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Growing a Wild Garden

The following is adapted and extracted from the book – The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka (1978).

Upon investigatiion, my garden seemed to have just as many insects as in the surrounding fields, which had been sprayed countless times with a variety of deadly chemicals. But the populations of harmful insects were a lot less in my garden, and beneficial (predatory) insects were present in far higher numbers. I realized that my garden was being maintained in this state by means of a natural balance established among the various insect communities. If my methods were generally adopted, the problem of crop devastation by leafhoppers could be solved.

Four Principles:

The first is No Cultivation:

That is, no ploughing or turning of the soil. For centuries, farmers and gardeners have assumed that the plough is essential for growing crops. However, non-cultivation is fundamental to natural gardening and farming. The earth cultivates itself naturally by means of the penetration of plant roots and the activity of micro-organisms, small animals, and earthworms.

The second is No Chemical fertilizers:

If you give back to the earth what comes from your kitchen waste, animal waste and even your own waste products, there is no necessity for chemical fertilizers. People interfere with nature and, try as they may, they cannot heal the resulting wounds. Their careless farming practices drain the soil of essential nutrients and the result is yearly depletion of the land. If left to itself, the soil maintains its fertility naturally, in accordance with the orderly cycle of plant and animal life.

The third is No Weeding:

Weeds play their part in building soil fertility and in balancing the biological community. As a fundamental principle, weeds should be controlled, through being cut down and left where they fall, and not removed. Straw mulch, and ground cover inter-planted dense growing crops provide effective weed control.

The fourth is No Usage of Chemicals:

From the time that weak plants developed because of such unnatural practices as ploughing and fertilizing, disease and insect imbalance became a great problem in agriculture. Nature, left alone, is in perfect balance. Harmful insects and plant diseases are always present, but do not occur in nature to an extent which requires the use of poisonous chemicals. The sensible approach to disease and insect control is to grow sturdy crops in a healthy environment.

Also correct watering practices eliminate many problems as the immune system of the plants are lowered if they get shallow watering. The roots are prone to turning upwards which cause the plant to struggle and diseases get the upper hand.

Nature Does Not Change:

An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the real thing.

To the extent that people separate themselves from nature, they spin out further and further from the centre. At the same time, a centripetal effect asserts itself and the desire to return to nature arises. But if people merely become caught up in reacting, moving to the left or to the right, depending on conditions, the result is only more activity. The non-moving point of origin, which lies outside the realm of relativity, is passed over, unnoticed. I believe that even "returning-to-nature" and antipollution activities, no matter how commendable, are not moving toward a genuine solution if they are carried out solely in reaction to the over development of the present age. Nature does not change, although the way of viewing nature invariably changes from age to age. — The One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka.

Growing Vegetables Like Wild Plants:

You can grow vegetables any place there is a varied and vigorous growth of weeds. It is important to become familiar with the yearly cycle and growing pattern of the weeds and grasses. By looking at the variety and the size of the weeds in a certain area, you can tell what kind of soil there is and whether or not a deficiency exists.

One can either use a backyard garden to supply kitchen vegetables for the household or else grow vegetables on open, unused land. If you are lucky to live on a farm or small holding then naturally you would have the place and space to grow your own vegetables.

The main aim of semi-wild vegetable growing is to grow crops as naturally as possible on land that would otherwise be left unused. If various kinds of herbs and vegetables are mixed together and grown among the natural vegetation, damage by insects and diseases will be minimal and there will be no need to use sprays or to pick bugs off by hand.

In growing vegetables in a "semi-wild" way, making use of a vacant plot, riverbank or open wasteland, the idea is to just toss out the seeds and let the vegetables grow up with the weeds.

The important thing is knowing the right time to plant.

For the spring vegetables the right time is when the winter weeds are dying back and just before the summer weeds have sprouted.

For the autumn sowing, seeds should be tossed out when the summer grasses are fading away and the winter weeds have not yet appeared. It is best to wait for a rain — one that is likely to last for several days. Cut a swath in the weed cover and put out the vegetable seeds. There is no need to cover them with soil; just lay the weeds you have cut back over the seeds to act as a mulch and to hide them from the birds and chickens until they can germinate.

Often the weeds must be cut back two or three times in order to give the vegetable seedlings a head start, but sometimes just once is enough.

