When I first read The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming
in the early 70’s I did not think that almost 50 years later I’d still be trying to make Fukuoka’s concepts work, but I am. His concept of farming by scattering seeds protected by clay balls seems better suited to fertile soil than to rocky hillsides or yellow clay swamps, but everywhere I live I try to get as close to what Masanobu Fukuoka visualized as I can. I find myself farming more like the Incas and the Aztecs than like Fukuoka but I still find room for his ideas. Giving up mowing has been better for the soil here than anything else I have done, and as the landscape evolves year by year I fit more and more edible plants into my surroundings.
Several years ago I bought some blackberry and raspberry plants at the local Walmart and installed them on a mound at the end of my established garden, hoping for fruit the next year. Both species of brambles are native to this area and their wild cousins did well enough here that it seemed like a good idea. Because of potential disease transmission, planting within a hundred yards of a wild stand is not recommended, and I suppose that the problems could have jumped across to the new plants, but it happened so quickly I think that it either came with the plants or is endemic in this clay soil. The raspberries died of root rot and although the blackberry canes thrived, blooms in succeeding years never set fruit because of fungal infections. All I had left were wild brambles.
The wild blackberries here have so many diseases that the fruit seldom ripens, so I’ve been trying to eliminate them, but a few wild black raspberry plants growing in a wet shady spot of the front yard produced good fruit so I kept them. For about four years I’ve been tending this patch and it has prospered with very little attention beyond mulching and protection from birds. Last year I picked enough berries to make 7 pints of raspberry jam, so I think the venture is a success. This year if I put up enough netting I could possibly get twice that amount.
To lessen the competition from grasses I cut hay and mulched deeply in between the raspberry plants, and to expand the patch I guide the cane tips to empty spots under the netting frame. The wild plants multiply by tip-layering — each cane bends down to the ground and the tip puts down roots, becoming a new cluster of canes the following year. To protect the health of the patch I cut out dead canes during the winter and eliminate any thornless canes. The thornless plants do not bear fruit.
I’ve protected the berries from birds by laying plastic fence netting over a willow frame. Last year the netting even protected the plants outside the net, because the birds were so focused on finding a way in that they never noticed the outside canes. So far that’s been my only expense — $15 for re-usable plastic netting. Labor has been minimal, just a few pitchfork loads of hay to cut and tuck down. If I compare the crop ounce for ounce with raspberries from the store, I’ve paid off the netting and I’m eating fresh berries in season and jam year-round. Hard to find a better deal than that.