1979: The One Straw Revolution — a commentary

The Lost Stories are Bill Mollison's articles published in the print magazine originally named Permaculture, then International Permaculture Journal and finally the Permaculture International Journal that was published between 1978 and 2000.

All stories and other content ©Permaculture Australia unless otherwise noted.

Story by Bill Mollison, August 1978. Edition: 1979, Summer.

Grain and legume growing in the permaculture system - the principles of simultaneous rotation ...Bill Mollison, August 1978

Until I read Fukuoka, there was no satisfactory basis, to my mind, for including grain and legume crops in a permaculture system, but the system outlined in The One-Straw Revolution (Rodale, 1975) seems to have solved the small holders' (and broad-scale) problems of no-dig grain cultivation.

Both P. A. Yeomans and David King of Nimbin recommend the work of G. F. Van der Muelen, a tropical agronomist who has published The ecological methods for permanent land use in the tropics, available from Ranonn Kelstraat 119, the Hague, The Netherlands. Van der Muelen uses, for example, the lab-lab bean (Dolichos lab-lab) under babassu palm as a perennial system; a friend of P. A. Yeomans uses lab-lab with barley to great effect.

In brief, the system (an example of which is given below, combines the usual rotation of legume/grain/root crop/pasture/fallow/legume into a single grain/legume mixed crop. There is every reason to do the same for tree crop system, including leguminous trees (wattle, black locust, tree lucerne) in any orchard, nut crop, or timber crop situation. Any smallholder can, without tractor or machinery, produce a heavy crop of grains and legumes if 'simultaneous rotation' is practised. The method is very well suited to sewage or sullage disposal from holding lagoons, when no poultry manure would be needed.

We are anxious to hear more from members on this technique, and hope that many people try the system on a backyard basis, with chick peas, lentils, beans, or lupins as alternative legumes. Labour in this system is minimal.

In this treatment, I have combined data from three books (Ref. 1-3). Using Fukuoka's methodology, and data from the latter two references (Ref 2, 3) to evolve a no-dig and permanent grain-crop system that fits into the permaculture system.

Grain crops are an important food source and are available within a season. Most areas suit grains, and legumes are the essential plants to fix nitrogen for the grain crop. A grain/legume diet gives a complete protein supplement (see Diet for a small planet, Frances Moore Lappe; FOE/Ballantyne).

The principles of continuous mulch (with clover) plus double-cropping using winter- and spring-sown grains is what makes it possible to use small areas (to 1/8 acre or less) to support a family of five in grain. If paddy rice is to be grown, the area must first be graded or levelled and a low bund (water wall) built around the plot, so that 2" or so of water can lie on ground in December (see Ref. 2 for technique of sealing bund walls with plastic).

After levelling, or preparation in summer, the area is limed or dolomite spread over it, watered in, and made ready for autumn planting. To start the continuous crop system off, a complete (seed free) mulch cover is applied, consisting of straw, seagrass, shredded paper, sawdust etc. at about 2000 Ibs. per 1/4 acre. If no mulch is available, seed can be covered as usual by raking in. I will deal with more than one plot here to show how different plants can be treated.

In April, seed is broadcast below the mulch follows:

  • Plot 1 Seed: rice, white clover, rye.
  • Plot 2 Seed: rice, white clover, barley.
  • Plot 3 Seed: Seed: rice, white clover, millet.
  • Plot 4: rice, white clover, winter wheat.
  • Plot 5: Seed: rice, white clover, winter oats.

Rice lies until Spring. The other crops germinate soon after sowing. The year then proceeds as follows (we will now assume that the rotation has been proceeding for one year).

April

A thin layer of chicken manure, is broadcast over the area. Use clover at 1Ib p/acre (inoculated if the first clover crop), rye and other grains at 6-14lbs p.a., and rice at 5-10Ibs per acre.

The seeds are hidden from birds by the mulch — the seed can be scattered first then straw-covered.

In the second year, rye and clover are sown into the ripe rice crop at this time.

The rye and other grains are sown midmonth.

May

First week: last year's rice is reaped, the crop dried on racks for 2-3 weeks, then threshed. All rice straw and husks are returned to the field. Rice is re-sown within a month after harvest, just before the straw is returned.

Rice for seed is used unhusked.

June — September

Migrate to a sunny climate or admire the winter crop. Light grazing of the winter crops by sheep or geese assists the stooling of plants and will add manure.

Check and sow any 'thin' areas as soon as possible.

