Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Memory of Seeds

5th generation shizennou broad bean. 自然農5世代目の空豆ちゃん。

Last Sunday, I attended Akinori Kimura’s lecture held in Saitama prefecture. Although this was the second time I had heard Mr. Kimura talk, and despite much of the content being familiar, his gentle manner, passion for farming, and enthusiasm for educating people about the intersections of food, nature and their lives, were touching.

The session was conducted in collaboration with Isao Noguchi, the director of one of the leading non-F1 hybrid seed production nurseries. It was followed by a panel discussion with nearby farm managers, who grow vegetables using methods not dissimilar to what I have been calling here Natural Farming*.

*In Japan, there are several farming methods corresponding to the word ‘shizen’ (natural), and each method varies according to the definition of the use or types of fertiliser/chemical, weed management, involvement of plowing and so on. I have not yet seen a full description of the panelists’ farming methods but they do not use pesticides or fertilisers and conduct careful weed control and cultivation.

Mr. Noguchi’s presentation was very engaging and he warned about the practice of F1 hybrid seed production, namely, the use of Cytoplasmic Male Sterility (CMS) lines, which have come to dominate the current seed market worldwide.

He expressed deep concern about the massive scale of reproduction characterising recent seed breeding procedures, which use sterilised plants and crops to create certain types of F1 breed. His hypothesis about a possible link between the disappearance of honey bees and their collecting pollen from sterile plants awaits further study, but the way that species have become commodified, standardised, and ‘mono-characteristic’ so rapidly was particularly disconcerting.

There were many questions and thoughts occupying my mind after the lecture, but an expression that particularly made an impression on me was a phrase Mr. Kimura used in passing: ‘seeds must have memories’.

So I pose myself the question: what are the memories of seeds?

A gentle breeze in spring, strong summer sunshine, fallen leaves in autumn, crisp air in winter, the activities of micro-organisms beneath the soil, morning dew, the rustling of insects, perhaps the laughter of children on finding the first bud emerging from the ground? Perhaps memories of surrounding conditions have been stored inside and contracted within each seed, as it patiently awaits the replanting season to continue the next life cycle. These ‘memories’ are passed on generation to generation and create unique and strong species adapted to their local environments. F1 (CMS) seeds are implanted with a generic one-type memory which ceases at the end of a single life cycle. It surely is a human intervention to keep creating cloned species tailored to suit current distribution processes and market demand, without considering the perpetual and ongoing evolution and diversification of plant life.

These thoughts were planted in my mind to form part of my memory. They are sure to propagate, grow steadily and diversify as I spend days in my garden together with surrounding nature.

4th generation shizennou rice (after harvest).











1st generation snap pea (seeds newly bought from the nearby nursery...
because I ate them all last year). Overcoming the frost damage!


Anonymous said...

Hello Sacchan,
My name is Robbusta and I just came across your blog and really enjoyed reading a few of your past and recent posts about Natural Farming and sustainable living. Thinking of starting out doing natural farming here in Hiroshima, but not quite sure how to start. Got some land land to work with from my Giri-otosan, but not quite sure what and when to start growing things. Interested in knowing how you started out. For example, what veggies you chose and where to get non-gmo seeds etc. Would love to get your advice if you don't mind. Again great site Sacchan.

Sacchan said...


Thanks for visiting my blog. Your comment encourages me to write more articles re process of actual farming. Thank you.

You may have already read but in case you haven't, here is the URL of the book I refer as principal of shizennou:

As for more practical matters, I use the following book (JP only).

For more details, please email me at green.grass.group09[at mark]