Growing Nutritious Food Easily
Low Cost, Low Maintenance, Organic,
Sustainable Agricultural Systems
Today, following many widespread, serious and intractable problems associated with the farming industry in virtually all nations as they have adopted the western model, the world is seeing the beginnings of a return to sustainable agriculture. This means farming and gardening in ways that can be maintained indefinitely, using resources available on the property, without deterioration to them. They are included here to show the variety of successful systems that work well.
Criteria for Sustainability
With the benefit of hindsight, we can clearly define the criteria for sustainability in agriculture. It means the soil must stay fertile, the creeks, rivers and dams must remain unpolluted, the farm does not go into increasing debt and the farm protects itself from the vagaries of climate and weather. It means farming a property:
• without running down natural resources, including the soil, creeks, lakes and groundwater;
• without depending on expensive off-farm inputs, such as chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, etc;
• by growing a diversity of produce, so as to protect soil and minimise vulnerability to the whims of the market place;
• using a renewable seed base of many varieties, that may be maintained on the land;
• without using toxic substances that may be harmful to farm workers, nearby residents or consumers of farm produce;
• without entering into debts that rely upon auspicious climate, weather, and market conditions for repayment. These are now very unstable and unpredictable.
• taking steps to protect the farm from climate and weather by growing trees for shelter belts, shade, fodder, drought protection and salt reduction, as well as for wildlife corridors.
• Sustainable agriculture is one of the few areas of human endeavour that has a positive contribution to the environment, the natural world and the planet.
Biodynamic Agriculture was founded by Rudolph Steiner in 1924, when he gave a series of lectures in response to questions asked of him about problems of degenerating seed strains and increases in plant and farm animal diseases. Contained in the lectures were simple instructions on how to make preparations that would enrich and improve soil and plants.
The essence of Biodynamics is the use of 9 preparations, known as BD 500 – BD 508, each using one particular herb or substance to deal with various aspects of soil formation and plant growth.
BD 500 is the main preparation used. Its purpose is to activate and accelerate humus development in the soil and stimulate root growth. It is made by converting cow manure into humus by a process which includes packing fresh manure in cow horns and burying it over the winter months. The high silica and gelatine content of the horns, the energy-concentrating conical shape and the period when energy is withdrawn into the earth all combine to produce a highly activated form of humus. After diluting BD 500 in water, it is sprinkled over paddocks on late afternoons or before rains, at the rate of 100gms of the concentrate per hectare.
BD 501 is sprayed on plants on early spring mornings at a similar concentration to stimulate photosynthesis and formation of chlorophyll production, especially where there are problems getting enough sunlight. BD 501 prepared from packing powdered silica into cow horns and burying it over the summer months, when the sun is most active It is mixed with water similarly to BD500 to make a colloidal solution, and applied at the same rate.
BD 502-507 are added to compost heaps to accelerate, balance, preserve and protect nutrients in the compost, in the soil it is fed to, and in the plants that are grown on it.
BD 502 is made from yarrow blossoms (Achillea millefolium), which are rich in potassium, calcium and silicic acid. A couple of sprigs in a compost heap will greatly accelerate decomposition. As a BD preparation, BD 502 is used in compost heaps as a biological catalyst, balancing and stimulating sulphur and potassium metabolism in the plant to enhance protein and carbohydrate buildup. It has high concentrations of actinomycetes, which produce natural antibiotics, and a nitrogen fixing bacteria called bacillus.
BD 503 is made from chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), which is rich in potassium calcium and sulphur. When placed directly into compost in dilute form chamomile will greatly accelerate yeast growths, banishing bad smells. As a BD preparation, BD 503 is used in compost heaps to concentrate calcium and silica, stimulate yeast growth and stabilize nitrogen in the heap.
BD 504 is made from nettle (Urtica Dioica), which is rich in iron, potassium and calcium. Applied as a herb, nettle will raise the iron content of compost. As a BD preparation, BD 504 is used to prevent loss of nitrogen, etc, and enhance absorption by the plants of minerals.
BD 505 is made from oak bark (Quercus alba), which is particularly rich in calcium. As a BD preparation, BD 505 is used in compost to combat and arrest any harmful plant diseases.
