How to Make a Fukuoka-Style Garden
"This looks easy"
One evening, my mother-in-law was watching a program on a Japanese TV channel about an eccentric farmer in Japan. He said he refused to use chemicals or processed fertilizers to grow rice and instead used a "natural" method without tilling. His rice crop had much larger yields than his neighbors who used pesticides and flooded their fields annually. He also used seed balls (seeds packed into clay pellets) which he threw around randomly. He spread straw as a mulch and used clover as organic green manure instead of fertilizer.
His name is Masanobu Fukuoka, and he wrote the book One Straw Revolution. Inspired by his presentation from the TV show, I was able to find his book online and read it in about a day. I took action and recruited my wife and niece to help me spread some straw in a plot in our yard.
We made seed balls with a mixture of clay, soil, and seeds of a wide variety plants we wanted to grow, After laying the straw, we randomly tossed the seed balls into the plot. This mimics how nature randomly distributes seeds. Fukuoka says that this process allows nature to decide which plants will grow better in certain areas.
Seed ball "recipe"
2 parts potting soil
5 parts pottery clay mix from your local art store
1-2 parts water
1-2 parts seeds of your choice
Large tub to mix ingredients
Large box to dry and store seed balls
Using legumes as green manure
For me, one ingenious part of Fukuoka's method is the use of legumes as green manure. In other words, he uses nitrogen-fixing plants as a ground cover. Fukuoka preferred white clover. After trying to plant clover in Hawai'i I have found that other legumes are better suited to the climate here, particularly cowpeas and sunn hemp.
The garden is a slow, rewarding process
I will pause here to say if you are a person who needs instant gratification, this may not be the method best suited for you. However, if you are patient and enjoy subtle nuances of watching things grow for the long term, you should keep reading.
After about a month, a few green shoots start pushing up out of the straw. After close inspection, I realized that there was a lot going on underneath. My initial seed ball mixture included white clover, beets, pumpkin, lettuce, raddish, and tomatoes.
After few weeks, some plants grew out their "true leaves" while others did not survive because the conditions were not ideal for them. Like Fukuoka said, nature made its "selection."
Toward the ending of the first crop cycle, the garden looked like the picture below. Even though the first season is said to be the least yielding, I still managed to grow a few daikon radish, a pumpkin and some lettuce.
General "guidelines" for Fukuoka-style gardening
1. Cultivation of soil, plowing or tilling are unnecessary, as is the use of powered machines.
2. Prepared fertilizers are unnecessary, as is the process of preparing compost
3. Weeding, either by cultivation or by herbicides, is unnecessary; instead, only minimal weed suppression with minimal disturbance should be used
4. Applications of pesticides or herbicides are unnecessary
The second season: making adaptations
Encouraged by the first crop, I studied a few areas where I could improve. I noticed that my vining crops had a hard time so I added a trellis. I drove 4 posts into the ground and make a table like trellis putting the fencing over the posts. As seen below, this has made a nice home for my bitter melon. Other vining plants have enjoyed this structure as well As an added benefit, the vines on top offer some shade to the plants below so they don't get burned by the intense sun exposure in this area.
I am fortunate enough to live in Hawai'i where you can garden year-round. We have a dry season and a wet season. During the dry season I sow seeds directly, rather than making them into seed balls as I was having trouble getting the seeds to germinate due to dry conditions. Fukuoka says to adapt the method to work in your particular climate area.
"Do nothing" gardening requires some work, but the work you do isn't unpleasant
When Fukuoka says "do nothing farming," he is referring to not digging, not adding chemicals, and not weeding. What this method requires is a lot of observation. One has to notice which plants do well in certain areas and which do not and adjust each season. Now in my third season, I have added a few more features to the garden, like native flowers that attract pollinators and a tree for shade. My yield has varied and I have had the most luck growing daikon radish and bitter melon, but have had many happy surprises along the way. I have been creative as well. Last year I did a "red" crop, mostly planting red colored vegetables. My favorites turned out to be reddish purple carrots a burgundy-okra. Both were delicious and aesthetically pleasing.
The reward is the process, the icing on the cake is the harvest
Now three years into gardening in this method I have learned a tremendous amount. When one gardens, one becomes knowledgeable in areas of biology, chemistry, entomology, and agriculture without ever opening a book. While I feel I have barely scratched the surface of what I need to know, every season I am more confident I am going in the right direction.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Kinak-pops