Episode 234. The Complexity Is The Joy

This is the World Organic News for the week ending 4th of  October 2020.

Jon Moore reporting!

Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!

The more we dig into this no-dig thing the more it becomes opaque and at the same time, it becomes crystal clear. It’s a thing I call the Fukuoka paradox. Masanobu Fukuoka of the One Straw Revolution talks about this in one of the later chapters. He’d set up his system, sowing before reaping, allowing fruit trees to grow as central leaders and then not pruning them and loading his orchard soil with food crop seeds to allow them to work out their own rotations when he was approached by ag scientists. Now I’m not going to quote the book but the gist of it is something like this:

One year the chemical farmers were having trouble with say rice stem borers and he wasn’t. The scientists would come and measure everything they could and try to discover why rice stem borers were not an issue of his place. Then they’d go away. The next year they’d come to discover why a different pest wasn’t attacking his rice and so on. The point I think he was trying to make was that reductionist science, if this then that, a linear thinking, if you prefer, would never understand the system he’d set up. And remember Fukuoka trained as one of these agricultural scientists.

To live with the Fukuoka paradox is to accept there will be things happening in the ecosystem of the garden/farm that we will not understand. We must rely upon the 3 billion odd years of evolution to do “the right thing”. And this can be infuriating for an inquiring mind and liberating for that same mind. The paradox has many levels.

Let’s look at the principles of Fukuoka and then some that I humbly submit for your consideration.

Fukuoka’s principles: 

  1. No digging/tillage
  2. No weeding
  3. No fertilisers
  4. No pesticides
  5. No pruning

As you can see from these principles, they are a list of things not to do.

My principles are:

  1. No Digging
  2. No bare soil
  3. Companion planting
  4. The greater the variety of plants per unit area of land the better
  5. Observe and listen to your soils and plants

I will readily concede my principles are nowhere near as elegant as Fukuoka’s. Obviously points 1 and 2 are the same as Fukuokas. 3 and 4, I’ve arrived at from reading Dr Christine Jones, Dr Charlie Massy and the course work at the University of Tasmania Science of Gardening Course. Those influences and my own observations. They are part of the revelation that came to me some years back about biological systems becoming more stable with complexity. 

To pout all this to the test, so to speak, I’ve knocked up a five year rotation plan for home. At this stage there’s still a couple of holes, that is periods in the year on parts of the land where I don’t have any allocated crops. These are four to six week windows. I’m trying to find a buckwheat supplier here in Tasmania as it’s a prohibited import for biosecurity reasons. I could import some but the cost of it being tested by biosecurity Tasmania would be economically prohibitive. The search continues for either a supplier or an alternative crop to fill the gaps. 

The good thing about buckwheat, well good things about buckwheat are: really quick growing cultivar and destroyed by frosts. So I could plant through it in Autumn secure in the knowledge the soil would be covered until the first frost by which time a winter crop, barley probably or broad beans, would be sufficiently large to cover the ground. The other frost sensitive cereals that might fill the gap are subject to the same biosecurity issues. There will be an answer, I just haven’t found it yet. Any suggestions email me, jon@worldorganicnews.com, link in the show notes.

The 5th principle is what makes this way of food production so much fun. There’s no recipe to follow. This seed plus this much water at these times and this much fertiliser and these pesticides and bob’s your uncle, money in, time, money out. The money in, when we’re attempting to create change underground is minimal. I heard of corn growers in the US who plant, in effect, $800,000 and hope to harvest $850,000. Their inputs are that expensive and their returns so low. In that case reducing input costs to 1%, $8,000 and only pulling $100,000 out in harvest would be a much better financial situation and would lead to far fewer sleepless nights I imagine.

But such low inputs will never feed the world. I just heard of a calculation that went something like this: If we were to provide every man, woman and child on the planet a kilo of corn per person per day for a year could we do it? It turns out the fella who asked this question discovered it could be done with the corn harvest from his county in Kansas. The world doesn’t have a food shortage, it lacks the will to feed everybody. [Rant over]

Any feedback on the principles would be gratefully accepted. Use the email in the show notes, but not while you’re driving!!

Remember our underlying focus must be to: Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.





Growing a No-Dig Garden on Udemy


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World Organic News

email: jon@worldorganicnews.com


Masanobu Fukuoka



Dr Charlie Massy



Dr Christine Jones ~ Amazing Carbon



Diploma in Sustainable Living at the University of Tasmania



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