BD 506 is made from dandelion (Taraxacun officinale), which is rich in iron. In compost, dandelion will raise iron content and alkalinise the mixture. As a BD preparation, BD 506 is used in compost to enable the soil to fix silicic acid from the atmosphere which the plant needs in order to take up trace elements.
BD 507 is made from valerian (Valeriana officinalis), which is rich in magnesium, potassium and copper. As a BD preparation, BD 507 is used in compost heaps to assist the assimilation of phosphorus by plants.
BD 508 is made from horsetail (Equisitum arvense), which is especially high in silica. As a BD preparation, it is simmered in water made into a spray to combat mildew, rust and soil-borne fungal infections in plants. It also helps raise protein and vitamin C content. In Australia, this plant is often replaced with Sheoak needles, which are very high in silica.
Today, an increasing number of broadscale farmers use biodynamic methods with very successful results. Many such farmers may have no understanding or concern for the theories that underline a particular practice. They know they get results. Biodynamic products command premium prices, the highest of all natural foodstuffs, including milk and yoghurt, which do not cause mucous congestion, unlike their commercial counterparts
MODERN FRENCH INTENSIVE METHOD
Founded in 1986 as a system of gardening by Alan Chadwick, when he transformed a barren hillside to a lush, commercially viable garden, this method lends itself to small scale commercial ventures. Chadwick had previously studied Biodynamics under Rudolph Steiner and with Intensive French gardeners, as well as many traditional methods.
Modern French Intensive uses many Biodynamic practices to enhance tightly packed growing arrangements that were first used in the 1890’s in Paris. Crops were grown on 18 inches of horse manure, with close spacing to create a micro-climate and form a living mulch, which reduced weed growth and maintained moisture in the soil.
This method of Gardening uses raised beds are double dug to loosen and aerate soil down to 2 feet with minimum disturbance to it. Soil is tested and fish or blood meal added for nitrogen, bone or phosphate rock added for phosphorus, and kelp added for potassium. Soil acidity is lowered using dolomitric lime, or raised using decomposed leaf mould. After this initial boost, compost is used to maintain organic matter content and the formation of humus.
Humus is sought for improved structure, moisture retention, aeration, fertilization, nitrogen storage, pH balancing, soil toxin neutralizing, nutriment release, and as food for microbiotic life and to recycle. Garden beds are raised in accordance with traditional Greek, Chinese and Mayan practices. Composted nutriments are added to the upper layer to percolate down as in nature. Legumes are grown for nitrogen. As a combined system, this supplies the 4% of the plant diet that does not come from the atmosphere.
Seeds are planted in trays 2 days before the new moon, and transplanted into raised beds on the full moon. Companion planting is practised, and watering conserved by hugh humus content of soil shaded by close plantings which reduces evaporation.
These simple methods have enabled water savings of 85% and true energy savings of over 95% per weight of produce grown, with incomes between 10 – 30 times better than normal commercial plots per unit area cultivated.
FUKUOKA’S NATURAL “DO NOTHING” FARMING
Founded by Masanobu Fukuoka shortly after WW2. During the war Fukuoka worked as head researcher of plant disease and insect control plant pathologist, until he returned to his father’s farm to grow citrus and grain in a natural, pleasant way. He approached his work with the question “How about not doing this?” and ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to plough, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide. His approach was to farm as simply as possible, and in co-operation with the natural environment.
No Cultivation: Ploughing ruins the soil which naturally conditions itself. The roots of grasses and green manure crops reach down far deeper than a plough, which would interfere with the process. Gentle measures such as spreading straw and sowing clover will bring land back to natural balance and even troublesome weeds can be brought under control. Hard soil pans can be broken up by growing daikon radishes and the like.
No Fertilizer: A permanent green manure cover, returning all straw and chaff to the soil, and introducing ducklings while seedings are young, supplies all manure necessary and takes care of most weeds.
No Weeding: Weeds enrich the soil. A cover of white clover and straw helps keep them under control. Tilling the soil stimulates weed growth and produces complications.
No Pesticides: Insects and fungi do a constructive job by consuming weakened plants and pathogens. Poisons kill the myriad beneficial bacteria necessary for soil conditioning and plant growth, as well as natural predators.
