was it his soil continued to build? There is something at work there that is well beyond the sum total of organic matter placed on/in the soil.

I would love to see that presentation if anyone knows the link to it. As we have no rain here for 6 months of the year, I've been applying Fukuoka's philosophy to our land, in hopes of using some of the wasted space (aka, lawn) for food production. It's very difficult to translate his philosophy into methods that suit our situation. The biggest challenge is finding seeds that are up to the task. All the seeds available in large enough quantities are acclimatized to high input agribusiness style growing. The more I work with this method, especially with the grains, the more I realize how much his success depended on the variety and seed quality. It's probably going to take me 3 or 4 more years before I can create a landrace that is willing to work with this method. But I digress.


 
Mary Saunders
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Plants can pull both nitrogen and carbon out of the air and sequester these underground. The video I just watched from South Dakota made this point. Beyond that, there is a goose farmer in Portugal who sets a feast for geese and entices them out of the air. By doing this, he is keeping the gene pool of his own geese constantly refreshed, and birds will bring in phosphorus and calcium for you, although you will have trouble if you entice too many starlings and not enough hawks for a while. The farmer in Portugal does not force-feed his geese and still he won a foie-gras contest in France (which irritated the French). There is a TED talk on this by Chef Dan Barber. It is fascinating. You would think you would lose soil quality from exporting, but if you have the mix right, you do not, necessarily, from what I have gathered as a perm-obsessive over many years. While complaints about wildlife sometimes abound in permie circles ("I was a vegetarian until I moved to the country to grow vegetables." Larry Santoyo), there are examples of wildlife adding to the mix in constructive ways and with an entertainment in place value (e.g., fox babies jumping on trampolines). I have digressed. Fukuoka's rice varieties made it all over the planet I believe. It is likely you can buy rice here in the U.S. that has been dryland grown. You may even be able to grow rice from the organic bulk bin at a coop. I have done that with lentils, on accident, but it came out well.
 
raven ranson
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Lentils grow well here, mostly because they do most of their growing in the last month of the rainy season and are well established before the drought. Same with chickpeas. But neither grows tall enough to compete with the weeds when grown Fukuoka's grain style.

I keep trying though. Perhaps with time the weeds will diminish (I have doubts) and the lentils/chickpeas will grow taller (with the help of natural and my selection). But again, it seems to be a case of finding the right plant variety for the situation, or failing that, creating one's own.


What do I look for when buying grocery store rice for growing? I know we grow a winter rice near us, but that's mostly in the lowlands where it naturally floods all winter. I wonder if a dry land rice could actually handle zero rain. The rain stops here about a week or two before the soil warms up.
 
Fabio Klein
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It´s so easy and beautiful to add lot´s of straw or demi rotten logs on little garden beds, but when you gather some ten chicken poo (which need a great extent of land to grow corn and soy) to scatter over the land you can´t feel that your soil is beneffiting from this. And there is always a loss in this carrying process. I´ve been working as a farmer for a couple of years now and i´m trying toi apply Fukuoka´s grain method. Talking to my uncles who farmed in the same land for a lifetime about the fertility of the soil (which is naturally very rich) he said that it wouldn´t loose it´s power to grow an year after year succession of monocultures. He said it was due to the winter growing of some weeds (a sort of wild oat and radish that is endemic to this kind of soil as he says). The only loss was caused by rain erosion, sine it´s a mountain field. I´ve just recently acquired some white clover seeds (which is not very common here in Brazil). Let´s try. I wonder if i could let the chickens run over the clover covered field without making too much harm, what is not possible today owing to their powers of throwing the sod downhill constantly. It´s quite easy here to find heirloom seeds since farming here is still made in little family lands.
 
Mary Saunders
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I found this among the listings in a search for dryland rice. I found it amusing, especially the part about having to consult two recent immigrants about how to de-hull his rice once he grew it.

http://www.sherckseeds.com/pages/2013/good-yields-for-rice-here-in-northern-indiana/

I also found it interesting that one source was from Russia, and the other from Belize.
 
Derrick Gunther
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Mary, in reference to the South Dakota farmer who has greatly increased his fertility through no till methods, I would guess that you're referencing Gabe Brown.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yPjoh9YJMk
One of my favorite youtube videos of all time.
 
