THE FARM HEAD'S ZERO IMPACT FARMING EXPLORATION

WRITER:  Pang, Yiu Kai  (彭耀階)

Jan, 2020.

 

At first The writer’s plan was to develop an ecovillage only, but he thought that he should develop the necessary skills first, especially farming, so he started doing some organic farming and bee keeping in 2003 inside a certain valleys in the Lotus Mountain Range in South Guangdong province of China. In 2006 he realized after 3 years of practice that even organic farming and bee keeping do exert some harm to the local and global ecological environment as stated in his The Urgent Need To Look For Ultimate Farming Solution article. He also realized that bee keeping’s ecological impact can be far easier to overcome, so the writer set out to develop zero impact bee keeping in 2006. At first the practice was stationary local bee swarms in very biodiverse vegetation cover Lotus Mountain Valleys. It worked and became a success. The honey could be sold to Hong Kong’s brandname stores even though the bee farm location was stated very clearly on the honey bottle’s label that it is inside China. But the problem with this kind of practice is that such biodiverse montane forests are getting rarer and rarer, such method is difficult to be employed by bee farmers widely in future. So since 2013 he changed the operation to mobile local bee swarms stationing one to three months in nector abundant mountain valleys or abandoned nector flowing orchards. Such method can be used widely, since most wild places have nector abundant seasons, not only so, it can even have better honey harvest than the stationary ones, since the bee keeper can have honey harvest all year round by moving to other far away nector flowing valleys and can thus skip the low to no harvest seasons of stationary swarms.

 

So happen the valley above the writer’s stationary bee farm has quite some wild banana thickets growing naturally along the stream bank mudflats. The writer takes this as a very enlightening discovery. It tells us that most stream bank mudflats do not have banana thickets only because such mini habitats have been isolated by human establishments, farmlands, villages and towns etc. which prevent bananas from spreading to those small and isolated natural locations suitable for it’s growth. Therefore if we can have suitable knowledge and take enough care, we should be able to implant banana thickets onto the mudflat without impacting it, since doing so in a suitable manner, such as implanting one seedling every 10 meters away right beside the waterfront to leave room for other species to move in, is nothing more than species restoration for the mudflat community, while the exact subspecies may be taken as within the range allowed by chance. In 2015 the writer could find two parallel lower course streams saperated by a 20 to 50 meter wide mudflat on Lantau Island of Hong Kong, and the two far left and right sides of the two streams also had mudflats. Altogether there were three belt shape stream bank mudflats seperated by two parallel running streams. The mudflats were used as farmland which had been abandoned for some years with some sparsely growing shrubs and 3 year or older pioneer trees, an ideal place for zero impact banana implanting. In 2015 the land belonged to Yi O Village and had been leased out to the Yi O farm. So the writer discussed with Yi O farm to use the mudflats as a Zero Impact Farming Experimental Zone. The farm’s managing director, Alan Wong, found the idea worth trying and agreed at once after seeking approval from the Yi O Village head and the experimental zone started to run in late 2015. So the experimental zone is a joint venture held by the writer’s voluntary Zero Impact Forest Farm (Formerly Lotus Valley Ecoop Farm) and Yi O Farm. Yi O farm provides the stream bank mudflat land located at the north of their padi field and Zero Impact Forest Farm provides the idea and technical know how. The experiment has been developing smoothly even though in 2018 the category 5 super typhoon Mangkhut’s eye passed by Yi O only a few tens of Km away, which blew down one third of all banana trees. Even so, the loss was not too serious. As the super typhoon hit Hong Kong in September, already late season for banana harvest, the blown down trees could also quickly re-grow a new seedling from their trunk base and next year could bear banana again.

 

Some other questions that come with such planting arise:  Where comes the nutrient? If we fertilize the soil, we change the soil texture after some time, this is an impact. But if we don’t, after a few years each thicket will have far less banana bearing trees and each tree will bear far less bananas. However, such worry is unnecessary. The stream water is mineral rich, it infiltrates the mudflat soil and replenishes it with minerals. Interactions among living creatures in the mudflat community above and inside the mudflat supply the mud with suitable organic matter. The natural process in the local ecosystem allows a certain nutrients to go to the fruit and then be taken away, so long as such nutrient give away don’t exceed it’s upper limit set by the water flow and the interaction among living creatures inside the mudflat community. Nature will regulate all these, the size of the banana thickets, how far they can grow away from the water front, what percent of trees in each thicket can bear bananas, and how many bunches can be hanged on one banana bearing tree, etc., are regulating factors, provided humans exert no impact to the community except cutting down the fruit bearing tree and taking the bananas away. The fallen tree will be attacked by bacteria and fungi, decomposed into simple organic matter, and return as nutrient into the soil. Very soon young seedling will come out from the remaining trunk base, and will grow into an adult tree in less than a year’s time.

 

Farmers usually hold such concept that the surrounding weed compete for nutrient, so they must be cleared. But this banana restoration is different. Banana roots grow at a level lower than those of the weed and thrub, their nutrients come much more from underground animal activities and water infiltration from water front, not so much is from top soil. So the weed not only dosen’t compete for nutrient with banana trees, it’s fallen leaves and stems even add more organic matter and nutrient into the soil,  making the banana root level soil even more fertile than without weed.

To ensure the banana implanting exerts no impact to the mudflat community, a general survey of vegetation cover is done yearly for the experimental zone, until now nothing unusual has been found, the succession process is heading towards secondary wild young tree forest stage with turn-in-the-wind tree as the dominant species, Chinese wax tree the next.

At a time of serious habitat loss and biodiversity deterioration because of encroaching desert, farmland and human establishments, the writer of this article wonders if it is possible to get food from Nature without impacting Her? He started to have such querry 16 years ago, set out to develop theory and do experiments according to this idea. Until now, the answer is a definite yes!