If about 40 ducks per acre are allowed to range after the rice is growing, pests are reduced and the area is then sufficiently manured. Fields or paddies are kept well drained.

October

Check that rice is growing and re-sow thin patches if necessary.

November

Rye, barley etc. is harvested in the middle of this month and stacked to dry for 7-10 days. The rice is trodden but recovers. When other grains are threshed, return all straw and husks to the fields, moving each straw type on to a different plot thus:

  • Plot 1: oats
  • Plot 2: rye
  • Plot 3: barley
  • Plot 4: millet
  • Plot 5: wheat.

December

Only rice remains. Summer weeds sprout and may be weakened by flooding for 7-10 days until the clover is yellow but not dead. Rice grows on until the May harvest.

January — March

Field is kept at 50 — 80% saturation under rice and seeds of other grains prepared for sowing in April.

The cycle then continues as before, using the crop straw for mulch.

Each person must evolve their own techniques and species mixtures but once a cycle is perfected there is no further cultivation and straw mulch is the only weed control.

It helps if the area of bunds around the crop is planted to coprosma, comfrey, lemongrass, tree lucerne pampas or some such weed-controlling shelter plant. Sawdust mulch under these borders to prevent weed reinvasion from the bunds or surrounding land.

Where no paddy is possible dryland rice or other grain species can be used and spray irrigation replaces summer flooding. In monsoon areas rain should suffice. For amateurs, seed should be sown at the higher rates until skill in broadcasting is achieved.

Where rice will not grow, in very cool areas, other grains can replace rice, and short term cycles invented. (Spring wheat or corn sown in Septenber-November, for example, with oats, barley or wheat as winter crop). Other legumes can also be tried out.

Logsdon (Ref 2) gives sources for seed and small machinery, or home processing for threshing, husking, and grinding. In humid climates, grain should be dried to 14% moisture before storage in pest proof barrels or drums. In clean-tilled ground, the amount of seed needed is 4-5 times as much as in this straw-mulch method. Fukuoka's book gives much more data on no-tillage gardening for vegetables and fruit and for the tree crops he used five wattle trees (silver wattle, for example) to the acre instead of clover.

Fukuoka has maintained this no-dig cycle for 25 years and his soil is improving with no fertilizer other than chicken manure, no sprays, and no herbicides.

Where sparrows are a problem the grains are mixed with mud, pressed through wire mesh and rolled into small balls, or dampened and shaken in a tray of clay dust to form mud-coated pellets.

We also formed pellets by extruding mud and grain through a domestic mincer onto a vibrating table of dust.

Fukuoka throwing a seedball at a 2002 workshop at Navdanya.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masanobu_Fukuoka
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Notes on Grain and Pulse Species

A. Grain Crops

Rice — Oryza sativa

Although a shortday cereal suited to latitudes 40° N. and S would be a possible or even a probable success in cool climates, self-pollinated.

The U.N. notes that rice responds to nitrogen (Fukuokas' chicken manure).

The Japanese control disease in seeds by soaking in 40% formalin diluted 50 times with water. Around the paddy field, shrubs or tall plant cover should be planted to reduce weed invasion or the margins mowed. Wild grasses act as reservoirs for disease. Again, Fukuoka scythes wild grasses and ignores sprays and insecticides.

Seed at about 13% moisture is stored in a cool place. "Good yields may reach 3,000-4,000 kg/ha, about 3,500 Ib/acre » (Ref 3). 88 bushels = 5200 pounds, (sometimes 116 bushels) + 8,000 Ibs straw per acre (Ref 1).

Rye — Secale cereale

A long-day plant suited to cool areas, usually wintergrown but some spring types. Ripens in about 37-71 days. Pollinated by wind.

Autumn-planted (April-June) at 55-60kg in irrigated ground. Some nitrogen is needed on poor soils. Requires good moisture (one irrigation) at flowering.

Ergot removed in 20% solution of common salt; seed rinsed, drained; germination unaffected.

Crop must be threshed within a few days of ripening, plants cut at ‘wax-ripe’ stage, otherwise spikes dry out and seed starts to shatter when husked. Stored below 14% moisture. Good yields reach 2,800 kg/ha, about 2,400 Ibs acre, (Ref 3); 5,200 Ibs/acre, 88 bushels (Ref 1).

Wheat — Triticum aestivum, T. durum

Long-day plant for cool areas, grown in Alaska (some varieties). There are winter and spring wheats. Needs a sunny period of 6-8 weeks for ripening. Well drained and heavy soils best. Self-pollinated.