Two Crop Farming Cycle
A field of clover is continuously maintained to provide nitrogen and other nutrients to the two rotating crops of rice and barley. Shortly before the rice is to be harvested, barley is sown it to become the succeeding crop. After harvesting the rice, rice straw is returned to the field by scattering it on top of the emerging barley crop.
Some two or three months later, when the emerging crop of barley has become well established, rice seed is broadcast amongst it, along with a thin sprinkling of chicken manure to help the rice straw break down.
After the barley is harvested and the barley straw has been returned to the field, the paddock is flooded for a week to ten days. This weakens the clover and weeds and allows the rice to sprout up amongst the decomposing straw. Following this initial flooding, fresh water is run through the fields about once a week, without being allowed to stand. Because weeds are not a problem, there is no need to keed the rice flooded to drown them out.
Fukuoka gets two crops a year with yields equivalent to the best in his area, without the many problems associated with what he calls “scientific farming”.
Deciduous and evergreen fruit trees are mixed allowing winter sun to penetrate. Fast growing, leguminous black wattles are planted at around 10 per 1/4 acre. This is to enable rapid improvement to deep soil layers through its capacity to fix nitrogen; provide shade, shelter and wind protection; and prevention of pests, especially mites, by providing a home for predators.
After a few years, the black wattles are are felled and buried to return nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. Clover and alfalfa are grown as ground cover crops to enrich the soil and crowd out weeds.
TOKUNO’S FERTILIZER-FREE VEGETABLE GARDENING
Gajin Tukono was born in Osaka, 1941. After raising vegetables for 15 years, and finding that chemicals were not preventing spots, rust, rot or other problems; and prolonged use caused plants to decline, he divided his garden into patches and conducted various experiments without chemicals, without fertilizer, without cultivation, and without weeding. After finding that patches had fewer insects and a lower incidence of plant illness where nature is allowed to take its course, he converted completely to the natural method of gardening.
Soil is alive with countless life forms all interrelated and sharing a common ecology. Nature, not man, grows things. Weeds, insects, and birds are essential for cultivating vegetables. In growing plants, the wisest way is to interfere little and to leave things up to the providence of nature.
Plant species vary in their needs of sunlight, temperature, humidity and water, and should get amounts suitable to their needs. Care must be taken to select varieties suited to local climates, and to let nature take its course, rather than force plants to grow under suitable conditions.
A selected plot with weeds and worms in it will be ready for planting a month after spading to get rid of foreign objects. Plots without weeds may need building up with organic compost. Vegetable scraps and other clean kitchen wastes piled in a corner and allowed to rot makes excellent compost.
Soil: Nature preserves a delicate balance between plants and soil micro-organisms. Soil conditions of ventilation, warmth, moisture and acidity are the same as those required by micro-organisms. Micro-organisms are most numerous about 10 cm. below the surface. When these micro-organisms die, they rot and become nourishment absorbed by plants. when plants wither and breakdown, they become food for micro-organisms.
Tilling increases acidity by disrupting the natural ecological balance between plant roots and microorganisms. Naturally cultivated soil maintains the slight acidity plants require without weeding or tillage and prevents leaching of natural lime.
Soil in bad condition from previous use of insecticides and chemical fertilizers may have an initial problem of insects and plant illnesses, but will permit excellent cultivation as the soil gradually comes to wholesome life.
Weeds: Compacted soil that does not support weeds may need ventilating by hoeing, and the addition of organic fertilizer. Weeds continue to flourish each year because their roots loosen and ventilate the soil. When weeds are plentiful, soil is rich in organic material and very alive. A covering of weeds lowers soil temperature, retains soil moisture and protects crop plants from damage and disease that may result from being splashed with mud in rain storms.
Where possible, weeds and vegetables should be cut leaving their roots in the ground, to naturally improve the soil. The above ground parts, being immature compost, should be spread on the ground, not mixed in the soil.
Crop Rotation This prevents the buildup of bacteria harmful to particular types of vegetables. Legumes and Nightshade family members, such as tomatoes, eggplants, green peppers and potatoes are especially susceptible to damage from repeated cultivation. A five-year planting cycle is recommended. Corn (high nutrient demand) may be followed by beans (soil enriching), then leafy vegetables. Shallow rooted vegetables e.g. turnips and cucumbers may be followed by deeper rooters like spinach tomatoes and ocra. Subdividing a field into smaller plots of different crops reduces insect damage.
