At Vinya Son Alegre in Santanyí (Mallorca), we aim to apply Natural Farming methods as developed and promoted by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913 – 2008). This Japanese farmer and philosopher was celebrated for his method of Natural Farming and re-vegetation of desertified, arid land.
One day, Fukuoka realized that nature was perfect just as it was. Problems in nature only arise when people try to improve upon nature and use nature strictly for human benefit. He became a proponent of no-till, no-herbicide grain cultivation farming methods traditional to many indigenous cultures, from which he created a particular method of farming, commonly referred to as ‘Natural Farming’ or ‘Do-nothing Farming’.
He summarized his experience in the Four Principles of Natural Farming.
• The earth cultivates itself, observed Fukuoka. There is no need for man to do what roots, worms, and microorganisms do better. Furthermore, ploughing the soil alters the natural environment and promotes the growth of weeds. Therefore, his first principle was: No ploughing or turning of the soil.
• Secondly, in an unaltered natural environment the orderly growth and decay of plant and animal life fertilizes the soil without any help from man. Fertility depletion occurs only when the original growth is eliminated in favour of soil-exhausting food crops or grasses to feed cattle. Adding chemical fertilizers helps the growing crop but not the soil, which continues to deteriorate. Therefore Fukuoka’s second principle is: No chemical fertilizers or prepared compost. Instead he promotes cover crops like clover and alfalfa, which are natural fertilizers.
• Weeds are the enemy of the farmer. Fukuoka observed that when he ceased ploughing, his weed population declined sharply. This occurred because ploughing actually stirs deep-lying weed seeds and gives them a chance to sprout. Tillage therefore is not the answer to weeds. Nor are chemical herbicides, which disrupt nature’s balance and leave poisons in the earth and water. There is a simpler way. To begin with, weeds need not be wholly eliminated; they can be successfully suppressed by spreading straw over freshly sown ground and by planting ground cover. No weeding by tillage or herbicides is Fukuoka’s third principle.
• Finally, what to do about pests and blights? As Fukuoka’s grain fields and orchards came more and more to resemble a natural ecology – with the proliferation of plant varieties growing all in a jumble – they also created a nature-like habitat for small animals. In such a habitat, Fukuoka noted that nature’s own balancing act prevented any one species from gaining the upper hand. Left to itself, nature prefers hardier stock. Fukuoka’s fourth principle is: No dependence on chemical pesticides.
(Most of the information on the Four Principles of Natural Farming was taken from the website The One-Straw Revolution and can be studied there in greater detail. Here is a PDF-file of a book by Masanobu Fukuoka, The Natural Way Of Farming, if you want to go deeper into the matter.)