Species will not cross-pollinate over hedge barriers. Sown at 40-80 kg/ha.

Responds to nitrogen. In dry areas, flood irrigation useful, but this should cease when grain is filled. Cut when seed doughy but fingernail will still dent seed. Dried in field, threshed, stored below 21% to 14% moisture. Good yields kg/hectare = 1000lbs/acre.

Barley — Hordeum vulgare

Long-day plant for cool areas, subtropical to arctic.

Spring types mature in 60-70 days, winter types 160 days. Self-pollinated.

Sow at 70-120 kg/ha under irrigation in Autumn, or at 12 Ibs in mulch (Ref 1). Control ergot as for rye. Has fewer pests than wheat.

Grain must be hard before threshing, straw dry. Store at 14% moisture in cool dry place. Good yields 3000-5000kg-la (Ref 3); 5,200 lbs/acre, 22 bushels (Ref 1).

Buckwheat — Fagopyrum spp. F. esculentium, F. Tartaricum, F. emarginatum

Suits wide range of climates. F. esculentum best for cool moist climate. Wide range of soils, even in fertile and poorly-tilled soil, acid soil.

Pollinated by insects, needs (and is liked by) bees at two hives per hectare (1 per acre). Sow only after all frost danger is past (frost-tender) at 25-40kg/ha; not more, or less seed is produced. Lime may help. Few diseases.

Normally harvested at 10 weeks, when seed at base fully ripe. Threshes easily.

Seed dried on a floor. Good yields 3800-4000lbs/ha (Ref 3).

Oats — Avena sativa, A. byzantina

Long-day crop of winter and spring varieties, best in cool climate. A. sativa best in cool areas, winter crop.

Neutral soils of many types (dry loam best), self pollinated. Lodges (falls) with high nitrogen, so needs less of this than other grains.

Sown at 50-200 kg/ha in September to October for February —March harvest, or in autumn for winter varieties. Water needed at flowering. Harvest when straw still a little green, grain at hard dough stage.

Store below 14% moisture. Good yield < at3000kg/ha (Ref 3).

Quinoa — Chenopodium quinoa: or Canihua, C. pallidicauda

Grown America at high altitudes (Peru, Argentina) C. Quinoa ripens in 135-145 days, Canihua in 165-172 days. Tolerant of soils and salts.

Spring-sown (September — October) at 10-15 kg/ha. Birds are a problem.

Plants pulled when seed resists finger pressure, piled in stacks to dry. Good varieties (1000 varieties available). Yield 2000-3000 kg/ha (Ref 3).

Teff — Eragrostis teff

Neutral day length. White-seeded types suited to summer-dry season, brown-seeded to summer-wet seasons. Drought-resistant but needs shelter when flowering. Suits wide range of well-drained soils and will grow well on sandy soils. Self-pollinated.

Sow in Spring, October — December) for Autumn harvest (April — June) at 10-12 kg/ha. Thinning necessary. Harvest when green panicles turn grey. Yields 2000kg/ha.

Grain Sorghum — red millet, white millet, broom corn

Treat as for maize, below, planting soaked seed 10 days later than maize at 8Ibs/acre. All grow quickly and need little water. A good crop to use where other grains have missed in earlier plantings. Cross- or self-pollinated.

Harvest when seeds are ripe, hang heads in barn. These can be fed directly to poultry, like sunflower heads. Seed stores well. Birds are a problem with millet crops, poultry appreciate seeds.

Maize or Sweet Corn, popcorn — Zea mays

A short-day plant yet suited to 40°S or N and subtropics. Withstands slight frost only. Varieties seed from 50-130 days.

Prefers well-drained neutral soils. Cross-pollinated by wind, so needs tall windbreaks to keep varieties pure. Often followed by wheat or barley, rotated with soya beans.

Sow November — January. ‘’When oak leaves are as big as squirrels ears, or soil temp is 60°F" (Ref 2) at 15-30 kg/ha, thin if necessary, to 12001400 plants/ha.

Needs less nitrogen, more phosphate and potash than other grains. Irrigation at dry periods increases seed yield. Sweet corn harvested at ‘milky' stage and frozen or seed cobs allowed to dry on plant. Can be stocked in fields, husked and fed on cob to poultry, pigs, or seed stripped off cobs and stored.

Yields 1200-1500kg/ha. It is also possible to graze off lower leaves with lambs and then turn pigs into the field to harvest cobs. Cattle and poultry will scavenge remains, if any, and then few stalks are left to mulch, and straw must be 'borrowed' from elsewhere. A good interplant is climbing beans (twine on corn stalks).

