“Soil was made to produce crops to nourish and sustain humans and animals. Therefore its essential nature is that of a fertilizer. We could even say that it is no less than a great mass of fertilizer.” ––Mokichi Okada
Soil: A Complex Microcosm
Soil is composed of ground rock particles, organic matter or humus (decayed living matter), air, water, and a multitude of living organisms. These organisms range from microscopic microbes and micro-arthropods such as mites and springtails, to macro arthropods such as earthworms and spiders. This web of chemical, physical, and biological materials functions as a complex system to make the soil a living entity. The gatekeepers of soil processes are the living organisms, or biota, which degrade the decaying organic matter and rock particles. Along with physical root pressures and exudates, the organisms pass dissolved particles down the soil food chain. Eventually the bacteria and fungi process and recycle nutrients that are then available to be taken up by plants roots for plant growth. Over the millennia, this cycle has made available the nutrients from degraded rock and humus and has nourished the growth of plants and animals. This process is the key to support all living things and builds lasting soil fertility.
Natural Agriculture practices support the entire cycle. A multitude of plants, animals, insects, and microbes live in and grow in soil, adding to the complexity of a functioning soil ecosystem. After completing their life cycle, their remains mix with the soil particles transferring their energy or life force back into the soil. When humus or organic matter from decomposing biotic (living) materials is a part of the soil, the soil texture and nutrient levels are enhanced for both plant and soil organisms’ growth. As this process continues year after year, this organic matter and the soil particles blend to become a rich humus improving soil structure and releasing nutrients and energy to nurture the growing plants. This cycle continues indefinitely without the need for intervention by man. The Natural Agriculture farmer’s role is to support this natural soil cycle. Farmers need to understand that revitalizing the power of soil is essential for Natural Agriculture farming. Over time and under Natural Agriculture practices, the soil’s structure and texture will improve to become favorable for the best growing conditions and environment for soil biota.
The Myth About Fertilizer
Unless the farmer is farming virgin lands where the soil has not had any previous cultivation, the farmer will need to bring the soil back to its natural state. Where fertilizers have been used, the soil has become contaminated. These contaminations have destroyed or weakened the inherent, natural power of the soil. The use of fertilizers, manures, and other chemicals, such as pesticides and herbicides, may in the short term increase the productivity of the land. In the long term, they are artificial supports and destroy the very nature of the soil and the interaction of the plants with the soil. Natural Agriculture practices prohibit the use of any chemical sprays, such as pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, the use of synthetic fertilizers or soil disinfectants, growth regulators, and any soil amendments or conditioners except Natural Agriculture compost.
A basic concern of farmers is the loss of nutrients removed from the soil in crop growth. Farmers worry soil cannot provide sufficient nutrients and believe they must add fertilizers or other materials such as manure to grow successful crops. Due to the chemical and biological activity constantly occurring in the soil that support Natural Agriculture practices, nutrients along with the flow of energy naturally continue to replenish these losses.
In a chemical free environment, plants and soil come into equilibrium to create the most viable plants. From a biological perspective, plants elongate roots in the ground to absorb water and energy from the soil. When fertilizers are used, plants fail to extend their roots in search of soil nutrients and soil energy, since their roots absorb fertilizers applied around their root zone. This excessive supply and intake of nutrients lowers their ability to sustain healthy growth. Conventional agriculture soils have been handicapped due to massive inputs of fertilizers over the years. The soil has been deprived of its ability to maintain its regenerative power. In order for the soil to be restored to its original purity and vigor, fertilizers are not used in Natural Agriculture farmiNatural Agriculture guidelines explain that methods currently used in conventional farming misinform farmers about the cause of crop damage, which leads the farmer to feel that the only way to control crop problems is to apply more fertilizers, or spray more pesticides or fungicides on them. This misunderstanding creates a cycle of increased damage and increased preventive inputs. When inputs are no longer added, the unnatural elements in the soil decline and the soil will recover its health and regain its power to regulate natural processes. Plants, in turn, increase their vigor, extending their roots deeper into the ground. They grow disease-free, becoming resistant to pest or wind damage and resilient against any other natural change. The most remarkable phenomenon is that through this process, the flavor and nutritional value of the crops are increased.
The essence of any agricultural production system, especially Natural Agriculture farming, is the primary focus on achieving the most fertile soil where the soil will produce the highest quality and quantity of agricultural products. In conventional agriculture, this is done with the addition of inputs such as fertilizers and manures, soil amendments, and tillage practices. The problem with this process is that effects are short lived and need to be repeated on a continuous basis to sustain the desired improvements. This also incurs input costs and labor requirements.
