Organic? Biological? Natural Farming? - The Permaculture Research Institute (2022)

Part I

Organic? Biological? Natural Farming? - The Permaculture Research Institute (1)
7 week Border King maize produced with grass humus

There are many articles now written about organic farming and there are many experts in the field. Noteworthy from these articles is that the land as such is never addressed.

It does not suit us to acknowledge that we, as agriculturists, know nothing of the biological ground. It is claimed that we currently have only discovered 2% of the soil biology, this while everyone moans about food security and future shortages.

Billions of US$ are spent annually on space research, astronomy and basic nuclear research, while the knowledge of agriculture is controlled by private sector companies who are basically profit based. Such awkward problems are not researched. This situation lends itself to “experts” who advise the farmer and also manage his finances. The farmer is thus conditioned to always have a professional Hi-tech solution expectation.

We are taught to live “hygienically” with stainless steel and glass, and with soap to manage the “germs”. We don’t realize that we are a part of nature and have origins in eating with our hands from the earth. The children do not play in the mud anymore or make paths in the ground where micro-organisms can be found and taken in. Our poor animals also walk around on this chemically treated, dead earth and so lack the needed micro-organisms in their systems. Most of our “pests” have a ground phase in their life cycle. Examples of this are ticks, stalkborers, codling moths, etc.. so they flourish in biologically dead soil because their natural predators are absent. Thus good results are obtained by giving cattle and wildlife, soil micro-organisms in their drinking water. More on this later.

Where is our land now in the picture? Some farmers are still burning the straw on the fields because there are no more micro-organisms left to break down the straw. Furthermore, the fire burns and kills the last of the above ground micro-organisms. Our lands are destroyed, chemically treated with fertilizer, chemicals, pesticides and so on. Our land is the most degraded biological entity on Earth, but we complain because we are losing the rhinoceros or wild dog.

Each mechanical cultivation kills off micro-organisms. The bigger our tractors, the more damage. Our tractors and implements have not, so far, developed to restore or build up the ground, only to destroy, because man is the "super predator" and only thinks of the maximum he can exploit in as short as time possible.

We must therefore, when we train the farmer, first teach him respect for the land and help him realize he works with a living biological entity. One cannot, however, see these soil microorganisms in the soil, hence we need to visualize what we are working with so we can care for it and use it correctly. It is like electricity, which you cannot see, but know how to use.

What is soil?

Physically we can divide soil into sand, silt, clay and humus. Sand and silt are mechanical, while clay and humus react chemically. The soil scientist knows a lot about clay because it can be chemically defined, quantified, etc.etc. Tremendous knowledge about this is available and we know how to cultivate plants with fertilizers, foliar spray, food solutions, etc. It is unfortunate that plants are chemically fed like this.

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The biological part of the land was not considered important over the last 60 years or so. The humus component of soil is unfortunately much more complicated and there are very few experts in the field. We know that plants feed on this biological humus, but how the mold is formed and how the feeding takes place, we have not yet figured out. We can only go on practical trial results and professional, good observation and learn how to use it correctly. Until the time that the world will understand the importance of this aspect, there may still be many more doctorate degrees to be handed out.

Part II

Biologically Healthy Land

The humus fraction to which we have referred, it is often said, should be 2% of the land mass area. It is an unrealistic goal because 2% of topsoil a hectare weighs 80,000 kg. Thus if we want so much humus we must get 8,000kg of nitrogen from somewhere for the humus to take shape as the carbon to nitrogen ratio in humus is 10 or 12 to 1.

Or it is also pointed out that the organic material should be 2%. We find that our natural veld’s [a veld is South African open, unforested, or thinly-forested grass-country] organic material lies in the vicinity of 0.25%, what the roots of the grass include: and with this we get good production.

It must be remembered that parts of this humus form a complex combination of biochemical components, as well as a complex interplay of biological ingredients because, as the living part of the land (the part that we so easily destroy), a complex balance consists of live predators that feed on multiple levels, which make up the full spectrum of micro-organisms comprising of: bacteria, fungi, nematodes and others, to the size of earthworms.

