Planting & Transplanting
Natural Farming utilizes specific techniques for planting and transplanting in order to ensure the plants grow as strong as possible. They are planted where they will grow best naturally, and they are planted in concert with other plants in a diverse ecosystem, making crops are less susceptible to pests and disease. Proper planning means less work in perpetuity. Poor planning can be costly and labor intensive. Poor planning can lead to utter failure. It’s better to plan. It’s best to plant using Natural Systems as a template.
Make the young plants work so they grow up strong and resistant
Plant seeds directly into soil whenever possible (Nature’s Way)
Plant into intact soil (no tilling, no digging holes)
Don’t fertilize soil before planting (do this instead)
Make sure the plants can breathe
Stress transplants to force strong foundational growth
Treat seeds & transplants with Seed Soaking Solution SES
Which plant is stronger? The one planted in soft fluffy soil or the one which planted itself in the crack of a sidewalk? If you try to pull out the plant in the sidewalk crack you will find it thick and hearty, hard to pull, more likely to break off than come out. If you pull a plant out of light, fluffy, tilled soil, it can often be pulled out, roots and all without much effort. We want our plants to be like the one in the sidewalk. We want our plants to be strong. How hard plants have to work to survive as a sprout and seeding will determine how strong plants grow, how hardy they are in changing weather conditions, with pest and disease pressure, how much that plant will produce, and how nutritious the produce will be.
DIRECT SOW SEEDS
Ideally plants would be planted as close as possible to how plants grow in the Wild. Sepp Holzer is famous for taking buckets of mixed seed and widely broadcasting them. He likes to let pigs dig up an area, then throw out seeds and maybe kick a little dirt over them and stamp them in, and let the rain wash them in. He likes to let the plants decide where they want to grow. And of course any plant that is direct sown retains its taproot. Tap roots are good for drilling down deeper for water and minerals, and make plants that are naturally drought resistant. In some cases, however, transplanting is necessary. Often we need more controlled plantings. When transplanting is needed we try to disturb the soil as little as possible to retain soil integrity.
INTACT SOIL PLANTING
Master Cho advocates not tilling the soil. Furthermore, he also advocates against digging holes or trenches for planting. His method for transplanting involves keeping the soil as intact as possible. Instead of digging a hole for a plant, a shallow ring is dug at the drip line. The middle of the planting spot is kept intact, only removing surface vegetation. This kind of looks a castle or pyramid with a moat. Roots of the transplant are flared out in a circle and into the moat, which is then back filled. This keeps as much of the soil structure intact as possible when transplanting and encourages the roots to grow outward into the firm native soil. After transplanting the plant is mulched and watered in. Trenches are used in a similar manner when doing a row rather than individual holes. The goal is to retain the native structure of the earth as much as possible.
A plant that is 100cm high, grown in untilled earth, will have a 100cm root system.
The same 100cm plant grown in tilled soil will have a root system that is only about 20cm deep.
NO FERTILIZER IN SOIL BEFORE PLANTING: Why and what to do instead
Master Cho talks about Till & Fertilize disease. The disease features:
If plants are put into soft earth full of fertilizer (typically 70-80% of what they will need all season), the plants’ first impression is that life is easy. They get lazy. The roots will resist growing into the surrounding soil. They often get root bound just as if they were grown in a pot that was too small. Inadequate root systems lower their ability to uptake water and lead to an imbalanced diet. Excess fertilizer makes the plant fat. Plants with imbalanced diets and overfed plants are susceptible to pests and disease. Without proper root systems plants cannot properly uptake nutrients, water, or oxygen. Tilling and fertilizing methods are used for the ease of the farmer, not the health and comfort of the plants.
In Nature plants use biochemical messenger feed-back loops with soil microbes to release nutrients when needed, and in the amounts needed. Plants take up only what they want and only when they need it. This is why the soil foundation is vitally important in Natural Farming. You need to insure the resources and biology are available for your plants to obtain the resources they need, independently, as occurs in Nature.
Rather than loading the soil up with fertilizers before planting, Korean Natural Farming, KNF, lets the plant decide what nutrients to uptake. This is possible because Soil Foundation is established before it is planted. When the Soil Foundation is adequate the plants will pull whatever nutrients it needs, and only at the time it needs. This avoids over fertilization and applying the wrong fertilizer. If weather patterns are irregular, say the weather is unseasonably wet or dry, the fertilizer in the ground cannot be changed to reflect how the needs of the plants have changed. In KNF, however, changes are made weekly.