Mokichi Okada wrote about the Law of Purification. This concept focuses on spiritual aspects of Natural Agriculture especially related to soil quality. This law has a premise that all applied nutrients accumulate as hidoku, or fertilizer poisoning. This can be compared to spiritual clouds or the degradation of a soul. In this regard, pure soil is degraded by applying fertilizers and other chemicals, and even by applying any compost, as Natural Agriculture farmers notice at later stages of their practice. These inputs contaminate the soil by causing the soil to be imbalanced. As the amount of hidoku or toxicity accumulates, both in the seeds and the soil, the soil decreases its ability to exhibit its full potential. The hidoku layer forms just above the subsoil layer (A). Hidoku can be remediated by absorption through root systems and discarding the plants (B) or through plowing the field deeply to break the hidoku layer ©. In fact, crops grown from purer soil represent purity and grace of the soil and seeds. After hidoku is eliminated from the soil, the plants regain their ability to absorb nutrients in the soil and produce healthy growth.
The Role of Natural Compost
Natural Agriculture compost known as “natural compost” or “veg-compost” is made only with vegetative materials and no animal manures. It can take many forms ranging from the use of fresh vegetative materials to aged decomposed materials. The type of compost to use depends on the specific agricultural practice. In the Natural Agricultural guidelines, compost is not applied to fertilize the soil, but as a means to keep the soil warm or cool, to improve its water retention capacity, and to prevent it from hardening. Although compost is generally categorized as type of fertilizer, the Natural Agriculture guidelines do not regard it as such. The natural compost should be composed of plant materials (grass, leaves, and crop residue) ideally from the immediate area, grown where no harmful substances have been used. Dry grasses and fallen leaves are part of natural recycling and regeneration in nature. Natural Agriculture compost will not interfere with or decrease the original energy level of the soil.
One of the most important points in growing plants and in sustaining them is to assist their root growth. To do this, it is essential to keep the soil from becoming compacted. Soil that is easily compacted is not suitable for farming because it tends to arrest development of roots. Take care not to use natural compost that is over-decomposed. This type of natural compost can become easily hardened and compact on the soil surface and when mixed in the soil create lumps similar to soil clods. Natural compost whose condition is half-decayed is most appropriate.
The following are considered harmful substances by Natural Agriculture standards and included in its list of prohibited materials. Avoid using all harmful materials mentioned in this outline, including the following:
- Compost made of animal manure (from cattle, pigs, chickens, horses and other livestock) and/or human waste
- Compost made of plant materials that are exposed to heavy metal, chemical substances or radiation or possibly exposed to such contamination
- Food processing wastes (such as bean curd refuse, brewer’s grain, and coffee grounds) and the compost made from these wastes
- Manufactured vegetables wastes (oil cake and rice bran to name a few) and the compost made from these wastes
- Manufactured woody materials (made of woody materials such as bark, sawdust, wood chips, etc.) and the woody compost made of these materials
- Wood charcoal, rice husk charcoal, and carbonized leaves (carbonized by fumigation)
- Pyroligneous acid (liquid obtained by dry distillation of wood)
- Ash of burned plants
- Livestock waste (skin, blood, meat, coat, bone meal, etc.)
- Fish waste (fish, shellfish, seashells, seaweed, fish meal, etc.)
- Materials made of natural minerals (caustic lime, rock dust, etc.), which is especially used as soil amendments or conditioners
- Vegetable oils and animal fat
- Food garbage (exception: uncooked vegetable scraps from a Natural Agriculture Farm or Garden)
- Compost made of urban garbage
- Sewage sludge and other organic materials with a risk of contamination by exposure to heavy metal, chemical substances, or radiation
- Perlite, vermiculite, or peat moss
“There are many brand name seeds, but we don’t need to use those seeds. The simple fact is that the highest quality seeds can be obtained from fields that are the least affected by fertilizers. Therefore, your continuous efforts in practicing Natural Agriculture will bring you the best quality and variety seeds.” ––Mokichi Okada
In Natural Agriculture we save and use seed from the farm. This practice is adopted for several reasons:
- to have a self-sustaining supply of seeds for planting
- to produce seeds that do not contain residual toxins
- to produce seeds that have the memory of the surrounding environmental conditions (seed epigenesis);
- to have seeds that are self selected for seed saving efforts that contribute to preserving the genetic diversity of seeds as well as the biodiversity of the local ecosystem.