Mary Saunders
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Yes, Derrick! This is it! I watched it late at night, all the way through, which I seldom do, and then neglected to note where I found it. Thank you so much for posting the link. I recommend this video highly. If it were music, it would kind of be Variations on a Theme, with homage to Fukuoka. It is so great when we get the nitty-gritty on changing things up in response to changes in observation and experience.
 
Nandakumar Palaparambil
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Hi,

They sell Fukuoka's happy hill rice at this web site..they were not able to send it to India so not sure about other parts of the world.

http://noguchiseed.com/hanbai/tane/shosai/1471.html

I tried happy hill rice some time back, but it didn't do that well..may be it has to be adapted to local environment...


Regards,
Nandan
 
Ben Zumeta
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If I repeat an answer my apologies, but...

Health ecology creates fertility over time. Plants capture energy and build cells with C, N, O, H etc, and if a unharvested all the original matter from the soil returns plus C an N from the air, unlocking more P, K, Ca etc from the soil, allowing more C and N to be harvest by plants. The animals in the system (which agriculture normally kills) capture some of this C and N (making proteins) and store or improve it (make it more efficiently usable by plants) and redeposit this as manure or as a corpse that becomes something else's manure. So basically, the more diverse plants, animals, fungus, bacteria, etc you have , the more efficiently and voluminously the suns energy, N and H20 from the atmosphere, and nutrients from the soil are absorbed and reinvested to absorb yet more in the future. As long as we don't come along and fuck it up. The greatest example of this phenomena is the old-growth rainforests of the Pacific NW which grow faster every year they grow.
 
Ben Zumeta
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One thing that is often overlooked though is you NEED animals. If not domesticated, you need to work with the wild ones that will com to fill the niche nature and you have created for them. Plants allowed animals to exist and evolve, and those that benefited from their coexistence with animals and vice versa were most successful over time because of the stability this balance afforded them. This could be applied to human cultures that last and thrive as well.
 
Ben Zumeta
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Life is a complex adaptive system that as a whole acts to capture, guide, spread, and stabilize energy flows and in doing so, almost contrary to intuition, it makes the universal and constant process of entropy more efficient. Life's multiplication and diversification is analogous to a watershed under natural succession (which permaculture attempts to facilitate), wherein a river will form at the lowest point of least resistance going down as quickly as possible, yet over time the river's course will inevitably get more windy, serpentine and slow as plants grow towards its nutrients and water and develop soil to slow its path and floods, and grow towards the sun gap above any water. All the while, geologic processes send earth diving into the river's path through erosion wherever plants don't grow enough. This is much like how energy from the sun, like the water falling through a valley, is absorbed most efficiently when it tumbles through many forms of life, even getting embedded in the kinetic energy held by geologic processes like highland soil development due to salmon migrations and subsequent forest establishment from their imported nutrients.  I guess we (humans in "civilization") have to fit into it all somehow, yet if we seem to bring largely bring chaos with our attempts to impose order. Maybe our narcissistic intellect in combination with thumbs is an expression of a fatal self-destructive flaw in the system of life. Either way, I think Fukuoka was right about the meaningless of everything and ridiculousness of our pride arrogance as specks on a speck in ocean of stars.
 
dan Faling
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Fabio Klein wrote:There is a question i´ve been wondering from long. About Fukuoka´s method (no till, crop residues, green manure). The soil becomes richer naturally. Is it true? But how? For example if, a corn plant needs 2 grams of X to grow and the harvest of the ear would take 1 gram of X out of the soil, than how could it become richer in X? Taking apart N and the legumes, what about other nutrients? The straw of the corn would only give back 1 gram of X. Even green manure would suck all nutrients it gives back to the soil (except N). Where does the surplus come from? Would it be from the minerals (rocks)?


from what I understand, only 5 percent of a plants matter comes from the soil, the other 95 percent comes from the atmosphere, so when you return that plant to the soil, 95 percent increase in available nutrients.
 
Trevor Stewart
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All soil needs to become richer is growing roots, carbon and water

Photosynthesis obviously originates the carbon, regardless of where you sourced it so the naturalness of this process requires humans as an agent of conditioning in the garden plot.

