Category Archives: Garden

The Lazy Way of Farming

I’ve been intrigued by Fukuoka and his natural way of farming for a while. This precursor to the modern permaculture movement developed a way and philosophy of agriculture based on his observations and experiments in Japan. Eventually he was able to produce as much rice using his method as others did with more traditional (mono-cropping) techniques. One of the things Fukuoka did was go into a field and just throw seed randomly out in the field and see what happened. If something grew particularly well in one place, he would make observations and try to figure out what nature was doing. In this way he tried to base his way of farming on nature.

Fukuoka’s method actually reduces the amount of labor needed, because you aren’t trying to apply lots of inputs, use tillage and cultivate the ground in a way that works against nature. Instead you do your best to let nature do all the hard work and you sit back and reap the results. I’ve been wanting to experiment with this way of cultivating food. Well, I had a bag of seeds that were not labeled. So, I had no idea what they were or what to do with them. This was the perfect chance to begin developing what I would like to call the lazy way of farming. Sounds good right?

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Here’s the bags of seeds without any labels. I might have learned something by trying to identify the different seeds. Instead I thought it would be fun to plant a bed in my garden Fukuoka-style.

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Here is the result of mixing my seeds all together in a bag. Then I prepped a bed in my garden for them by hoeing it up (I know this is not pure Fukuoka, but I’m experimenting okay?). Then I just tossed the seeds out on the bed, watered them in and then mulched them with some weeds.

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The thing I’m most worried about is birds getting to the seeds before they germinate, but so far so good. My hope is that something will grow this season and the seeds that don’t grow will lie dormant until the time is ready. So, I won’t replant this bed. I’ll just knock down whatever grows, let it mulch the bed for weeds and see if anything else comes up when the rainy season starts in November or so. I’ll let you know what happens and what I learned from the experiment. Hopefully, down the road it will develop into a low-labor, low-input way of farming a la Fukuoka and permaculture that will result in sustaining ourselves more and more off of whatever plot of ground we happen to be on.

Our Own Walden

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Photo of current Charagua workers cooking giso over the fire in what will soon be our yard.

We recently visited Charagua and decided to accept a position there working with Low German Mennonites, local Bolivians and Guarani (an indigenous group) on water systems, dry latrines and small-scale vegetable production. This is not the position we originally accepted, but it is within the same program. We’re excited about a more rural life and working with both LGMs and the Guarani people. Our house is on the same property as the center where we work and serves as a demonstration plot with a big yard and small pasture.

IMG_6442.JPGI’m excited about all the possibilities this position will provide. Both the more rural setting and living where we work mean that the pace of life will be much slower than in Santa Cruz. I have plans for the garden, but also to experiment with some tagasaste trees as a forage for a couple milk goats in the pasture by our house. I’m also hoping to work on a simple water filtration system (our water gets pretty murky when it rains), maybe rainwater harvesting and a compost pile, of course.

There will be a lot of time for reading, relaxing and just being. I plan on getting a charango and spending lots of time on the porch learning how to play this guitar-like instrument with ten strings and traditionally made out of an armadillo shell. I already have a stack of books to take with us (most of which are fiction this time). I’m also hoping that this will afford me the opportunity to return to my Food in the Bible series.

We will not have internet access. So, I may not be regularly updating the blog at least for the first couple months. If I am able to find a routine for writing, then I will space out those posts over time when I’m in the city.

Announcing Edible Lawns

I am starting a business called Edible Lawns dedicated to helping people grow more of what they eat. I’ll hopefully continue to pursue the connections between faith and food here on this blog, particularly the Food in the Bible series (someday). But the gardening, agriculture and food news, tips and posts will be posted to the new Edible Lawns’ blog.

Sustainable vs. Organic

This is a section I wrote up for a community gardening manual for Central Texas that I thought worth sharing.

hostess-twinkies.jpgWords are funny things. Their meaning is usually obvious, but used enough in the wrong hands words start to lose their integrity. You can now buy organic makeup, organic clothes, organic supplements, organic cleaners and organic pet food. Organic is now a regulated word when applied to products. The USDA has standards for the ingredients in any product that is sold as “organic.” These include no use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, certain land, pest and weed management practices among other things.

Sounds good, right? Technically, though, you could make a twinkie that could be certified organic. If the only concern is fulfilling the USDA regulations, then an organic twinkie makes sense. If it’s about more than marketing and gimmicks, then we have to dig deeper.

Some people, have turned to the word “sustainable” to help fill this gap. Sustainability is something that is “capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.” Thinking sustainably forces us to move beyond the organic (or any other) USDA label and think about the whole ecosystem and our role in it. It’s not only about particular methods for growing things, but more how we live in better relationship with the earth.

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Sustainability is also about the long-term viability and profitability of an enterprise. In the garden, you might have to make tough choices between organic principles and the sustainability of your project. In order to build enthusiasm for your project and have a good first harvest you might use a rototiller, even though not tilling at all might be better for the environment. Not using herbicides might fit your philosophy on good wholesome food, but there are no proven organic alternatives. You will have to manage the inevitable onslaught of weeds in other ways. There are always trade-offs in whatever system you use.

The thing that worries me most is the continual retreat to new and different words when terms like “organic” are co-opted by government bureaucracies. Instead of finding better words, sometimes we need to fight for the words that are being taken from us. I like words like “sustainable” and “holistic.” We should also fight for better standards, reforms and regulation that bring modern agriculture closer to the original meaning of organic as applied to agriculture by Lord Northburne in 1940 who talked about “the farm as a living whole.”

Here’s a graphic from chews wise on the ingredients of the Twinkie from the author of Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats.

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Flower in the Cracks

sidewalk-flower.jpgI ‘ve been inspired of late and written a couple songs. This one is a reflection on both the Easter season and the practice of resurrection I’m involved with called urban gardening.

March 21 and the bitter chill is a fading memory
The air wakes up with a new scent and a feeling of harmony
With a skip in my gait I whistle my mind
Walking through the city leaving everything behind
Out of nowhere something stopped me in my tracks
In the midst of the concrete jungle there’s a flower in the cracks
I never thought Spring such a powerful thing
Until I saw the sidewalk give way
The moment my illusion of control was unmasked
I prayed, “Lord hasten the day!”

It’s not my fault if you can’t see the resurrection around you
There is life right under our feet.
Don’t let the concrete drown you.
The worms and the weeds, the birds and the seeds
The roots and the shoots will ground you
Listen to the song of life and the God of creation surround you

What lies beneath the concrete is life and beauty awaiting
Jackhammers and grass are both anticipating
The Great Beyond, a new dawn, a life that’s more than skating
When we patch that sidewalk flat there’s something that we’re trading

It’s not my fault if you can’t see the resurrection around you
There is life right under our feet.
Don’t let the concrete drown you.
The worms and the weeds, the birds and the seeds
The roots and the shoots will ground you
Listen to the song of life and the God of creation surround you