Within this structure we find saprophytic microorganisms (organisms which break down organic matter) to microorganisms that enhance plant nutrition or are in symbiosis with plant root life or build up humus. Thus, the addition of organic matter to the dead land usually makes no difference to this soil fertility. And we see that the administration of compost makes a very small contribution to the building up of humus. Only 20% of the annually administered compost is, after five years of analysis, again detected. The overall effect on soil structure is minimal because the compost chemically appears as fertilizer. The micro-organisms which appear in the compost do not represent the soil microorganism spectrum.

Farming in the Tropics

An example is when South African farmers in the tropics began clearing to plant maize. The land is beautiful, the rainfall is stable, and the returns are high.

After six years, however, the gray leaf spot, Diplodia and the termites became very difficult. On closer inspection, it appeared that the loss of organic material resulted in a severe building up of the stubby root nematode, so much so, that they could not produce anything anymore.

Now we can understand why continual clearing takes place and new lands are made in Brazil, Zambia, etc. and the forests destroyed, resulting in climate change and the “slash and burn” and move system of the local population every two years. Furthermore, the total area is burned by the residents during July, August and September in order to hunt.

(Video) KNF Bulk Nutrient Solutions Day 1

What is the solution? We need to return or restore the biological fraction of the land. It has been proven that the moment when this balance is right, the termites are no more of a problem and the returns are high.

Creating and Using Compost

Compost should play a more important role in agriculture. There are many sources of organic matter that are not correctly utilized. Compost making is the making of "fertilizer" from organic matter. There are many recipes that different people use. However, it all just boils down to the breaking down of plant material by saprophytic micro-organisms.

Just as a carcass is cleaned up by the jackals and vultures so that only the bones remain, in much the same way, a piece of organic material is broken down so that only the chemical building blocks remain. If compost is thus chemically analyzed (like soil) to see what is therein, it can be utilized as fertilizer. The value of the organic fraction of compost is overstated. The reason for this is that the saprophytic microorganisms that effectively make compost are not the same as those that build ground humus. We cannot therefore fully biologically recover the ground with compost. The effect of compost on soil structure is minimal.

There is a physical effect on the water holding capability from the organic material as well as the soil being looser. When a mixture of crop residues is used and there is enough green material present, the compost usually gets going because enough micro-organisms are present. If more dry material is used, to get the process underway, the addition of micro-organisms is necessary.

Organic? Biological? Natural Farming? - The Permaculture Research Institute (2)
Forefront of image: grass humus filled with roots.
Deep dark strip humus not formed, probably anaerobic

Organic? Biological? Natural Farming? - The Permaculture Research Institute (3)
Excess compost poorly mixed with the soil

In Amsterdam in Holland the gathering of all garden waste, street leaves etc. takes place to create thousands of tons of compost which is then sold to plant nurseries and to the farmers. They use huge machines to flip it and make huge piles where they put lactic acid bacteria to get the process in motion (same as for silage). The availability of compost is essential for the supply of lower-order plants.

Organic? Biological? Natural Farming? - The Permaculture Research Institute (4)
Large compost inverting machine near Amsterdam in Holland

Grazing experts divide plants into two categories, namely, pioneer plants and climax vegetation. The function of pioneer plants in nature is to cover bare patches and to restore ground cover in order for climax plants to take over. The number of pioneer plants is surprisingly a great deal; from klits grass, stick grass, couch grass, khaki bush to cabbage, radishes, beets, beans. If these plants are to be grown, compost will be needed, as these plants feed chemically.

(Video) Improving Biodiversity and Soil Health in the UK with Natural Agriculture

What is very interesting here for the farmer is that climax plants can feed on humus and thus do not compete with pioneer plants, ie. if humus is available in biologically healthy soil, then pioneer plants disappear. The more chemically fertile a farmer’s lands, the more problems he has with this weed, while the more biologically fertile a farmer’s land becomes and humus appears, the smaller the problem of weeds becomes.

