June 1, 2020

Masanobu Fukuoka Was Right

On Monday last week, it wasn't supposed to rain until afternoon, so I got started on a bed to plant black turtle beans.

Blackberry vines popping up in a huge leaf pile.

Years ago this bed was an experiment in growing perennials with a few annuals and naturalized forage plants. It contained multiplier onions, chicory, lettuce, violets, heartsease, and 4 o'clocks. It looked pretty for awhile. But from that experiment I learned an important lesson. Masanobu Fukuoka was right!

"My conviction was that crops grow themselves and should not have to be grown. I had acted in the belief that everything should be left in its natural course, but I found that if you apply this way of thinking all at once, before long things do not go so well."
Masanobu Fukuoka
The One-Straw Revolution

Blackberries, honeysuckle, horse nettle, grasses, and other unwanteds gradually took over that bed until it was a mess. Last fall, I dumped wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of leaves on it in an attempt to smother everything so I could start over. That worked fairly well until the blackberries began to bravely push through.

One of my "between raindrops" projects has been to dig out all those blackberries and plant black turtle beans. I used the shovel to loosen the blackberry roots and pull the vines. I realize I won't get all the root and they'll still come back, but it's a start. I did the same for honeysuckle roots I found. The violets got to stay. I noticed that doing nothing for the past several years did zero to improve the soil.

Blackberries removed, multiplier onions harvested, and turtle beans planted.

To plant the beans, I simply pushed the leaf mulch aside in three rows and poked the beans into the ground.

I've battled blackberry brambles ever since we first chose this spot for our garden. It was originally a neglected field that grew them readily. Even though I've been trying to eradicate them, this year in a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" moment I decided to let them grow in another bed in the garden.

Old asparagus/new blackberry bed.

Behind this bed is where I dug my very first garden swale three years ago (that story with photos here.) I filled it with sticks, stalks, and corn cobs, leaving the removed soil as a berm. I planted the berm with clover and later transplanted my asparagus there. I never got much asparagus, but instead got blackberry brambles and wiregrass. I battled those for several years and this year decided, heck with it. I'll just let the blackberries grow in hopes I'll get some berries. I've been pulling the wiregrass and horse nettle and cutting back the daffodil leaves. Then putting down wood chips for mulch.

Volunteer blackberries with a little bit of the clover I originally planted.

Well, I'm picking about a pint per day. They look pretty good too.

They aren't all this size, but a lot of them are.

I have to add that they aren't terribly sweet, and that they have large seeds. Dan doesn't care for blackberries because of the seeds, but as volunteers these are a gift. And they pack a power-punch of flavor, so I'll use them to make blackberry jelly. They will definitely need a trellis, but that will have to wait.

So gradually I'm learning to cooperate with nature and what my garden wants to grow. I realize I can't do nothing and leave it to chance, but I can continue to observe and work to meet the needs of what wants to grow there. It's all a process, isn't it?


  1. Isn't that the truth?! It looks like you made the right choice. Those berries look plump and delicious.

  2. But oh those prickly thorns. Blackberry jam, anyone?

  3. Definitely Leigh, it IS all a process! We are in the process of ridding the new acreage of those pesky blackberry bush brambles,. The only way we have considered is by backing the bush hog over them, and grinding them to bits. This does not remove them, but pushes them back further into the wood lines. In the past, we have used blackberries to infuse brandy, as I don’t like the seeds either. Call me crazy, but we have a start of a thornless blackberry, given to us by a neighbor. We probably won’t get berries this year, but next year I have a feeling I may need some recipes. Lol ! How is the keyhole garden doing? Hope you have a great week!