Our ancestors crossed different varieties of native or wild species to produce crops and repeated mother plant selection for millennia to develop their desirable traits.Since they were grown under natural conditions, these plants mutated and evolved to adapt to local surroundings as shown by their complex characteristics. In conventional agriculture, traditional or heirloom seeds are becoming extinct because farmers prefer hybrid seeds to obtain specific characteristics such as higher yields, pest resistance qualities, and storage capacity. These seeds need to be purchased every year and have been bred for high input of chemicals to sustain their growth. Purchasing hybrid and terminator (plants that do not produce viable seeds) types of seeds is replacing the traditional practice of saving seeds on the farm.
Qualities derived from hybridization can be obtained with the use of non-hybrid seeds and complementary Natural Agriculture cultural practices. Seed saving will replace the need to buy commercial seeds and will produce more viable seeds appropriate to the specific location and needs of the farmer. Beginning farmers should select seeds based on the local environmental conditions and the needs of the consumers. More experienced farmers will expand their seed selection to introduce new crops and multiple varieties of the same crop species. Over time, the quality of the seeds and plants will improve and adapt to the local conditions providing qualities naturally similar to those provided by hybrid seeds.
For the beginning farmer, seeds for planting will come from two sources:
- purchased seeds
- on-farm saved seeds.
Over time, the farmer should have a completely self-sufficient seed stock from on-farm sources.
The types of seeds used by Natural Agriculture farmers typically changes over time. Farmers transitioning to Natural Agriculture practices will need to obtain seeds from other Natural Agriculture producers, local farmers, or purchase untreated non-hybrid varieties and begin the process of on-farm seed saving from these purchased seeds. Using open-pollinated seeds, seeds grown in the local area, or seeds obtained from other farmers using low-input or organic methods will provide the best seed stock. When obtaining seeds from a local farmer, check the breeding history of the seeds to determine if they come from plants grown with prohibited materials or chemicals. Locally grown seeds will have the advantage of being adapted to the local conditions.
“The soil demonstrates this inherent capacity by fully responding to humans’ respect and love towards it. In addition, it is crucial for farmers to keep the soil pure and free from contamination. Then, as a result, the soil will surely become more vitalized with joyful sentiments.” ––Mokichi Okada
Most successful business entrepreneurs will say that anyone can have a successful business, but only those people that have the attitude that they can succeed will succeed. As in any business, the attitude of the farmer is key to being successful. This is especially true for those that practice Natural Agriculture. Attitude can be defined as spiritual gratitude. What you feel about an activity, how you approach it mentally, directly affects how you do the activity and whether it will be accomplished successfully.
Shumei Natural Agriculture encourages farmers to have a general attitude of reverence toward the soil, natural habitats, and the local ecosystem. Farmers’ care for soil and plants is seen as crucial to how well their crops can perform and to what makes their farms thrive. Living in a society, individuals benefit from the support and contributions from all of society for the general welfare. So too, Natural Agriculture practitioners should support the benefits of the natural environment by not contaminating the soil, water, air, and plants with any harmful substances.
A general saying may be, “You grow how you feel.” The inner qualities of a grower determine what type of caretaker of the earth that grower will be. The environment will also have an impact on how a grower thinks and feels. Mokichi Okada said that human psychological activities such as rational thinking and emotional expressions are not exclusive to people, but can be found in other species like the flora and fauna, microorganisms, soil and other inorganic matter. Both producers and consumers should note that their subconscious influences the health of plants, the soil in the fields, and even human feelings and attitudes. The farmer’s genuine gratitude and grace in the care for soil, seeds, and plants invigorates the soil to exert its life-force energy. Plants, in turn, tap into the soil’s energy to grow.
As spiritual beings, farmers have a personal relationship with their farm. If they tend to their plants with a sincere heart and pray for thei full growth without expecting any return, plants will respond with an abundant yield.
Humans emotionally interact with each other. In this sense, the state of mind in which farmers work their fields has a broad impact not only on the soil, seeds, and produce, but also on the inner feelings of those who are involved with each process of production, distribution and consumption. If everyone works together with gratitude, joy, compassion and mutual respect, these positive thoughts make a difference. These are age-old principles that must be respected in the application of Natural Agriculture farming.