B. Pulses and Legumes

Broad-Beans — Vicia fabia

Long-day, cool climate plant. Frost-hardy. Lime heavy loams, drain well. Bees help seed set but self-pollinated.

Sow in April-June at 200kg/ha (35-40 plants per m2). Some manure is important for phosphorus, rock phosphate. Cut before stack to dry. Yields 1500kg/ha (Ref 3). As well as seed, tops can be picked as a green vegetable and young top-pods eaten green as they form.

Vetch — Vicia spp, esp. V ervilia

Long-day, cool climate pulse that does okay on dunes, wet soils. V. pannonica best for heavy soils, V. ervilia for cold resistance.

Produce more seed on less fertile soils.

Self-pollinated but helped by bees. Often followed by maize, wheat, or can be mixed with barley, oats, rye, wheat.

Sow February — April or as a winter crop at 40-50kg/ha or 20kg/ha with 40 kg of grain oats, 80 kg rye. Best sown with oats, as seeds mature together. Not usually irrigated.

Cut when lower pods ripe, ervillea later.

Oats and barley seed readily. Separate from vetch. Store dry. Yield to 1000kg/ha on heavy land. (V. ervilia) (Ref 3).

Lentils — Lens culinaris

A long-day plant for Mediterranean climates or as a winter crop in the tropics. Very hardy to frost. Self-pollinated. Often sown with barley, in rows two metres wide, alternating. Does not need much nitrogen and has few pests.

Sown at 30-80kg/ha, (Ref 3). Ripens in 90 to 150 days. Harvest when lower pods brown, bundles pulled and dried over several days.

Flailed, or threshed if with grains. Average yield 600-1000kg/ha (Ref 3). Sow in June-August or November — August in Mediterranean climate.

Chickpea — Cicer arietinum

A dayneutral plant requiring cool weather for best growth. Can stand low temperatures.

Matures 90-100 days. Needs well-drained soils. Self-pollinating. Usually follows wheat, rice, oats. Sow in Sepember — November as spring crop at about 40-60kg/ha. Often irrigated in dry periods. Harvest when seed well developed but green, leaves reddish-brown. Pull or sickle, stack 1-2 weeks in field. Flail, yields 900kg/ha under irrigation (Ref 3).

Field Pea — Pisum sativum

Long-day plant of cool moist climates. More damaged by high temperatures than by frost. Self-potlinated. Often precedes wheat.

Sown August — November at 100-150kg/ha. Potash is useful in wet climates. Water at blossoming and again just before pods form or at half-full (if no rain).

Harvest by pulling or cutting when peas split without moisture released, stack 10-15 days, dry to 15% moisture. Yield about 1000kg/ha(Ref 3).

Lupins — Lupinus spp

Long-day or green crop preferring cool climates, grown as summer or winter annuals. Maturing seed (if needed) in 100-150 days. Prefer neutral light soils. Bees are main pollinators. Often grown after peanuts, before grains, or even useful to pioneer land (if inoculated).

Sow September, November or March — May at 40-80kg/ha. If used as a pioneer, add phosphates. Rabbits are a nuisance. Plants cut (if for seed) when pods 3/4 brown, bunched, and threshed over wire frame. Average seed yield 800-1000kg/ha.

A new lupinis-free variety of the perennial Russell Lupin is being developed in the U.K. as a human and stock food, a sort-of perennial pea.

Tree Lucerne — Chaemocytisus proliferus

A small tree to 3 metres. A hardy perennial legume. Early-flowering (late June at Latitude 40° S) through to late summer. Abundant seed for poultry forage, also a cattle or sheep forage crop. Wide range of soils including clay, clay-loam. Pollinated by insects, mainly bees.

Sow early summer, pods for seed as for lupins (above). Stands pruned for bundles of seed pod. Useful hedge plant for wind protection or with coprosma as poultry fodder. Used also in double-fenced strips as summer cattle and sheep fodder.

C. Oil Plants

A cycle that could be tried on sandy soils is peanut/potato, inter-cropped with lupins as green manure. Russell Perennial Lupin would help, the area mulched with seaweed or straw over hills and sheltered by windbreak lupin.

Peanuts

Hand-shelled from raw seed, peanuts are planted and can be inoculated if no clover was present. Plant after last killing frost (October-December) at 33kg/ha in rows 90cm, spacing seed at 39cm on ridges (100,000 plants per acre give maximum yield). Weeds must be controlled by mulch or peanuts are difficult to harvest.