Eco Gardening was developed in the 1970’s by Coralie Whitby, Editor of Good Earth, organic farming and gardening magazine in Melbourne. After studying natural eco-systems in Sherbrooke Forest, Coralie developed a form of gardening based on five priorities that would maintain harmony between species, equilibrium for the overall system and preserve the soil on which it grows.
These five priorities are themselves derivatives of a prior, encompassing priority of Maximising the Leaf Area to eight to ten times that of the ground which is covered. This is more than double the typical crop, and serves to provide the energy needed for the system to keep supporting itself. The other priorities are:
Maximum Diversity. This lengthens food chains, and increases negative feedback controls. this places less strain on nutrient banks, enabling more plants to be supported. This in turn reduces oscillations in plant populations which increases stability.
Compatible Plants. This enables close spacing and even better growth than is possible with spaced plants.
Mixing species. This is to allow maximum exploitation of available nutrients.
Framework of Permanent Plants. This gives stability and provides a protective environment for emerging plants. Inter-planting with native species can provide alternative food sources for animals and birds.
A Litter Layer. This builds and protects the soil, holds water and stabilizes moisture and temperature fluctuations.
Food trees are planted in `eco-units’, each having a supporting native plant association. This corresponds to the Permaculture guild principle.
Described as “going beyond organic gardening”, wilderness gardening was developed by Jackie French, a writer on organic gardening, self sufficiency and related subjects. An avid and long time organic gardener, Jackie noticed, in the natural bush bordering her garden, how fertility recycled, nature balanced out pest outbreaks, the bush could halt weed invasion, and fruit trees self-sown amongst the natural bush could outperform their pruned, fertilized and weeded counterparts within the garden.
Jackie realised that Australia has different soil structures and pest and predator relationships. Plants respond to heat, light, pests and drought in ways that have scarcely been studied. From this, she concluded that many of the types of organic gardening practices that were developed in Europe and the USA, were not necessarily what was most suitable to Australian conditions.
Jackie advocates developing radically new techniques of growing, modelled on the bush around us, and not be constrained to growing methods that originated when labour was cheap. Some of the many practices advocated by Jackie are as follows:
Three Tier Gardens: Planting trees, then shrubs, then small plants serves to mitigate the harshness of the sun, break up the compacting and eroding effects of rain and provides support for predators to feed on garden pests.
Easy Gardens: The easiest garden is made by laying down a weed mat and planting through cuts made in it.
Healthy Gardens: Plants not grown in straight lines will help dissuade foraging pests; flowers and vegetables grown together attract predators and bees; the best vegetables should be allowed to seed for next season’s crop; perennials may be planted amongst the annuals to provide shade, bring up leached nutrients from deeper layers, and provide a base for predators.
Fruit Gardens: Planting fruit trees close enough to entangle with each other helps insect pest control, cuts down losses from birds, retains more moisture, controls weeds and provides a natural mulch blanket of leaves.
Mulches: Living mulches, such as clover or lucerne, puts nitrogen into the soil, keeps down weeds and can be easily slashed and allowed to break down on the spot.
Pests: Encouraging predators is the most effective way to deal with pests. Concentration should be on growing things, rather than killing things.
Weeds: Weeds can be used as ground cover, fertiliser, plant tonic, etc. They can be discouraged by growing plants more densely.
Comprehensive Biological Farming
The number of ways that people can get good results shows how pliable, flexible and forgiving nature can be when working with and not against nature. Each of these sustainable agricultural systems can be combined, where appropriate, to create enhanced results. By taking what is most appropriate from each system, sustainable agriculturists have the opportunity to implement comprehensive biological systems, most befitting their own unique circumstances and particular needs.
The sustainable way to market produce, supply those people who you gift it to first, then supply the people within the community who you would sell it to, then supply the community shop, then move further out. Then inner circles should be satisfied first each time, before shifting further out after each market is satisfied. This is part of community economics, and how communities become invigorated, enriched, empowered.