Natural Farming Skills & Techniques
Gil Carandang, a Natural Farmer in the Philippines, tells the story of one farmer he was trying to help. No matter what this farmer did, one section of his field would just not produce properly. Please, he pleaded with Gil, tell me what is wrong. Tell me what to do. Gil told the farmer he did not know what was wrong and he didn’t know what he should do. Why don’t you pray to God for your answer? So the farmer lifted his face to the sky to pray……and saw that a tree was shading the unproductive part of his field.
Masanobu Fukuoka, author of One Straw Revolution, talks about “do nothing farming.” Master Cho, developer of Korean Natural Farming, talks about starting with an empty head. You have to empty one side of the head to put new stuff in. If you remember all the bad things you leave no room for love to come in, he explains. Fukuoka didn’t weed his rice fields. Master Cho says to let the weeds fight it out amongst themselves. This is like Zen farming.
Natural Farming is not like going back to traditional ways. The useful elements from our ancestors are brought back in and married with exciting scientific advances. My grandfather used leaf mold compost to add microbial life to his soils. Master Cho discovered a technique he calls Indigenous Micro Organisms IMO to amplify and enhance this technology. I have added IMO technology to my grandfathers wisdom. I’m performing the same function, but I am getting significantly more effective results.
Sepp Holzer, an early Permaculture adopter from Austria, and author of several books, including [greening the desert] says you must “read the book of Nature.” How do you read an ever changing book with no text, only living pictures? How can food be grown scientifically, without soil tests, or without measuring NPK & pH? How can food be grown organically without hauling and turning, forever turning compost? How do you let Nature show you the way to grow food?
To be a Natural Farmer let go of control. Empty your mind and watch. Look up at the sky and see the tree shading your crops. Watch how plants and bugs and animals all react to each other. What role do the birds have? Don’t have birds? Why? ... It may seem counterintuitive—what about the science—but you will get better results if you let Nature be in control, rather than using dogmatic formulas of what worked best in a greenhouse or in controlled field trials. Science tries to take out all of the variables. That’s how science finds specific answers. But your fields, your patio garden, has countless variables that are constantly reacting with each other, constantly changing. You need to pay attention and find the patterns, your patterns. You have a full service Science Lab, and that lab is called Nature.
Let plants decide what nutrients to uptake using the soil microbes. They create a micro-zone around their roots, there they can control the pH and what nutrients to bring in. Even if your soil pH is out of balance, as long as you have soil biology the plant can protect itself and thrive, just like in the Wild. With time the soil pH will balance itself. The weeds will change as the soil improves. Keep the weeds that are tolerable as ground covers and green manures. Nature doesn’t turn compost piles. When Nature composts it happens in place. Chop and Drop your weeds. Leave organic matter in place. Learn which critters are helpful to you. Build habitat for pollinators & beneficials. You are the Keeper of the Garden, the Shepard. You are not the slave, nor are you the master. Remember that you are part of Nature. This is your role.
Having a Zen approach to gardening is a matter of changing perspective. You cannot see the effects of the moon looking under a microscope. You cannot see the beneficial critters looking out with a telescope. You must look around and use your eyes. See the trees, the soil beneath the trees, how the trees build that soil, what plants like to live with the trees, which ones don’t, how all the animals, large and small, fit in, how weather affects the forest, and what other factors create changes. To see the forest look at both the parts and the sum of the parts. In Nature synergy and symbiosis are everything. Look for relationships. Look for patterns. Keeping a field log can help. See everything as an ecologist, as a systems engineer. This is why Permaculture, a design science, an engineering approach, is so useful in Natural Farming.
You can practice Natural Farming scientifically without fancy tools or tests.
LEARNING THE KOREAN NATURAL FARMING SYSTEM
To learn Korean Natural Farming KNF specifically, start by learning the fundamentals: Soil Foundation and the Nutritive Cycle. Learn the basic inputs and why each one is used. Learn the pattern of each input. Build on that knowledge by learning to put together the ideal formulation. Learn the exact stage to apply each input. Watch how plants react with each weekly foliar spray. Start adding in more advanced inputs, watching and learning the patterns of those. Pay attention to season and yearly changes. Note how weather, wildlife, and populations change over time. Learn when your plants are happy, when they are sick. Watch what happens when you try to help them.