The Use of Compost Tea

The making of compost tea entails the activation of the saprophytic bacteria found in the compost. This is then used for the biological control of eg. fungal disease on the leaves of sunflowers. It has its own specific use (almost like one would use headache pills to lessen the pain) but it will not address the core problem of soil fertility. This also applies to many biological products on the market. The use of micro-organisms for biological control is a highly technical field that requires specific knowledge. Farmers who want to trade in it will have to form groups and establish a laboratory; otherwise it will cost farmers a lot of money.

Part III

Improvement of Soil Biology

Because this complex spectrum exists, it does not help to have a limited number of organisms. eg. Suppose someone starts a game ranch; he is not going to be able to maintain an ecological balance if he does not have a variety of grazers, bush eaters and predators (to ensure balance the practice of burning yearly on the ranch, should not take place). Also for example if the jackals and genets are killed to protect the small buck, the rats start to take over.

A whole soil micro-organism complex must therefore be acquired. It can be obtained from a place where healthy soil occurs (where, for at least 15 years the soil has never been disturbed or burned); the upper 10cm of the soil and organic matter is removed and is mixed with more organic matter and is then applied to depleted soil. We can thus obtain these micro-organisms and use them as the ‘seed’, or inoculant, to repopulate the soil. These micro-organisms and organic matter must be mixed into the top 200mm of soil. (Organic matter can be anything such as crop residues, manure, bedding from broiler chickens, but not compost).

A simple solution to acquiring a complete soil micro-organism mix in liquid form at a very reasonable price is to source it from a Bio bank and to then blend the liquid directly together with organic material into the topsoil.

Deep Nutrition of Plants

Dr. Cloete, after much research with orchards of apples, citrus, mangoes, peaches and bananas discovered that trees and plants feed far deeper than the 400mm aerobic portion of the ground.

This discovery, which deserves the Nobel Prize in Agriculture, is that the most important nutritional contribution to plants, located deeper than 500mm, is from organisms which do not thrive in oxygen. (There is no literature nor are there experts who have knowledge of such an anaerobic life which exists underground and which is able to feed plants).

(Video) University Scientific Analysis of Natural Farming

Organic? Biological? Natural Farming? - The Permaculture Research Institute (5)
The black spots in the upper soil layers are compost and deeper down (the level
showing the deep black spot with roots) contains a layer of chicken manure
and anaerobic bacteria at 70cm.

These deep microbes in question are available through the bio-bank of Andre van Rensburg (and can be buried with organic material directly deep into the ground, at a depth of 500mm – 800mm under the planting row, over which planting can immediately occur).

For the last six years I have worked on maize and have based my conclusions on good observations, but academically, it is not yet confirmed. I’ll be very glad if someone could correct me as to where I’m wrong. So far I still cannot get the LNR and other agencies to do any research on this aspect.

It is clear to me that the deep nutrition aspect from maize can contribute more than 50% of the yield. A yield of 25 tonnes per hectare under irrigation is easy with the availability of modern hybrids. It must, however, in both cases occur with the help of compost and chicken manure together with the bio-organisms because modern hybrid maize cannot grow with humus.

The old open pollinated hybrids grow very well in humus and deep nutrition but do not have a high yielding potential. In light of above facts, it is clear that no machinery exists to run such a commercial farm industry. On small and test site based plots, unbelievable results are being obtained with both methods, shallow and deep.

Perceived Effects of Healthy Soil

  1. High yields are obtained; 25 tons of maize and more per hectare on irrigation.
  2. If a plant is completely fed, plant diseases are minimal or disappear altogether: eg. Gray leaf spot and termites.
  3. Some highly cultivated varieties cannot grow without chemical feeding and have lost the ability to feed on humus. Seed should therefore first be tested.
  4. Lower-order plants will not grow well when humus is around; feeding probably chemically, eg. Cabbage, turnips, beets, ephorbias, brassicas, herbs, eg. khaki weed, wandering jew.
  5. Weed pressure virtually disappears, ie. the more weeds on the land the more soil biology destruction is occuring.
  6. When humus can be produced from dry field grass or maize stalks in two months without application of micro-organisms then the soil biology has fully recovered.
  7. Andre van Rensburg’s aerobic commercial mixture’s main objective is to produce humus and give the most humus with dry field grass that contains a lot of cellulose and lignin.

