JoAnne Skelly: Do-nothing gardening |

JoAnne Skelly: Do-nothing gardening

JoAnne Skellly

I often learn something new being with young idealistic farmers with their boundless energy and curiosity about alternative farming techniques. My friend Will introduced me to the works of a Japanese farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka, whose 1978 book “One Straw Revolution” details his decades-long “do-nothing” farming practices. It has been updated by Larry Korn and republished in 2012 as “Sowing Seeds in the Desert.” Being quite a lazy gardener, the do-nothing idea captured my interest.

With a lot of trial and error, including some years of low yields, Fukuoka turned a traditionally run rice farm and orchard into a farm with no need to plow, weed, make or use compost, or flood the fields. He spread the rice seeds, scattered straw, planted a ground cover of clover and waited for the seeds to grow. When he started farming, the soil in his orchard was very depleted, so he enriched it with clover and deep-rooted plants such as daikon, dandelion, radish, mustard and buckwheat. He didn’t prune the fruit trees to the traditional low shape easy for harvest; he let the trees grow into their natural shapes. Fukuoka established habitats for all kinds of insects to allow them to interact without harming crops.

His motto was “If it took a lot of effort, there’s probably a better way to do it.” The idea was if something didn’t work, you should go with the flow rather than forcing your idea of how it should work. “Enter into nature and participate from the inside, instead of a being a visitor from the outside, then you’ll know exactly what to do … a lot depends on trial and error, that you try something and see how nature responds and that helps you to move along to figure out what to do.”

His guiding principle was to be totally connected with nature and persist. A kind of Zen and the art of farming.

His lifelong practices came down to minimal soil disruption, no application of chemicals whether fertilizers or pesticides and good water management. He would mulch, tolerate some insect damage and not fixate on controlling. He paid very close attention to natural relationships and let the soil improve each season.

Fukuoka would say, “Enjoy sitting back and even being lazy,” although what he really meant was there is great freedom and joy in living simply and getting to know the land, the place where you live, becoming a part of it.

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JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at