  4. Daisy, like I said, if you can't lick 'em, join 'em, lol.

    Jo, yeah, those thorns are nasty! I think next year they'll do better on a trellis. Likely, we'll go with jelly instead of jam. Dan doesn't like the seeds in his teeth. ;)

    Wyomingheart, you need goats! They love blackberry vines and will eat them to destruction. Of course, that doesn't help in non-pasture areas, but that's the easiest way to eliminate them in pasture areas. The thornless types are a great idea. We were told the former owners of our place had them, but we never found any thornless. Good idea to infuse in brandy!

    The keyhole is s--l--o--w growing, with only a few of each type of seed I planted coming up. I'm going to replant the Swiss chard today, and transplant some calendula I have in trays. Maybe I'm just impatient. :)

  5. How do you preserve your beans? My mom always canned her beans so they were nearly ready to eat, just pop the top, heat and serve. My dad has been eating those and would like more but can't find moms recipe. I experimented with some Navy Beans following some online recipes where I soak them overnight and then pressure can them. They turned out okay texture wise but were way to salty despite me putting half the called for salt in them. My father seemed to think that mom did it without them soaking at all. I finally found a recipe that called for 1/2 cup of dried beans per jar and the same canning time (10 lbs at 90 min). I'm going to give that a go. If I can get things done successfully, I plan to be canning a lot more beans for the future. I've been eating the salty batch just mixed in with other stuff and they have been fine. I've got about 15 pounds of dried beans waiting for the perfect recipe.

  6. Oh, for blackberry jelly! Be still my heart. I've tried to start blackberries here a number of times but they never lasted. Climate not warm enough. I've been told there are some varieties now that will make it here, but haven't given them a go yet.

    Very interesting theory of growing what grows naturally in an area. For me, it would be quack grass. :o(

  7. I saw a documentary on him years and years ago. I loved his idea of seed bombs, where you cover seeds with a little bit of clay and fertilizer and let them germinate. He was a real precursor to the permaculture movement and that was a very long time ago. He lived a very long life and had a great following worldwide even though he had a humble life in Japan. I think his book was called the one straw Revolution? Good going with the berries!

  8. after quite a few years of battle we managed to eradicate the blackberries in the garden! they form these nasty loops, where they hang down and touch the soil again - all of us have been stumbling into one of them at one time! we are surrounded by wild blackberries all over the place, so there's no need to grow any in the garden. and in my experience the "tame" ones have less thorns, but unfortunatel less taste as well. so I grow other stuff - and collect blackberries along our paths and into the bog, win win;) I boil them up briefly and push them through a sieve to make jam - I am too mean to loose so much fruit pulp when making jelly:) but I do like them with or without additional apples in crumbles etc - despite the seeds...
    we're still far away from blackberry picking - our elder is going to start flowering soon! despite a very mild and sunny (but dry) spring....

  9. Ed, dried beans? I do the presoak rather than the dry method, because then they're ready to heat and eat. I think when canning them dry, they often need a little more cooking after the jar is opened. I haven't found a recipe yet that I consider a keeper, so I experiment with adding various flavorings. There are so many variations out there, and they're not all equal. For salt, I add it last and add 1 teaspoon to each quart jar. If I had a salty ham, I'd probably cut that or omit it. I hope you find your mom's recipe.

    Mama Pea, I didn't realize blackberries don't like the north! It would be interesting to see if any of those cold hardy varieties can actually take it.

    The growing theory still has it's cons. Grasses of all types are probably on everybody's list!

    Nancy, yes, that's his most well-known book. I haven't tried his clay-coat method, but I ought to. We even have the clay for it. :)

    Bettina, yes, that's the problem with blackberry brambles! I'm going to trellis my keeper patch and see if that helps. I'd love to try a pie or cobbler with some of them, but Dan probably wouldn't eat it because of the seeds!

  10. Those volunteer blackberries are such a gift. High in antioxidants and free for the picking :)

  11. Leigh, any article labeled "Masanobu Fukuoka was right" should be required reading!!

    I have struggled with this too - I had a number of volunteer sweet potatoes this year. Just flat out grew by themselves.