Further Reading:

  • Saving our Soils and How the Old Peach Tree was Brought Back to Life



The bio-bank, compiled by Dr. Pieter Cloete, is now run by Andrè van Rensburg. These micro-organism mixtures are alive and should not be left out in the sun nor should they be administered with high pressure pumps.

Interviews with farmers of the soil aerobic micro-organisms’ effect on cattle and wildlife, after applying treatment through drinking water, reported amazing results.

(Video) Gil Carandang: Farming with Nature's Elements of Earth, Water, Wind and Fire...and Microbes

Contact Andrè van Rensburg for more information.
Andrè is the bio-bank manager of Grow-Agra, situated, near Naboomspruit, South Africa. Call him on: (082) 431-5065

Additional contact details
Janie Snyman
gentracsnyman (at)
Cell: (076) 600-6196


What is the difference between organic farming and permaculture? ›

In permaculture gardening, energy is transferred from one source to another before leaving the system entirely. Whereas, with organic gardening, since fertilizers are used, the waste from one plant becomes food for another organism.

What is the difference between permaculture to agriculture? ›

Agriculture is the practice of cultivating food for human consumption. Permaculture is “permanent agriculture” and integrates ecosystem patterns to improve the ethics and sustainability of farming practices. Depending on the scale, certain agricultural practices have environmental implications.

Is regenerative farming the same as organic? ›

Regenerative farming also takes things further than organic by taking a holistic view of agriculture which looks to rebuild soil organic matter and restore degraded soil diversity, focusing on a multitude of different techniques such as: permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, restoration ecology, holistic management ...

What are the 12 principles of permaculture? ›

The 12 design principles of permaculture
  • Observe and Interact with Nature. ...
  • Catch and Store Energy. ...
  • Obtain a Yield. ...
  • Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback. ...
  • Use and Value Renewable Resources. ...
  • Produce No Waste. ...
  • Design From Patterns to Details. ...
  • Integrate Rather Than Segregate.

Is permaculture actually sustainable? ›

Permaculture is a sustainable practice that creates beneficial relationships between human and living systems. Permaculture is about care for people, care for the planet, and return of surplus.

What is an example of permaculture? ›

Examples include buildings that support outside plant life, backyard and balcony gardens, and energy-saving green initiatives such as the installation of gray water reclamation systems. The permaculture movement has its critics.

What is the purpose of permaculture? ›

Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with people. The ecological processes of plants, animals, water, weather and nutrient cycles are integrated with human needs and technologies for food, energy, shelter and infrastructure.

What is the difference between regenerative farming and permaculture? ›

Different yet the same

Organic farming does away with the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Regenerative agriculture takes it further by ensuring that the soil is made healthier while permaculture levels it up by encompassing our way of life and how we see the world.

What is the difference between horticulture and permaculture? ›

Whether it's trees, shrubs, annuals or perennials. These are all sub categories of horticulture. Agriculture pertains specifically to the mass cultivation of food crops. Permaculture is the cultivation of food crops using methods that mimic nature and natural ecology of landscapes.

Who invented regenerative farming? ›

Robert Rodale (pictured) coined the term "regenerative organic" to describe a holistic approach to farming that encourages continuous innovation and improvement of environmental, social, and economic measures.

How many acres do you need for permaculture? ›

To establish a self-seeding, low-maintenance, backyard food forest capable of feeding you and your family, you would probably need around 1/30th of an acre per person, which is 1450 square feet or 38 by 38 feet. This figure is based on 2000lbs (900kgs) of fresh produce per person per year.

How do I start a permaculture farm? ›

How to Start a Permaculture Garden in 8 Steps
  1. Acquaint yourself with your surroundings. ...
  2. Choose plants based on your environment. ...
  3. Design your garden layout. ...
  4. Build your garden beds. ...
  5. Plant your permaculture garden. ...
  6. Add a layer of organic mulch to the topsoil. ...
  7. Add compost without disturbing the soil.
7 Jun 2021

Can permaculture be profitable? ›

Permaculture is not a "turn-key" operation that will provide instant profit. It takes years of labor to develop soils, flora/fauna, and a balanced system. Each year until then will take an investment of seeds, plants, labor and etc. Money out, for a return in the future.

