Planting seeds on uncultivated soil is initially a substantial challenge. This is a big first step in the transition to natural farming. In throwing seed onto bear ground we often lose a battle against birds and other pests that eat the seeds. Uncut straw thrown onto the ground in every which way in the spring before the weeds make a comeback is a useful defense against birds but seed thrown in and allowed to drop through may still be eaten by moles, insects, field mice or rats, crickets or slugs.
Seeds soaked in water and then distributed into moist clay can be helpful. When the seeds are worked into clay and sieved through a narrow gauge chicken wire they produce small pellets containing seeds. These pellets can be distributed into the field. They drop through the straw. Many will germinate even in very wet weather. Pests will not eat the clay but the seeds will germinate, establish roots and the young plants will come through as the straw settles. Planted clover, alfalfa or beans from the previous year, may have effectively added a kind of green manure and humus from the previous year and may still be active, but stunted by spring rains. Planting early enough can produce plants that effectively compete with the weeds. Plant when winter weeds have died back and before summer weeds start to come in. The straw will settle and various mulches such as wood chips, decomposed or partially decomposed leaves or chopped, decomposed leaves, or composts added directly to the straw mulch as the clay-seeded vegetable plants start to come in. These methods including a strong emphasis on the use of a straw mulch are recommended by Masanobu Fukuoka in “One Straw Revolution.”
The seeds will not have been necessarily distributed one per clod and will come in all over the place. You will need enough of a plan to recognize what is coming up or where it is coming up. You will have a few surprises, but eventually you will get better at it. You can try some areas with just water soaked or moistened seed and compare results with seeds imbedded in clay. Planting on a hillside or between fruit trees or even in a vacant lot are useful places to experiment. If you have access to a lot of straw and permission to use land you may not own, you can have as many experiments as you like.
Many vegetable crops once established will come back on their own the following year. Many will need to be reseeded in the following season. One can try many vegetable seeds both with and without clay protection. These include radishes, beets, carrots, spinach, turnips, leeks, onions, cabbage, potatoes, peas, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, and various kinds of squash. Cucumbers and squash will need some kind of above ground trellises on which to develop. Broken or bent branches often work well with cucumbers as they grow over the raised branches and are protected from rot if kept off the ground. It’s often hard for tomato plants and eggplant to compete with oncoming weeds and thus require special handling. Kale, Swiss chard and mustard greens that traditionally do well in cool weather can be put in even earlier. Spices and herbs grown from seed also generally require assistance in getting started. Some plants like potatoes will grow back and dominate in some areas once they have been established. Depending on your weather you can also try to grow some rice, barley or more traditional grains. You may not get much of a crop but you may get a bit of straw to use at the beginning of the next growing season.
Richard A. Hudson is a writer, reader and blogger committed to exercise, proper nutrition and health. He’s interested in politics, economics, alternative energy, gardening and sustainability and has written brief essays on many of these topics on his bloghttp://richlynne.wordpress.com. Despite his generally positive and optimistic views about globalization, he wonders whether we will survive current destructive forces that increasingly promote warfare among political and social classes. He is also beginning to think about the declining influence of the know-it-all baby boomer generation just as the next generation born in the 60s begins to slowly stumble into a dominant position in the U.S.
He received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago (1966) and subsequently spent 42 years in academics, gradually developing all sorts of interests well beyond his basic training. He ended his academic career in 2008, having published about 100 scientific papers, reviews and commentaries. In his last several years in the academy, his role as Dean of the Graduate School afforded him many opportunities to interact with students from all over the world seeking graduate degrees.