    I hate wild blackberries. They are taking over some of the Lower Meadow at my parents' place - if I can ever get up there, out them come. If, on the other hand, they are away from the property, I will happy gobble up the berries.

  12. Leigh,
    I have been told that We have Russian "Raspberry" plants and as I do not really like them, (same excuse as Dan for your "Blackberries"), I pick them for Sue. They are very small and I am getting 4 or 5 a day. Sue freezes them in the hopes that she will get enough to put up a few pints of jam'
    We have two volunteer tomato plants (from a "Rainbow tomato from last year). They are in pots and are under the eaves of the house and there are 28 fruits coming on. One of the plants is higher then the house and we will train it with string and "Tomato Clips Tomorrow.
    Still working on other raised beds, The seeds for those beds should be here soon

  13. Tom, raspberries would be my preference! But I've never been able to get them to thrive here.

    Sounds like your volunteer tomatoes are good ones! Volunteers always seem to do better, don't they?

  14. Leigh, do a compromise. Strain the seeds out and jam the puree. That's what I do with raspberries too.

  15. Jo, whatever's the least amount of work! ;)

  16. I have decided basically the same thing. I just make my way around the house and each year it gets better and easier to control. I learn from my little "experiments". I just paid money for blackberries....very healthy for you! Enjoy!

  17. Sam, I personally think experimenting is the only way to do it. What works one place may not work somewhere else. "Better" and "easier to control" are both very desirable qualities!

  18. Just a thought: nature did just fine without man! ha. It is man that needs order - not nature. I had to smile at the fact that some plants can't be entirely removed. Peppermint is one of those plants.

  19. RT, we humans definitely have it backwards! "Controlling" nature is a rather arrogant presumption, in my not-so-humble opinion! lol

  20. Leigh I found a you tube tutorial on harvesting Lavender. The batch which I pick a while back was harvested full bloom and they still smell lovely. So I don't know. I'll see how this goes with the we batch I have. I have some more coming up. I don't really know if there is a wrong or right way. Thanks for stopping over and commenting. I appreciate it always.

  21. Faith, thank you for the info! Hopefully, if you keep picking it, it will keep on blooming.

  22. We also are blessed with an abundance of blackberries. The largest ones grow along the creek. The seeds are intense! If you make a pie, you are chewing for years! I have used the middle screen on a Squeezo-Straino successfully. It creates a juicy pulp (but no seeds). It is easy to thicken for jam or drizzle over yogurt. The seeds with pulp clinging to them have enough flavor to add to iced tea (strained):)

  23. Debby, I'd forgotten about the juicer/strainer (I have a Roma). That's a good idea. Otherwise, I'd treat it like any other juice extraction with a juice bag and my wine press!

  24. And that's a good idea about the pulpy seeds for tea!

  25. Blackberry jelly is the best - tons of flavour and no seeds. It's a win-win ,despite the extra work.

  26. Nina, it's one of those treats that's absolutely worth it! :)

  27. Nature loves to maximise solar panels on plants, so will often infest our cultivated areas, for this very reason. An interesting video I watched, explained that maximum solar panels on plants, increases the sugar produced in the roots. Which in turn, increases the amount of micor-biota living in the soil that feed on them, and speeds up their life cycle.

    What this means for your soil is, healthier plants, more water holding capacity and less watering required, in a shorter period of time. So basically, drought proofing measures. I see you battling those blackberries, and recognise how they're trying to increase the micro-biota in the soil. I'm glad you've decided to make a sort of truce with them. As you can see the benefits. But I just wanted to let you know what other benefits they're providing too.

    Absolutely move them if you need to, but if you can work around them, you may discover the wonderful benefit of improved soil, without your hard labour. But I full understand too, some areas you just need to use for other things.

  28. Chris, I think in the past year I've been learning to see the soil in a completely new way. I realize I definitely need greater diversity, as my "weeds" show. No shortage of black berries, that's for sure!


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