Carbon is food for microirganisms. Carbon is converted into biomass and antibiotics, growth regulators and compounds that aerate the soil. The microbiological activity attracts larger soil organisms like worms, nematodes, arthropods, all kinds of soil bugs that eat the micro organisms, or thrive off their waisted, and in turn things like digested bacteria, and mycelium are left throughout the soil as excrement that is rich in nutrients.

When roots are active the whole process is kicked into high gear because soil microorganisms that thrive in aerobic conditions with lots of carbon live for roots. The natural synergy seems to improve plant growth and health probably because the health of the plant results in more and more carbon.

When things like worms come in, and if you use leaves from large trees and in particular carbon from natural settings then other micro organisms are brought in from the intestines of the soil organisms.

There are bacteria present in any healthy forest that fix airborne N, but not as nodules in legumous plants. They fix N but use it to boost their colony population meaning they use it to make more if themselves. When they die by whatever course they add N to the soil which is how a forest never needs fertilizing.
 
Trevor Stewart
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I felt like adding to what I mentioned earlier/above that when you follow the example seen everywhere in nature such as Master Fukuoka you Are not starving anything of nutrients, in fact you allow the ground to develop into what the earth is; a massive and sprawling neurological network with a vorascious appetite for Ca, CaP,P,K, and of course N.

A fertile soil is not one that has been jam packed With nutrients that are then just waiting for a hungry plant to devour. A fertile soil is not one where fertilizers, organic or not, have been force fed into the mouth of mother nature with tractors, or shovels.

Forced araration does not promote fertility. The direct result of forced aeration is several hundred pounds of cell death per acre of soil tilled, that is rapidly decomposed in the sudden presence of oxygen shortly before the soil becomes compact and only hospitable to thorns, thistles, and invasive species.

During this cause effect continuum, there is a window of time where in with enough fertilizers and double the water needed you can grow big showy plants that are prone to mold, pests and disease that require more force and inputs to combat.

Big showy plants are not eaqual to a fertile soil in all cases.

Natural soil is basicly nutrientless, and what nutrients are there are mostly in the top 3-4 inches and in the decomposing organic matter on the surface.

What we think of as plant nutrients are in a fertile soil but either as the cellular mass (the bio community of micro organisms and bugs), and locked up in rocks or old organic matter.

It is in A soil like this that a pathogen free environment develops and is maintained.

1% of microorganisms are pathogens. These pathogens are not secondary decomposers like the benificials that thrive in a nutrientless medium. Pathogens are generally primary decomposers that decompose green and nitrogen Rich materiels such as the ones you might be tilling and burrying in your soil. Buried  N is unnatural and fosters the development of parasites in the root zone. When the N in the soil is depleted the parasites naturally go up and attack the crops.

In a nutrientless soil benofical organisms produce compounds that facilitate the growth of other benificials, and produce antibiotics that  make it impossible for parasites to take hold.

When a beneficial community has formed there will always be enough nutrients to grow your crops. In this type of soil mycorizal associations can form large mycelial matt's of a variety of benificials can form, and all these mycelial networks for communication lines , and information networks by way of an electro-chemical language.

None of this can happen if you till the earth or bury fertilizers. None of it.

Plants have different nutrient needs at different stages of there growth. When they are placed in a setting such as a soil "rich" in nutes they quickly become chemically dependent.

In a natural nutrientless medium they will secrete enzymes from their growing roots. What enzymes they secrete are dependent on what nutrients they need and are trying to breakdown in the soil. Its by way of these enzymes that the fungi is able to understand the needs of the plants and able to deligate the soil nutrients with precision.

Human beings, like fungi are also intelligent and able to join the natural info loop by checking signs on the plant that indicate the stage of growth and the required nutrients for that stage.

So when you read the signs on your crops you apply the appropriate nutrient at that time by either using a liquid fertilizer, topdressing organic nutrients such as bloodmeal during the vegitative stage, or bone, and ash during flowering, calcium during the earliest and late stages.

This way there is no surplus build up, the plant and soil use it all up and the soil remains in a healthy state.

By remaining in a healthy state this means to get better and better and better over time.
 
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