Once you start seeing your food production as a system you will see order in the chaos and will be able to recognize patterns. You will become intimate with your food. Your intimacy with Nature will lead to your wisdom of Nature.
The best way to track the quality of the KNF inputs you make is to taste & smell each one when you make them and every time you use them. The human body is designed to reject substances that could make us sick or kill us. There is a small structure located between the mouth and nasal passages, highly sensitive to smell and taste, that is dedicated to this function. That is why you gag or vomit when you smell or taste something horrible. Everything in Korean Natural Farming is made to be edible and safe, but we want to insure we use only the best quality ingredients in our food.
You are not smelling and tasting for personal preferences. You can smell a pumpkin input, for example, and not like pumpkins. But you should be able to tell if that input would be good quality for other people who do like pumpkins.
Everything should taste like quality and goodness. You start preparing your food when you first sow the seed. Everything you do to your crops and livestock you do to your food. Think of your inputs and your formulas as the first parts of your recipes. Your inputs should be the best quality. Your formulas should be well balanced. How the food grows in the garden can have a greater effect on the food on your plate than anything you can do later in the kitchen. (A good reason to grow your own!)
Inputs should always be well rounded, smell good and taste good. There should not be any hint of rottenness or “going off.” It is best to smell before you taste. If it smells too rotten to taste, don’t. Time for a fresh input.
Touching a drop to the tongue is all you need for to taste an input. You will not have to ask how long an input will last. If you constantly smell & taste your inputs you will be able to tell exactly when it starts to go south.
Some input batches will end up too good to be used anywhere but the kitchen, and every time you fail you will learn something. It is an easy skill to master. It’s mostly instinct. Start by smelling and tasting everything. Pay more attention to smell and taste when you eat and drink. Learn to pay attention to what the air smells like after a rainstorm, when it bakes in the sun. When you drive somewhere else try to smell the differences of the new area compared to where you came from? Dogs can. What smells are they picking up? Immerse yourself in your environment wherever you are. Start tasting your soil too. You don’t have to eat it, just touch it to your tongue. Try different places in your garden. Some people are so good at tasting soil they can detect pH almost as accurately as a meter.
You start preparing your food when you first sow the seed.
Everything you do to your crops and livestock you do to your food.
Grow LOVE not greed.
In order to practice Korean Natural farming you will need inputs. Once you understand the techniques they are easy to make. Most inputs need to be made only once a year or so. To make these low cost inputs, which should come from materials on or near the farm, you need to understand these basic techniques:
BASIC KOREAN NATURAL FARMIMG INPUTS
Technique Product Description
Soil Microbial cultures IMO Indigenous Micro Organisms from local soil
Lactic Acid Bacterial cultures LAB Lactic Acid Bacterial Serum
Aerobic Wild Fermentation FPJ, FFJ Fermented Plant & Fruit Juices
FAA Fish Amino Acids
Fermented Vinegar BRV Brown Rice Vinegar (or banana)
Alcohol Extractions (after fermentation) OHN Oriental Herbal Nutrient, a tonic
Vinegar Extractions WCa, WCaP Water Soluble Calcium & Calcium Phosphate
Sea Water SW, FSW Seawater and Fermented Seawater
You must also understand the Nutritive Cycle, and how to recognize the life cycle stages of the plants you are growing. This is not complicated and can be understood by comparing stages of plants to stages of human growth. Sprouts are babies, seedlings the children. Then they get moody and become teenagers. This is the stage to prepare for marriage and babies, called the cross-over phase, changing from child to mature adult. Then comes pregnancy. We get our fruit to set then help it ripen. Once the plants reach old age they are added back to the soil if annuals, and perennials are allows to go dormant and rest, only to be reborn again in the spring.
Try Natural Farming. Let go of the control. Be like Nature.