We are like the trees,
we must wisely choose
where we put out shoots
for there great branches will grow,
or in tangled shadow
Trust in abundance
Small and timely reminders of Masanobu Fukuoka's deep wisdom abound. Mungo spent much of last year fretting about how to grow trees (what about soil fertility? Compaction? Peckish rabbits? Hyper-aggressive grass? Unviable seeds? Mice? Birds? Insects? Powdery mildew? Too much rain? Too little? HOW WILL ANYTHING SURVIVE!?), only to discover that during all that indoor research, outside the woodland had been quietly and contentedly reforesting the fields with little Beech, Oak, and Sycamore saplings. A little oakling even cropped up in the middle of our meticulously mulched herb garden! Far, far from any mother tree.
Here might be the single most important and difficult (for Mungo at least) lesson to learn and relearn. Fukuoka, upon waking in the morning, did not wonder to himself, "What do I have to do today?", but instead asked, "What do I not have to do?". For the greenhouse/polytunnel gardener, the answer to the latter is very short – most days plants need watering, temperatures need moderating, airflow needs adjusting, fertiliser needs adding, pollination needs performing, potting-up needs doing, disease-control needs undertaking, lullabies need singing etcetc. The situation is similar for the large-scale industrial farmer, who must contend with an ecosystem destabilised by plowing, enforced monoculture, corroded genetics, damaged and depleted soil, and decimated biodiversity. However what Fukuoka realised through the close observation of his surroundings was that the vast majority of such tasks undertaken by growers, even growers of vast experience, knowledge, and ability, were unnecessary. He saw that within nature's incalculably rich and diverse symphony of systems, developed and refined over untold millennia, all of these jobs are performed admirably, and the world flowers, fruits, and flourishes. There is no 'work' to be done. All of the plants that now exist (barring the freakish, infertile Monsanto monstrosities and F1 hybrids), and all of the animals including humans, grew and grow from this universal truth. Cheshire would once have been near-completely covered in mixed forest, as would almost all of the UK up to at least 640m above sea level (1); at Beech Hill all we had to do was remove the horses from grazing the fields, and the land remembered itself.
Now the philosophy is one thing, and the praxis quite another. Therein lies the challenge. It might seem like madness to entrust precious seeds and seedlings to the messiness of the wild, but trusting to nature's abundance reaps major rewards. Don't take our word for it – we are still mostly-incompetent agri-idiots – but look at what Fukuoka achieved by implementing his beliefs in Japan: in a proud and ancient nation of rice-growers, his farm was equal to and surpassed the most productive contemporaneous examples of traditional and industrial agriculture in terms of rice-bushels per 1/4-acre, whilst improving the soil year-on-year, with the fewest energy-calories expended, and with the richest, 'weediest' and most biodiverse plot in his district. All without adding chemical fertiliser, plowing, or mechanisation, and barely flooding his paddy (a traditional and ubiquitous practice in the summer months to suppress weed competition).
Japan is not Cheshire, and rice is not potatoes, kale, or sprouts. But the world is worlding everywhere, and the sooner we learn how to work with nature and not against it, how to humbly participate rather than to impose, and how to entrust ourselves to the ineffably sacred mystery of existence, the better.