Is permaculture a pseudoscience? ›

Permaculture is not a pseudoscience because the founding principles of permaculture have been extensively researched and backed by scientific evidence. According to a scientific study in 2018, Permaculture has an overall positive impact on soil quality if implemented under the right conditions.

Is permaculture a solution? ›

Permaculture As A Solution

It also includes 12 design principles that expand beyond farming and offer an ecological approach to modern living and communities—for example, energy conservation and zero waste living.

How is permaculture environmentally friendly? ›

Permaculture looks at adopting sustainable methods, be it a garden, a community, or in our homes. Permaculture leads to sustainable farming because there is low aggregation and consumption, meaning that not many of the planet's resources are being used, which leads to less environmental impact.

What is a permaculture farming? ›

Permaculture is an innovative ethics and design based process used to make agriculture more sustainable, restore soil, conserve water, and redirect waste streams. The process is inspired by the everyday relationships found in nature.

What is the purpose of permaculture? ›

Permaculture aims to create stable, productive systems that provide for human needs, harmoniously integrating the land with people. The ecological processes of plants, animals, water, weather and nutrient cycles are integrated with human needs and technologies for food, energy, shelter and infrastructure.

What does permaculture gardening mean? ›

A permaculture garden design considers the needs of the natural ecosystem and climate in addition to meeting human needs. Permaculture gardening also focuses heavily on gradually building up soil quality with nutrients so that you're constantly rejuvenating the earth as you strengthen the health of your plants.

What is the difference between permaculture and regenerative farming? ›

Different yet the same

Organic farming does away with the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Regenerative agriculture takes it further by ensuring that the soil is made healthier while permaculture levels it up by encompassing our way of life and how we see the world.

What is an example of permaculture? ›

Examples include buildings that support outside plant life, backyard and balcony gardens, and energy-saving green initiatives such as the installation of gray water reclamation systems. The permaculture movement has its critics.

How much does permaculture cost? ›

The price range for implementation of a design is $3,000 (simple residence) to $30,000 (homestead/farm). Annual oversite and maintenance can run about the same.

What are the three ethics of permaculture? ›

Central to permaculture are the three ethics

The ethics earth care, people care and fair share form the foundation for permaculture design and are also found in most traditional societies.

What is a permaculture lifestyle? ›

It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” In other words, permaculture is a holistic, living-in-harmony-with-nature worldview, as well as technical approach for how to do so.

Is permaculture permanent agriculture? ›

Permaculture Farming (Permanent Agriculture) | Complete Guide | Permaculture Design.

How can I do permaculture at home? ›

Preparation of a Permaculture Garden
  1. Slash the weeds and drop them to the ground. Then sheet mulch it to prevent them re-growing.
  2. No cultivation is necessary. Feed from the top; straw, manure, minerals, let it feed itself. Essentially let the worms and the soil life do the cultivation.
19 Feb 2005

Does permaculture use fertilizer? ›

Green fertilizer and permaculture

Green fertilizer, or green manure, is also a favorite option to structure and aerate the soil. The root systems of these plants penetrate the soil, while leaves and stems cover and protect it.

Why is permaculture better than agriculture? ›

In permaculture, the people contribute in their daily life toward the production of their food and other needs. Instead of a culture of lawn, we build a culture of food production and outdoor living. Permaculture is more holistic, it looks at the whole culture of food and exercise a healthy livelihood.

What is the difference between horticulture and permaculture? ›

Whether it's trees, shrubs, annuals or perennials. These are all sub categories of horticulture. Agriculture pertains specifically to the mass cultivation of food crops. Permaculture is the cultivation of food crops using methods that mimic nature and natural ecology of landscapes.

What is the difference between permaculture and monoculture? ›

So, what are the differences? Permaculture integrates patterns in ecosystems to replicate biodiversity into agriculture to minimalize human energy intervention. Monoculture efficiently produces a single crop or livestock type grown in a specific area, relying heavily on human involvement and energy-intensive machinery.


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2. Revitalizing SEPLS Webinar - Episode 2
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