Location: Pender Island, British Columbia, Canada
Size: 1 Acres
Gardeners: Arthur Kikuchi
After the first visit to Pender Island, British Columbia, I was driven by an impulse to start Natural Agriculture on this beautiful island. Abundant wildlife is still there, and the presence of colorful native plants, vivid marine creatures, stunning bald eagles, along with gigantic orca and humpback whales induced me to move to the island. Besides, it has been discovered that Pender Island was used as a camp site by coastal first nations over 5,000 years ago. Archaeologically valuable shell mounds along the immaculate shorelines reminded me of a mystical connection to the sacred places such as Kishima Island where I learned Natural Agriculture.
In the summer of 2000, I started setting up a small farm on Pender Island simply because I wanted to raise my children with healthy minds as well as sound bodies by nourishing them with safe, fresh, nutritious food. I also believed that if each one of us grows food even in a small kitchen garden, we would be able to restore our health while reducing our ecological footprints on earth.
I still do not have any clue how to increase the quantity of production through the Natural Agricultural method but I take pleasure in learning from the magic of natural systems in my surroundings and through actual on-site experiences plus the repetition of trial and error. I’m hoping that I can grow food in a more sustainable manner without damaging our source of life and share the real taste of food with people in need, especially with younger generation, to help them sustain abundant health and happiness.
On my small farm on Pender Island, my primary objective is to enhance the quality of soil to become as closer to that of the forest’s as possible in order to produce foods with higher life energy.
Learning from nature, I model my garden after the forest on the island, allowing for a canopy layer, shrub layer, and herbaceous layer, to mimic characteristics of natural systems such as energy flow, biological diversity, population regulating mechanisms while replacing outside inputs with internal nutrient cycling.
This system recognizes that the fauna and the non-crop flora on a farm are also essential components of the agro-ecosystem that is directly linked to nature. From the world of microscopic soil dwelling organisms to a great diversity of insects, plants, and pollinators, all life is interconnected and embedded in the affluent web of life, maintaining the balance of the natural cycles and resilience of the whole ecosystem. Therefore, I believe that what we do to every life has some ramifications that affect other species, ecosystems, and people.
For that reason, I let the whole life cycle of plants and insect communities thrive as much as they can, assuming that each one is given by nature a specific role to play.
Unlike most growers, weeding or pest management are not an essential task in my garden, though sometimes I let down visitors (or even my family) who would have expected me to create a British-Style gorgeous food garden without anything but abundant vegetables.
Of course, I pick weeds or bugs whenever I feel necessary but acting in a moderate manner– just enough so that they don’t get in the way of plant growth.
Some plants labeled as “weeds “grow roots that reach down deep to tap nutrients and water to make available to crops. I simply cut them down just before they seed with a Japanese garden tool “Kama” and lay them on the ground beside the crops because they become good organic matter which can be used as a mulch or natural compost.
Regarding insects, many growers have been annoyed by a common garden “pest” – green caterpillars that eat large holes in the leaves of Brassicas or plants in the mustard family. However, these caterpillars will eventually transform into a white butterfly species (Pieris rapae) that help pollinate the flowers of crops so that we can collect our own seeds from one growing season to the next. Will you knock off those beneficial “pests”?
Grow Naturally for our Next Generations
When I landed on the island, the very first farm work I took on was to build a chicken coop simply because “I love chickens”. They are cute, chatty, and so friendly to me. They are also capable of recycling any kind of kitchen scraps, pecking “weeds” and “bugs” while returning us a wonderful gift of fresh eggs. Because I keep a couple of roosters in the flock, the eggs that my hens lay are fertilized, which means they are still alive and chicks can be hatched in three weeks. Those living eggs remind me of the words that the Japanese say before eating “Itadaki-masu“, meaning “thank you for life.” It’s true. All foods, whether animal or plant-based, were once living, and therefore, I think I should be more mindful whenever I eat and thankful for whatever food I eat.
To grow crops, I make the best use of natural resources found in my backyard forest, such as fallen leaves from maple and red alder trees, to make natural compost. After putting a layer of natural compost under a raised bed, I usually wait for a few weeks until the compost is mixed with the soil by hard-working friends of mine – earth worms, ground beetles, and any other soil organisms living in the ground.
Then, as soon as the soil smells like a forest floor, I plant kale, Swiss chard, radishes, turnips, fava beans, peas and Jerusalem artichokes in the early spring. Being very hardy and vigorous, they must be the most appropriate crops for my regional climatic and soil conditions. With their good flavor and taste, I can trust that those local crops will provide my family and I powerful life energy and nutrition.
In my small greenhouse, my children simply broadcast a handful of seeds over the planting bed to grow oriental greens. Due to too much humidity in the house, sometimes slugs or bugs proliferate.
In that case, I create a habitat for garden snakes with tree branches in the greenhouse so they can generously pick slugs and bugs for me.
As the season becomes warmer, I plant heritage bush beans, pole beans, and squash in a outdoor raised bed garden. For the overwinter crops, such as fava beans and garlic, I usually plant in October after scratching the ground shallowly with a traditional Japanese garden hoe. In doing so, the soil aggregates can remain intact and act like a sponge to protect the soil from erosion, water logging, and nutrient leaching during the heavy rainy season of the Island.
I find the natural method of raised beds with natural compost, reduced tillage, and mulching by fallen leaves and grass clippings allows the soil to develop its structure and create an ideal habitat for various life forms. Thus, it makes the soil ecosystem more diverse and functional, just like what we can see in intact forest ecosystems.
Though the size of crops I grow are rather smaller than conventionally grown crops, the plants absorb various types of mico-nutrients from the natural soil and thus, the taste of vegetables can be quite exquisite; For example, naturally grown leafy vegetables, such as kale and Swiss chard are soft and highly aromatic, with wonderful bright color of dark or pale green leaves, just like edible herbs of the spring field. Peas and fava beans have tender pods that are rich in natural sweetness, and tomatoes tend to have sweetly juicy fruits with a soft skin. Root vegetables, such as turnips and radishes are pure white, pink or red in color, and fine and smooth in texture. Potatoes, squash, and pumpkins has an intensively complex,creamy taste, which is lingering and pleasant to the tongue.
The beauty of Natural Agriculture is that this system releases less pollutants or greenhouse gases into the environment and replaces pricey soil additives such as commercial fertilizers, organic compost, and pesticides with natural nutrient cycling and predator-prey population regulating mechanisms.
Above and beyond, it requires only clean air, clean water, pure soil and the energy of sunlight which is a renewable source of energy. This system also helps reduce the need for non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels by reducing the use of repeated conventional horticultural practices such as intensive tillage, application of synthetic fertilizers, mechanical weeding and irrigation. Therefore, it works for everybody, and even children can do it.
My children have their own kitchen garden plots in their backyard to plant and grow their own food. They are now free to pick and taste the real flavor of food grown by working with a variety of life forms, perhaps including some nature beings, in the garden.
Recently, my passion for sharing knowledge and experience of Natural Agriculture has extended to students at an elementary school on the island. I truly enjoy growing and eating fresh harvests from a school garden with around a hundred young gardeners each growing season. It seems children have a natural ability to learn how to grow food. I’m hoping that over time, they will learn to save their own local seeds for their garden.
If we work together and care for the seeds we plant and save them from one generation to next, the seeds will have a past, present, and future in their consciousness and become more adaptable to on-going global changes.
And if we plant seeds with love, thankfulness, and respect for nature, the seeds will resonate with our consciousness and grow into wholesome food that will in turn nourish our bodies, minds and spirits. These are the kinds of seeds I’d like to pass on to my children, their children, and the next generations of local and global communities.