There is a sheer iron resistance to the idea that farming can be done without heavy machinery. Hundreds of horse powers are out there on our fields. And people have completely lost confidence that it can be done otherwise.
However, maintaining a healthy garden gets down to one simple method called “chop and drop”.
Yes, we favor certain plants and crops over others that we call weeds. But it is a serious mistake to try to quantitatively remove those plants we have decided to call weeds. There is a much more simple, efficient and appropriate method than removing weeds with shoots and roots or even poisoning them with herbicides. We gotta change attitude and rather think positively of our crop than being afraid of the weed. You want to concentrate on taking care of your favorite crop, while you chop and prune some of the other plants that otherwise prevent your crop from fully developing. Following this practise, there no waste of any of the nutrients that had been taken up by the weeds. At the contrary: The weeds have – for the time of their own development – accumulated nutrients that are subsequently released for the benefit of your crop. Roots that remain in the soil decay – or at least partly decay, and enter the cycle of natural soil building right at the spot. And the arial parts of the weeds, when dropped at the place, cover the soil, preserve soil moisture and also contribute to the soil building. There is thus no serious competition for nutrients, because surface composting and root pruning recycle the nutrients to the system in favor of your favorite crops.
If you do not interfere in the garden, then it turns wild. Then eventually there is competition for nutrients and light, and certain plants take advantage. Then a succession sets in towards a climax vegetation typical for the particular climatic region. Proper gardening, however, is maintaining a young and open fruit forest. Pruning and chopping is necessary and sufficient to manage and maintain this stage for many decades.
Undisturbed soil is extremely potent in recycling organic matter. All the soil organisms needed for cycling are right in place. This is one reason why it takes a couple of years of transition when you change your practice from digging and tilling to a permanent non-dig garden. The soil fauna has to develop and reach its natural balance. Once you approach this balance, managing becomes easier and easier.
There is no real need to prepare compost other than composting directly on the surface. You may want to use larger patches of nutrient accumulating plants, such as comfrey, for surface composting at another place with the aid to translocate nutrients. But this is a soft and sensitive method which keeps pace with natural cycling for the system, allowing the system to proceed in its most productive form.
People often argue that slugs then take over and harm the cultures. But this is just another temporary problem, until things get into balance again. Firstly, slugs do not particularly go after your crop. They also eat what you chop and drop and thereby assist the composting process. Secondly, the slugs will be followed by their predators such as toads controlling their population. Ducks are an excellent garden keeper too eating the slugs and providing you with eggs. Every problem has a natural solution. No artificial measure can do a better job than inviting the natural predators into your system. Using poison will only address one problem for a short period of time while at the same time removing the basis for survival of the natural predators, pushing the system out of balance.
Modern agriculture is a synthetic system. It is hard to see for many, how to get out of the system. It necessarily requires some time and you may encouter a temporary break down of yield until nature gets back into balance. But yields recover, and takes over far beyond what can be done with a synthetic system. We cannot rely on a single crop anyway. So why not growing a rich mixture of crops together. Monocultures are only practical for the machinery we employ to cultivate them, but neither appropriate for us or nature. Mixed permanent cultures are far more productive and healthy.
Natural farming is about bringing back the natural players into balance. Once this is achieved, gardening becomes the easiest task ever. It is no more than chop and drop, chop and drop, chop …. and drop.
I reckon, once the physical primary work is done, I can manage 2 hectares and maintain them in a state of a paradies just as a single guard, while enjoying plenty of leasure time.
Imagine how much you learn by actually doing it!