To direct the growth of the plant, rather than putting costly fertilizer in the ground, weekly foliar sprays are offered. The fermented inputs in the weekly sprays have naturally developed bio-chemicals like hormones, enzymes, and growth factors, designed for specific stages of growth. These biological chemicals can increase leaf growth, keep plants from going to seed too soon, helps in the production of flowers and the development & ripening of fruits, seeds, nuts & roots. These inputs are pre-composted, targeted solutions.
The purpose of the weekly inputs is to keep a plant in the proper stage of growth in order to maximize harvest potential in a way that does not strip mine the earth for minerals and deplete topsoil. Unlike other growing systems, all inputs in KNF are bio-available, safe for the environment, and edible.
The system of using enzymes and other biochemistry to direct plant growth is called the Nutritive Cycle and it is not hard to learn. You simply give the plant an input made from the next stage of life. You give a plant what you want it to do. You can also correct imbalances quickly before they become big problems.
The concept of KNF is to create a soil that has everything plants may need
then directing the growth by utilizing the Nutritive Cycle with a weekly foliar spray.
MAKE SURE THE PLANTS CAN BREATHE
Most people know that plants take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen, and that people and animals breathe in that oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, which the plants then use. It’s an elegant exchange. What most people don’t know is that plants need oxygen too. They need it for the root systems. The microbes that live symbiotically with the plant roots need oxygen. It is critical to have oxygen, especially in the first 15cm (6 inches) or so of soil. The ability the root systems, including the microbes, to obtain oxygen in the soil is a more important factor in plant growth and health than pH.
It is vitally important not to bury the root flare, the place where the stem or trunk of the plant becomes the root. This structure helps the plant obtain oxygen for its roots. If the nose, the root flare, is buried the plant cannot breathe well and it will suffer. If the root flare is buried too deep it can suffocate and die. This is why Master Cho refers to the root flare as the nose of the plant. Never mulch on top the nose. Make sure your plant can breathe.
Avoid heavily compacted soil. A tractor path can have soil as dead as soil drenched in biocides. While tilling is discouraged, compacting soil can be just as deadly. What we want to have is crumbly soil with lots of air pockets. The best, really the only way to get this structure is to have microbes and small animals in your soil. Instead of digging and tilling the earth, let Nature provide the perfect soil structure for you. Not only are the soil and the plants healthier, it takes less work.
When planting consider the aerial parts of the plants, at the size they will be at full maturity. The leaves of plants are important in gas exchange, taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen. The airflow around and through the plants is important. Proper spacing is needed for the flow of air and the moderation of heat. (Cold is the lack of heat.) These softer elements, along with water, moisture, and sunlight are vital to plant growth and health, and are referred to by Master Cho as the Vital Forces. The Vital Forces should be as important a consideration as nutrition and timing.
We want the plant to be strong so in KNF we stress the plant before transplanting. It is left alone to dry out for several days prior to transplanting. This makes the plant think it is about to die, so when it does get transplanted it will instinctually grow vigorously to prevent its own death. No plant wants to die. It does not see life as easy. It does not become lazy. It will send up a strong sturdy stem and grow strong roots to penetrate the soil, just like the plant in the sidewalk.
Another technique is to tap the trunk of young sapling trees, just a little bit, not hard enough to do damage, whenever you walk by. This mimics the force of the wind and causes the tree to intensify root growth to anchor itself from strong winds.
If you stress plants while they are young they will grow to be stronger, healthier plants. A few plants will die when stressed. This is actually a good thing. Those would be the plants that, if they don’t die outright, will perform poorly, and are the most susceptible to pests and disease. Eliminate individuals early on that would have drawn in pests that otherwise may not have found your crops at all. Your system as a whole will be stronger and more resilient. Let the bad die young. This is the way of Nature.
This can be a concept that is easy to agree with but emotionally hard to practice. It is perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to learn in all my decades growing plants. However, Nature is a numbers game. Not all seeds are designed to make it to reproduction. Nature always produces too many young because not all of them are going to survive. We want only strong, healthy, nutritious plants to grow into our food. Stressing plants when young can make them stronger and eliminate the weak.
TREATMENT OF TRANSPLANT ROOTS & SEEDS
In KNF seeds and transplants are soaked in a solution specifically designed to promote seed activation and root hair growth. The Seed Solution SES is made with wild fermented products, inoculating the seeds and transplant roots with the right kind of microbes. This microbial cocoon helps prevent root rot in transplants and problems like damping off in seeds, offering a big advantage for seeds to germinate and transplants to take successfully.