Where the weeds are not so thick, you can simply toss out the seeds. The chickens will eat some of them, but many will germinate.

Organized planting:

If you plant in a row or furrow, there is a chance that beetles or other insects will devour many of the seeds. They walk in a straight line. Each type of plant has specific insects that like them and when planted in neat rows the insects have no trouble just moving down the line and eat to their heart’s content. Also chickens will spot a patch that has been cleared and come to scratch around. When there has been no tilling or moving of the earth they do not come to investigate and scratch around. It is my experience that it is best to scatter the seeds here and there.

Vegetables grown in this way are stronger than most people think. If they sprout up before the weeds, they will not be overgrown later on. There are some vegetables, such as spinach and beans which do not germinate easily. Soaking the seeds in water for a day or two and covering with heavy mulch should solve the problem.

If sown a bit densely, which can happen when plants are left to seed themselves, various leafy green autumn vegetables will be strong enough to compete successfully with the winter and early spring weeds. A few always escape harvesting, reseeding themselves year after year. Garlic, onions, and leeks, once planted, will come up by themselves year after year.

These vegetables often have a unique flavour and make very interesting eating.

Legumes are best sown in spring. They will have difficulty germinating without enough rain so at times you have to water them and keep an eye out for birds and insects.

Tomatoes and eggplants are not strong enough to compete with the weeds when they are young, and so should be grown in a starter bed and later transplanted. Instead of staking them up, let the tomatoes run along the ground. Roots will grow down from the nodes along the main stem and new shoots will come up and bear fruit. You have to take care of the young plants, occasionally cutting the weeds, but after that, the plants will grow strong.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes once planted will come up in the same place every year and never be overgrown by weeds. Just leave a few in the ground when you harvest.

If you find the soil is too hard, grow radish first. As their roots grow, they cultivate and soften the earth and after a few seasons, potatoes can be grown in their place.

Naturally this process of growing food is less labour intensive and gives great variety to your surroundings. You would be amazed at how after just a few seasons your garden virtually grows itself and you just need to replenish and keep an eye on the general well-being of your crops and see that your garden has sufficient water. Nature knows how to do it best.

9 Comments

  1. Yet another great article and why this site is my first stop off when I go onto Facebook. Thank you for the continues excellence and your work in spreading such vital information.

  2. Very good article. I have dome similar to this method. With one exception: I have set up the earthworks first, and then chop and dropped the weeds. Over seeding with turnips, mustards, kales, collards, buckwheat, oats, and various onions and garlics. Works like a charm. Let things go to seed and spread out those seeds a little bit, and soon you don’t have to re-seed. Just enjoy the harvests.
    Cut the weeds once in a while and drop your dead crops to become more mulch.
    I suggest remineralizing the soils if they are depleted (and most are) and also mulching. Don’t worry about the weeds. They come and go.

  3. Thank you, Lois :) Lots of useful information in a succinct and interesting article :) Many Blessings to you :)

  4. When you have a moment google Mark Shepherd to enjoy his STUN method Sheer Total Utter Neglect in the same vein to cement your resolve to direct future effort to easier production and if anyone says your garden is untidy shove them into the pond!

  5. What I understand is that its important to cultivate our own self, by focusing on need’s rather than our Greed. Once that is done rest is easy as our greed has no limit and is the major cause for all our PROBLEMS.

    Thanks and Regards

  6. “If you plant in a row or furrow, there is a chance that beetles or other insects will devour many of the seeds. They walk in a straight line”

    Hmm… do you think insects are blind, do you?
    And they just walk in straight line, stumbling upon the seeds and eating them…

  7. Daniel if you make a furrow the little ditch becomes a guide and even if it followed a circle the bugs would stay in the path they are lazy.

  8. By looking at the variety and the size of the weeds in a certain area, you can tell what kind of soil there is and whether or not a deficiency exists.

    I don’t think it’s quite that easy. We have raised beds of pure finished compost. We let one section go “wild” this year and it was overrun by the weeds normally suggested as indicators of soil deficiencies.

    If you plant in a row or furrow, there is a chance that beetles or other insects will devour many of the seeds. They walk in a straight line. Each type of plant has specific insects that like them and when planted in neat rows the insects have no trouble just moving down the line and eat to their heart’s content.

    What’s your source for this?

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