Chicken manure as thin scatter helps crop. If rain is poor, irrigate every 10 days after flowering. Plants lifted when leaves yellow and some pods are brown on inside surface. (About 120-140 days).

Need ploughing out on heavier soils. Can be pulled in sandy soils, dried and stripped (oil and seed crop).

References

  1. Fukuoka, Masanobu, The One-Straw Revolution, Rodale Press. 1978 — $10.95.
  2. Logsdon, Gene, Small-scale growing.
  3. Agricultural and Horticultural Seedi F.A.O. Rome, 1961. $10.00.

Conversion of measures in the article

  • 1 acre = 0.4 hectares
  • 1 inch (1") = 2.54 centimetres
  • 1 lb (pound) = .45 kilograms
  • 1 bushel = 35.24 litres

Book review

A brief book review appeared with the article.

Cobbett, William, Cottage Economy, Cedric Chivers, Portway, Berth, 1975. (Reprint of 1822 edition. $7.95. My copy from Compendium Bookstore, Sydney.)

Some truths and some techniques are eternal. An enjoyable book, didactive and refreshing. Contains sensible advice and data on a great variety of common livestock and plants, a great deal on brewing and on making bread and innumerable asides on marriage, labour, parasitic parsons and the like.
A sort of early John Seymour, suited to the conventional peasant (even feudal) society, but still of good use to we liberated growers.
B.M.

Editor’s note on John Seymour (see above review).

Wikipedia describes him this way: John Seymour (12 June 1914 – 14 September 2004) was a prolific early author in the self-sufficiency movement. He had multiple roles as a writer, broadcaster, environmentalist, agrarian, smallholder and activist; a rebel against: consumerism, industrialisation, genetically modified organisms, cities, motor cars; an advocate for: self-reliance, personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, conviviality (food, drink, dancing and singing), gardening, caring for the Earth and for the soil.

Published in Remembering Bill in print...

Comments

  1. Robyn Francis

    Thanks Russ, great to see Bill’s treasure trove of articles from the PIJs given new life in the digital realm.

  2. diana watson

    Well done Russ
    This has been a project on my “to do” list for some years, I suggested it to PSN a long while ago, that is to digitise all the PIJs. The PIJ is such a wonderful resource especially for permaculture teachers and the general community. As a late comer to permaculture, I was able to purchase some volumes but, sadly, not the full set.

    My plan was to ask the National Library to digitise them. I envisaged that they would be searchable pdfs. In my dreams there would also be a searchable index 🙂

    You may have already done this, but I will say it for others who have not done so.
    If you
    1. go to trove.nla.gov.au (trove as in treasure trove DOT national library of australia (NLA)) and
    2. search for International Permaculture Journal and click on “Journals articles and datasets” on the tab across the top,
    http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/20413134?q=permaculture+international+journal&x=58&y=8&c=article&versionId=24141643
    3. you will retrieve the holdings for the PIJ in the various libraries. It is possible that some of these are already digitised, but I have not enquired.

    I understood there is a complete collection available amongst permies and was hoping that we could create a digital legacy with free access via the NLA.

    This is an enormous task – well done Russ.
    If the NLA could do it that would be fabulous. However, funds for the NLA are limited and it could function as a crowd funding digitisation project, under the guidance of the NLA.

    I am willing to help and also lobby for funds. This is a national treasure worth archiving.

    ps if anyone has copies to sell, please let me know.
    pps I should share my other dreams too

    As I do not log into this site 🙁 please feel free to contact me at education@permaculturenorth.org.au

    diana watson
    Education Team Leader
    Permaculture Sydney North

    1. Russ Grayson Post author

      Thanks for your comment Diana. For quite some years the idea of digitalising the full set of Permaculture International Journal (PIJ) has been in the ether. Motivation was there, but not opportunity and means.

      I am sure there are permies with a complete set of PIJs, right back to the first that appeared in 1978 in permaculture’s dawn time. Robyn Francis in Nimbin, Djanbung Gardens, would surely have a full set of PIJ.

      My intention is to digitalise all of Bill Mollison’s articles from the PIJ’s I have, which is not the complete set, with some of the early editions missing when PIJ was called ‘Permaculture’ or ‘Permaculture Quarterly’. This I will do over time. Permaculture Australia’s communciations team will publish them on the Permaculture Australia website.

      Thanks again for your comments.

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